The Neptune Scarlet Fliers got the break they needed Saturday.
With the game scoreless in the third quarter, Lakewood senior Tyrice Beverette muffed a punt. Neptune senior Jihad Peoples recovered the ball at the Piners’ 5-yard line. The turnover led to a touchdown and the Scarlet Fliers prevailed, 14-7, in an NJSIAA Central III quarterfinal.
The ball bounced off Beverette and Peoples made the play.
“It took a good bounce and hit me in the right leg,” Beverette said. “I tried to return it, but he was on it.”
“They didn’t block me,” Peoples said. “It was pretty easy to get down there. The ball touched him. I recovered it.”
Beverette took the loss hard, kneeling among his teammates while fighting back tears.
“This is a frustrating loss,” he said. “We worked hard for this all season. To go out like this is frustrating.”
“Tyrice tried to make a play,” Lakewood coach L.J. Clark said as he, too, fought tears. “He has made so many good plays. You can’t go wrong with him.”
“We stress special teams each time we practice,” Neptune coach Mark Ciccotelli said. “They are one-third of the game. We work real hard on them.”
Peoples recovered senior Keith Kirkwood’s 48-yard punt with 48.6 seconds left in the third quarter. Senior running back Myles Martin scored on the next play, bouncing off the middle of the line and speeding around the right side as the Scarlet Fliers’ fans roared their approval. Martin, following the blocks of senior right tackle Shaquille Gittens and senior right guard Jamere Henderson, scored with 43 seconds remaining. Kirkwood kicked the extra point.
“We played a fast team,” Martin said, “and they stuffed it fast. I got an alley on the outside. Shaquille and Jamere threw great blocks.”
Neptune junior Shakeem Richardson intercepted a Beverette pass at the Lakewood 11 with 11:54 left in the fourth quarter, setting up a touchdown. Neptune senior quarterback Ajee Patterson, forced from the pocket, swept right end from the 9 for a 13-0 lead with 10:59 to go. Kirkwood booted the extra point.
“I always have confidence in my boys on offense,” Patterson said. “We did not match Lakewood’s intensity early. We matched their intensity in the second half.”
The fifth-seeded Piners (6-3) shaved their deficit to 14-6 with 7:41 remaining when senior Marquis Oliver picked off a Calderdon floater over the middle and blazed 57 yards for a touchdown. Senior Tyshawn Hamilton kicked the extra point.
Fourth-seeded defending champion Neptune (7-2) limited Lakewood to 72 yards total offense, including 61 on the ground. Lakewood netted one rushing yard on 14 second-half carries.
“It all started Tuesday when our coaches challenged us in practice,” Martin said. “They said our defense was the weakest part of our team. We stopped our foolishness. Everyone came together and played hard. The defense picked up a lot of the slack. We have to get better on offense.”