There has been plenty of planning and preparing by Jackson Liberty to get wide receiver Danny Niblak involved in the offense this season, utilizing the junior’s speed and 6-foot-2 height on fades and other downfield routes .
Still, even when Niblak hauled in a long touchdown pass Friday night that sparked the Lions to a 21-6 victory over Wall in a Shore Conference nondivisional game, he expressed surprise at how quickly the payoff came.
Quarterback Bob Davies hit Niblak for the 65-yard TD in the first quarter of the first game of the season.
“Coach (Tim Osborn) told me at the beginning of (training camp) he was going to throw me the fade,” Niblak said. “I was expecting it but I was a little nervous.”
The touchdown, combined with an interception return by Bruce Almodovar for another touchdown, put Jackson Liberty in control against Wall, a traditional Shore power.
Jackson Liberty also beat Wall three seasons ago, a surprise at the time, but not so much now.
“I think this is the best preseason we’ve had since we started the program (six years ago),” Osborn said. “When we started, we had kids who had thoughts about being at Jackson Memorial instead because that program had all kinds of success. That’s what we were fighting against. They’re excited about being at Jackson Liberty now at they’re buying into what we want to sell here.”
The Jackson Liberty program launched in 2007 and is still seeking its first winning season, though records of 4-6, 4-6 and 5-5 were posted the past three years.
Niblak, also a defensive back who collected five tackles, said starting the season with a victory over the Crimson Knights is a sign that the program is ready to take the next step.
“We’ll just have to see but this is a game that won’t help us on the field next week. We have to win every game on our own,” he said.
After Almodovar’s 25-yard interception scoring runback, Wall quarterback Jack Gifford scored on a 1-yard run with a missed extra point.
Niblak’s touchdown made it 14-6 and, in a wild end to the second quarter, with the teams exchanging interceptions in the final minute, Davies threw another TD pass for insurance points, with sophomore Matt Castronouva on the other end of a 40-yarder.
That came 7.7 seconds before intermission with Wall missing multiple tackles on Castronouva.
Wall coach Nick Gregorio said, “We did some good things and we did some bad things.”