Middletown North and South bring special aura to annual meeting

Middletown North and South bring special aura to annual meeting

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Middletown North and South bring special aura to annual meeting

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Early on in the football rivalry between Middletown North and Middletown South, things didn’t go well for South’s Eagles.

During the two years that followed after South split from the old Middletown High School in 1976, thus creating Middletown High School North, the Lions dominated the action on Thanksgiving Day.

In 1978, things seemed to change a bit, when South edged North, 6-0. But that was nothing compared to the game that took place a few years later, in 1981.

“That was the year Rich Mosca (South’s first head coach) and Vic Kubu (then-North head coach) met up and the game, literally, was a division-championship game,” said Ray Veth, owner of Beacon Awards & Signs and a local sports historian in the process of writing several books about the history of Middletown sports. “Both teams were playoff teams. Both were having really good seasons. And that game went down to the wire. It was a really great game.”

Mosca remembered it well.

“That was a great game. It was 12-6,” said Mosca, whose last season with the Eagles was in 1984. “We had a chance to win the game and they stopped us near the goal line. That game could have gone either way. You could cut the tension with a knife.”

And while, within some rivalries between neighboring towns, the electricity waxes and wanes like moon phases, depending on the strength of the teams, that’s not the case with the Middletown rivalry, which South leads 24-11-1 and has won 11 straight.

Asbury Park Press readers voted the Middletown game as the best high school football rivalry in a recent online poll. Their 33.6 percent edged the Toms River North-Toms River South game at 28.6 percent and Manasquan-Wall at 22.9 percent. Neptune-Asbury Park drew 14.9 percent of the vote.

“Even though, for a number of years, the game didn’t have quite the same meaning because we weren’t in the same division, it’s always been full of intensity, no matter what either team might be that season,” said Joe Trezza, Middletown North’s head coach who played at Middletown South and is a former South assistant.

“Back in the day, this game had implications on the division championship, and now that we’re back in the same division it’s starting to pick up that kind of steam again. No doubt, the most important thing to each side is to win that game. The atmosphere is indescribable.”

Steve Antonucci, Middletown South’s head coach since 1998 and not a resident, said the North-South game in Middletown isn’t like any other rivalry he’s seen.

“There’s always a special aura about that game,” he said. “The Wall-Manasquan rivalry is up there, but Middletown North-Middletown South is a huge community event. I mean, they have the parade, fire trucks, a lot of fanfare … It’s a remarkable event and Middletown should be proud of it. I wish all high school games had that kind of atmosphere. “

The sense of community surrounding the game is something Veth believes makes it so special, considering many of the town’s residents know each other and many of the players are friends who grew up playing football and other sports together.

“The Thanksgiving Day football game between North and South is one in which the entire community gets involved,” he said. “There’s months of planning that goes into it. The kids put up banners and balloons all around town. They make special signs for this game and put them up. It’s an exciting time to be part of the community. Regardless of the teams’ records, everybody in town gets fired up for this.”

Mosca believes the Middletown North-South rivalry is the epitome of what high school sports should be about — community rallying around its youngsters and making it fun.

“It brings out the town, and it brings out people you don’t always see throughout the year,” he said. “It’s a special time of year, with a lot of families and alumni being involved. It means a lot to a lot of people in the community, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Trezza knows all about the family atmosphere surrounding the game, especially since the awards for offensive and defensive MVPs are named after two of his uncles, Pete and John. After the game, both teams gather at midfield to present each award, then many of the teams’ seniors remain, taking pictures with family and friends from the other squad.

“There’s no better day in Middletown than Thanksgiving Day,” Trezza said. “It’s a rivalry with a different feel to it. I wouldn’t categorize it as a friendly rivalry. It’s more like a sibling rivlary. You never want to lose to somebody you’re close to, but you have respect for them.

“Middletown is such a great place to be on that day. And you really can only understand it if you’ve been on the field or were ever a part of it. There’s no feeling like the pit in your stomach when that day arrives.”

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