Lakewood already had clinched its first winning season in 11 years prior to the team’s annual Thanksgiving Day showdown against Toms River South.
The Piners, though, were hungry for more.
Senior quarterback Tyrice Beverette rushed for 117 yards on 31 carries, including the game’s only touchdown late in the first half, as Lakewood defeated Toms River South, 7-0, in a nondivisional game at Detwiler Stadium.
This was the 93rd meeting between the two schools, the longest continuous rivalry in the Shore Conference. Toms River South leads the series, 52-37-4.
It was the season finale for both teams, each coming off a loss in the state playoffs last Saturday.
With the win, Lakewood finished 7-3 overall for its first winning record since going 6-4 in 2002 and its most victories since 8-2 in 2000.
This season also marked a huge turnaround for the Piners’ seniors, who endured a 0-10 record as freshmen and had a combined five wins over the last two years.
“I’m truly thankful that I have such a good group of boys and good senior leadership between Herby White, Marquis Oliver and Tyrice Beverette,” Lakewood coach L.J. Clark said. “Those kids went through all the losing, they worked hard and they deserve this.”
“All three of my years — freshman, sophomore, junior — I experienced the losing side. At least I got to experience the winning side,” Beverette said. “7-3 sounds way better than 6-4. It’s been a very good experience. I’ve grown up with these guys. They’re like brothers to me, and now it’s sad to leave them.”
Beverette has been a huge part of Lakewood’s turnaround, and he again provided much of the Piners’ offense against Toms River South (4-6). Following an interception by Piners senior cornerback Tyron Wimberly, Beverette directed a 9-play, 47-yard drive over the last two minutes of the second quarter that ended with the game’s only touchdown.
Beverette opened the drive with a 21-yard completion to junior Mike Randolph, then ran for two more first downs. With the Piners facing third-and-goal at the Indians 12, Beverette ran to his left out of the shotgun and powered his way into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown with 6.5 seconds left. Senior Tayshawn Hamilton kicked the extra point and Lakewood took a 7-0 lead.
“It just came from adrenaline,” Beverette said of his score. “I had to leave everything on the field.”
Lakewood’s impressive defense did the rest, posting its third shutout this season while holding Toms River South (4-6) to 109 total yards. The Indians reached Lakewood’s 25 early in the fourth quarter for their biggest threat, but the Piners knocked down a pass on fourth down to end the drive.
“We all rely on defense,” Wimberly said. “When our offense isn’t working, the defense comes to play. We had to contain the quarterback (Tymere Berry), play man-to-man. He’s elusive, fast, he can get out of the pocket, so we just wanted to keep contain on him.”
Lakewood then ran out the final 8:50 with a 17-play drive as Beverette rushed for three first downs and threw 5 yards to Randolph on fourth-and-3 for another first down. The Piners clinched the win when Beverette took a sneak 2 yards on fourth-and-inches to the Indians 9 with just over a minute left.
“We told everybody we need these first downs, the first downs were important,” Beverette said. “Run hard, run straight, stick your nose in there and get it, and that’s what they did.”