In the wake of a tragedy, Long Branch found a way to play football Saturday against Monmouth Regional.
It was especially difficult for the Green Wave’s Deon Williams.
Just days after his two older brothers were killed in an automobile accident, Williams took the field and rushed for a game-high 108 yards and a touchdown to lead Long Branch over Monmouth, 27-0, in a nondivisional game on Ippolito Field at Bresset Stadium.
Williams’ brothers, Jermal Crawford and Rahmel Adams, were killed Wednesday after the car in which they were riding crashed into trees along Shafto Road during a high-speed chase with Tinton Falls police.
“It’s been hard,” Williams said. “I’ve been crying for two days straight, but my mom said I had to get on track and do it for my brothers and do it for myself. I found the inspiration. My brothers always told me to go hard at what I do.”
Long Branch coach Dan George called it, “a very, very difficult week.”
“We played with heavy hearts, but Deon kept it together and stayed focused,” he said. “That was the inspiration.”
Williams made the decision to play against Monmouth when he showed up for practice on Thursday.
“We’re all family,” Long Branch quarterback Avry Griffin said. “Deon’s been so strong throughout this tragedy. We saw his strength and it made us stronger. He showed us we had to get to work.”
“We were behind Deon 100 percent either way,” George said. “This group is very tight and they knew how devastated Deon was.”
After gaining 63 yards in the first half, Williams provided the game’s final touchdown when he broke free for a 41-yard run to the end zone with 41.4 seconds left in the third quarter to give Long Branch a 27-0 lead.
“I had to do it for (my brothers),” Williams said. “The offensive line picked up good blocks and I made my reads.”
“That was an exclamation point with everything he’s been through,” George said. “I’m sure that was special for Deon, and he had a private moment after he scored.”
Williams’ run was among several big plays for Long Branch (2-0). On their first possession, the Green Wave faced third-and-20 when Griffin threw a mid-range pass to junior receiver Shabazz Shuler, who turned the catch into a 51-yard touchdown for a 6-0 lead just 2:49 into the game.
“I had to check down to my second target,” Griffin said. “I saw a little window and (Shuler) made a great play.”
In the second quarter, Williams and senior running back Joscil Jackson alternated runs on a 6-play, 72-yard drive as Jackson finished with an 18-yard touchdown burst up the middle to make it 13-0.
Griffin added a 54-yard touchdown run off a bootleg with 5:16 left in the first half to give Long Branch a 21-0 lead.
On defense, Long Branch shut out Monmouth (0-2) while overcoming Falcons quarterback Jeff Farrah, who went 12-for-24 for 150 yards. Monmouth reached the Long Branch 25 in the first quarter when Farrah threw a 49-yard completion to Kenny Barrow, but the Green Wave held on downs.
Long Branch also ended two Monmouth drives in the second half on interceptions by senior Brett Roach and Jackson.
“We were afraid of the big play,” George said. “That’s been our Achilles heel, especially last year. This is the second week in a row where we gave up a big play but it wasn’t a touchdown. We played very well in the secondary.”
It all added up to an emotional win for the Green Wave.