Lions win to clinch first playoff berth

Lions win to clinch first playoff berth

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Lions win to clinch first playoff berth

By

TOMS RIVER

Thanks to a touchdown on a fumble recovery by linebacker Chris Cruz and other heroics by members of the Jackson Liberty defense, one of the newer football programs in the Shore Conference has rung up its first winning season.

Jackson Liberty clinched a winning record by beating Monsignor Donovan 21-0 Saturday night in Class B South, ending the Griffins’ bid for a perfect division record. Both teams will be active next week in the NJSIAA playoffs, another first for the Jackson Liberty program.

Jackson Liberty (6-2, 5-2), which first fielded a varsity team in 2007, caught a break when Griffins’ starting quarterback Vincent Grasso never took a snap.

Grasso as a defensive back was ejected on the fourth play of the game during a skirmish at the Jackson Liberty sideline that included a late hit, though it wasn’t immediately clear if Grasso’s punishment was tied to the hit. The ejection typically carries an additional one-game suspension, meaning Grasso might miss the playoff opener.

The Grasso-less Donovan offense failed to record a first down until two minutes remained in the first half as Jackson Liberty feasted on turnovers.

Cory Foltzer recovered a fumble when backup quarterback Conor Hanson and tailback Grant Klimek failed to exchange the ball in the first quarter. The Lions promptly launched a 67-yard scoring drive with quarterback Matt Castronouva tossing a 6-yard pass to Nate Matos in the end zone.

Castronouva, a sophomore, completed 5 of 8 passes for 39 yards and no interceptions.

The lead became 14-0 when Cruz gobbled up another bad exchange, scoring on a 10-yard return in the last minute of the second quarter.

It only got worse for the Griffins. They finished minus-6 in turnovers. Castronouva intercepted two passes — one each from Hanson and another from Zach Skesavage, who took over at quarterback in the second half — and Jackson Liberty recovered three Donovan fumbles in all. James Connel added a late interception.

The Lions closed the scoring on a seven-yard run by Dom Regina with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. But they also suffered two ejections, including the loss of junior defensive back Danny Niblack, tagged with a personal foul with 2:06 left.

Monsignor Donovan (5-3, 5-1) already had clinched a tie for the Class B South title — the school’s first division crown since 1993 — but was delayed from wrapping up the title outright. Donovan in its last game had beaten Central 36-0.

Jackson Liberty has been on a surge since Castronouva took over as starting quarterback. The Lions in their last game beat Point Boro 38-31 in overtime, qualifying for the playoffs, and have scored 122 points in the three games since Castronouva was moved to quarterback.

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