Manalapan’s Saeed Blacknall showed why he is one of the top wide receiver recruits in the state against Middletown North on Friday night.
The junior wideout racked up 127 receiving yards and three touchdowns receptions in the first half and then ran back a 99-yard kickoff return for a fourth touchdown in the second half as the Braves cruised to a 35-6 win over the Lions in Class A North.
“I think he’s one of the best players in the Shore,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “He’s not just a fast kid. He’s a really good football play.”
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Blacknall fielded the ball with his feet just in front of the goal-line. He broke two tackles and ran straight up the left sideline behind some good blocking before crossing the Lions’ goal line for a 99-yard touchdown return that gave the Braves a 35-0.
“I just saw each block connect,” Blacknall said. “I saw it all happen, I ran right by it and right through it. At the end, Troy Mendez sealed with the deal with the last block on the kicker.”
Said Gurrieri, “I was surprised they kicked it to him. When you get him in some space, he’s a tremendous player.”
In the first half, senior quarterback Mike Isabella connected with Blacknall twice from the red zone. In the first quarter, he hit Blacknall on a slant for a 5-yard touchdown and with 3.9 seconds to go in the first half, he found Blacknall open on the left side of the end zone for another 5-yard score.
In the second quarter, Isabella lined up at the Braves’ 28-yard line and hit Blacknall with a short pass on the left side. Blacknall eluded a tackler and outsprinted the Lions 82 yards down the sideline and into the end zone.
“That’s what a Division I kid is supposed to look like,” said Gurrieri.
Isabella finished 10-for-18 with 181 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
Junior tailback Tyler Leonetti got the Braves on the scoreboard on their second play from scrimmage when he took a toss 59 yards for a score. Leonetti finished with 99 yards on ten carries.
Junior defensive back Chris Cruz made sure the Lions never got anything going in the first half as he picked off two passes from Lions’ quarterback Cody Thompson. The second interception came in the Braves’ end zone.
The win leaves the Braves 3-0 heading into next weeks’ matchup versus divisional rival Middletown South.
“Coach preaches one brick at a time,” said Blacknall. “We’re just trying to build this massive wall, trying to get back to the dance like last year.”
Said Gurrieri, “Winners know how to focus on the task at hand, and our task at hand was tonight, not next week.”