Tom Kelly thought throughout the entire game that the deep post to Christian Tutela would work.
“When I was out there I saw it,” said Kelly, a junior quarterback at Lacey who returned to action in a part-time role Saturday, three weeks after having surgery for a broken collarbone. “I was telling coach (Lacey offensive coordinator Cory Davies), ‘Listen, run this play’.
“Finally, he let me do it.”
It was third-and-12 for Lacey from its own 36, with the Lions tied with Toms River South with less than three minutes remaining in an NJSIAA South Group IV quarterfinal, when the deep post was called.
Tutela, a junior slotback/wide receiver, got past the safeties. Kelly threw a pass that hit Tutela on the dead run for a 50-yard gain to the Indians’ 14. Senior running back Kyle Spatz ran in for a 14-yard TD on the next play to give Lacey the lead for good with 2:20 remaining. Spatz added an insurance TD 68 seconds later after a fumble recovery as the No. 2-seeded Lions outlasted No. 7-seeded Toms River South, 45-31.
“We killed them with it (the post) the first time we played them (a 42-20 Lacey win on Sept. 29 in a regular season),” Kelly said. “I knew it was going to happen again.”
Toms River South (4-5), which was making its first playoff appearance since 2006, had wiped out a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit with two TDs in a span of 2:54 and appeared to have all the momentum when it forced Lacey (10-0) into the third-and-12.
“I had an idea (he could get behind the safeties),” said Tutela, with a smile. “It was supposed to be a post, but I ran up the seam and I was there.”
Tutela and senior wide receiver Bill Belford had their way with Toms River South’s defensive backs and linebackers all day.
Tutela had five receptions for 179 yards, two TDs and a spectacular, leaping one-handed 38-yard reception from Kelly on a play that was originally supposed to be a deep post, but would be an improvised play when Kelly was forced to scramble. That reception set up Tutela’s second TD.
Belford had five receptions for 81 yards, including a spectacular diving, one-handed, 32-yard reception that set up the first of Spatz’s three TDs.
The playmaking ability of the two receivers, which saw them break away on several bubble or rocket-screen type plays enabled Kelly and sophomore Conor Davies to go a combined 12-for-13 for 266 yards. Davies, who started and played the large majority of the snaps as Kelly worked his way back into the fold after having not played since he was injured early in Lacey’s game with Jackson Memorial on Oct. 19, was masterful. He went 9-for-9 for 171 yards and the two TDs to Tutela.
“(The receivers) make us you look so good,” Kelly laughed. “You can put anybody out here and they’d get 300 yards passing.”
“This is the greated receiving corps I’ve been on, and we have two great quarterbacks,” Tutela said.
Davies’ performance in Kelly’s absence has given Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo and Cory Davies two outstanding options, should the need arise when the Lions host Kingsway on Dec. 1 in a South IV semifinal.
Kelly, who had thrown for 1,037 yards with 14 TDs and one interception before his injury, was told a week ago Saturday, he would play against Toms River South only if needed. His first play was a sneak in the second quarter.
Kelly said he thinks he will be starting against Kingsway, but he also said Davies, Cory Davies’ son and the younger brother of former Howell record-setting quarterback Ryan Davies, is “one hell of a quarterback.”
Lacey appeared to be in complete control after Tutela’s 19-yard TD catch and run on a third-and-19 “Rocket Screen” in which he outran the Toms River South defense, gave it a 31-17 lead with 10:46 remaining.
However, a 50-yard run on a fake punt by junior Russell Messler set up a Messler 4-yard TD pulled the Indians within seven with eight minutes left. Then, three plays after a 6-yard punt gave Toms River South the ball at the Lacey 34, junior running back Otis Kearney (149 yards and three TDs on 14 carries) raced 31 yards on a third-and-seven counter trap to tie the game with 5:06 remaining.