Holmdel appeared as though it would start the new season much like last season when it lost nine games.
Barnegat took the opening kickoff and drove 69 yards to the Holmdel five on a drive that took eight minutes off the clock. But Holmdel showed its a different team this season as its defense held on downs and then allowed just three more first downs in the game as they shut out the Bengals 21-0 in a Shore Conference nondivisional game on Friday night.
“Our goal line defense has been strong over the last few years and it gave us confidence there early in the game,” said Holmdel coach Frank Papalia. “It lifted our spirits and we realized we could hang with this team.”
As Holmdel’s defense began to take control, its offense struggled with poor field position on its first two possessions.
But midway into the second quarter, its defense forced the Bengals to punt from deep in their own territory and the Hornets took over at the Barnegat 42.
“I have to give our kids credit, as Barnegat gave them a lot of different looks and they responded,” Papalia said. “And we give our middle linebacker Brett Lambert a lot of freedom to make plays and the whole team stepped up their level of play.”
With a shorter field to work with, quarterback Robbie Cantelli and the offense finally got on the board. On second-and-three from the 21, Cantelli handed off to Frank Condito who blasted through the middle of the defense and raced into the end zone to put Holmdel up 7-0.
“Our defense was really playing great and offensively we wanted to do our part,” Cantelli said. “That first score got us going and got us into more of a rhythm.”
Holmdel went into the half clinging to the 7-0 lead, but didn’t waste much time adding to it.
The Hornets received to start the second half and started at their own 42. Cantelli did most of the damage with his legs on this drive, as he rushed twice for 52 yards, including a 33-yard run up the middle for the touchdown and 14-0 lead. Cantelli and Condito combined for 181 yards rushing and two scores.
“Last season I played running back, but now I am the quarterback,” Cantelli said. “I am working on my arm, but I know I can rely on my legs when I need to. And the experience we have as a team now really makes it easier for us to play the game.”
The Hornets looked as if they were going to put the game away early in the fourth quarter when they drove down to the Bengal 6. But Barnegat linebacker Greg Moran intercepted a Cantelli pass to keep it at 14-0.
The Holmdel defense got the ball back just three plays later, however, when Mark Scherzer intercepted a pass by Ricky Gerena and returned it 32 yards to the Barnegat 13. On third-and-13 from the 16, Cantelli threw a swing pass in the flat to Scherzer who avoided a defender and raced into the end zone to make it 21-0.
“We are thrilled with this victory and the effort our kids gave tonight,” Papalia said. “We beat a really good team and we can still improve on some things.”