All season in post-game huddles with his players, Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri has been comparing his team’s season to building a brick wall.
“Everything is one game at a time, so I started saying we’re going to build this wall one brick at a time,” said Gurrieri. “When you build a brick wall, it’s made by men with their hands, and when that wall is done, a human being can’t knock it down. You need a bulldozer or a wrecking ball to knock it down. I want to get the players to focus on the task at hand and build this thing from the ground up, one brick at a time.”
On Friday night, the Braves added a crucial brick to that wall as they rolled past Monroe 39-7 for a first-round victory in the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs.
Manalapan was led by junior tailback Tyler Leonetti, who racked up a game-high 66 yards on 13 carries. He helped the Braves get off to a quick start with 54 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half.
Leonetti got the Braves on the board on their first drive of the game with a 14-yard carry up the middle and into the end zone. Two possessions later, Leonetti punched in a 9-yard touchdown carry that put the Braves up 22-0 with 1:26 to go in the first.
“We wanted to start fast,” Gurrieri said. “We wanted to get after them. On film, we’ve seen them play some tough competition, and they’re a big, physical team. I still think they’re a good team. We just hit on all cylinders.”
Said Leonetti, “As soon as we came out, we knew we had to get started right away otherwise it could be bad.”
Senior wide reciever Anthony Firkser helped build the Braves’ lead. He reeled in a game-high five catches for 94 yards. On the Braves’ second drive of the game, quarterback Mike Isabella hit a leaping Firsker deep in the right corner of the end zone from 14 yards out. Isabella finished 6-for-11 with 98 passing yards and a one touchdown.
Manalapan also got help from its defense and special teams. In the second quarter, junior defensive back Matt McCann picked off a pass from the quarterback Stephen Karoly at the Monroe 24-yard line and returned it all the way to the end zone to put Manalapan up 32-0 before halftime. Manalapan sacked Karoly four times, two of which came at the hands of senior John Appice.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, junior Saeed Blacknall fielded a bouncing ball at the 14-yard line and sprinted untouched up the right sideline behind good blocking and into the end zone.
Monroe got its lone touchdown in the fourth when Karoly connected with senior reciever Dan Gregor from 11 yards out. Karoly finished 13-for-23 with 101 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore kicker Mike Caggiano had a 35-yard field goal for the Braves.