The mood at Toms River South’s venerable Detwiler Stadium was almost surreal before Saturday’s Toms River North-Toms River South football game.
Normally, one of the loudest places in the Shore, especially when Toms River North is the opponent, one could almost hear a pin drop. It did not feel like a Toms River North-Toms River South game was about to be played.
The Toms River North band did not play the school’s fight song, “Anchors Aweigh” during its pregame performance as is custom.
Fans quitely walked to their seats and around the stadium.
At halftime, the Toms River South band concluded its performance with a semi-subdued rendition of its school fight song, “Old Indian Tom.” The band usually plays “Old Indian Tom” with great fervor.
But, then, there has never been a Toms River North-Toms River South football game played in the aftermath of what has happened over the last two weeks in the wake of the devastation superstorm Sandy left behind.
However, the 41st renewal of one of the Shore’s best sports rivalries, did its job of rallying the Toms River community around each other. It also enabled Toms River North to clinch a berth in the NJSIAA South Group V playoffs with a 24-10 win in a Shore Conference Class A South game.
It was the Mariners’ 11th straight win over the Indians. Toms River South appears to have clinched a berth in the South Group IV playoffs, its first playoff berth since 2006.
“I think it gave people a purpose to come out,” said Toms River North coach Chip LaBarca Jr. “It was a great thing for the town. I thought the atmopshere was really, really good.”
Toms River South coach Ron Signorino Jr. agreed.
“I thought the crowd was very good. I got the sense, particulary in the fourth quarter, there was some electricity (an excited atmosphere) going,” he said. “I felt like, even the fans, at some point, kind of forgot about everything and say, ‘Hey, this is a little bit normal’. They got caught up in all the emotion.”
Football had taken a backseat for all players and coaches the last two weeks. There were not many practice sessions. Several of Toms River North’s players lost their homes.
“My heart goes out to all the people whose houses were affected,” said Toms River North sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani. “I pray for them that everything is OK.”
Toms River North (5-3, 4-2) took over the game at the start of the third quarter. Senior Matt Lamonica returned the second half kickoff 57 yards to the Indians’ 8-yard line. Three plays later, a 2-yard TD run by Joey Fields gave the Mariners the lead for good at 14-7.
On Toms River North’s next series, Sclafani ripped off an 82-yard run on an option play to the left to the Toms River South 9. Four plays later, senior Chris Gulla extended the lead to 17-7 with a 22-yard field goal.
Toms River South (4-4, 4-3), which had its three-game winning streak snapped, pulled to within, 17-10, less than a minute into the fourth quarter on a 23-yard field goal by junior Russell Messler.
The Indians moved to a first-and-10 at the Mariners’ 15 on their next series. However, junior defensive back Jacob Forlenza sacked sophomore quarterback Tymere Berry for a 14-yard loss on first down and senior defensive lineman Nicholas Digiacamo chased Berry down for a 2-yard loss on third down. A Messler 47-yard field goal attempt was then short.