Middletown South’s offense was in the zone on Saturday at McChesney Stadium in an NJSIAA Central Group IV semifinal.
“We were unstoppable,” said junior quarterback Kyle Brey.
Brey threw for a career-high 302 yards with a career-high four touchdown passes. Senior wide receiver Anthony Citarella had a career-high 205 yards on a career-high eight receptions with two TDs and senior Eli Smith powered and sped his way to a career-high 240 yards rushing on 26 carries with a TD.
Middletown South accumulated 587 yards of total offense and outlasted Colts Neck for a 45-35 win. The two teams combined for 1,015 yards of total offense, including 656 yards passing.
Middletown South (8-3) will try to record its 10th sectional championship and first since 2006 when it plays No. 1 seed and defending Central IV champion Sayreville (11-0) on Dec. 8 at 4 p.m. at Rutgers University. It is the 10th time in the last 12 seasons Middletown South has advanced to a sectional final.
This sectional championship final appearance appeared unlikely three weeks ago when the Eagles were defeated by Colts Neck, 28-9.
“Nobody likes to be embarrassed and I was embarrased by the way we played the last time we were here,” Antonucci said. “Win, lose or draw, I wanted our kids to play hard for all 48 minutes and have no regrets.”
“We knew we had to prove people wrong,” said Smith, who took over the main running back duties in the Eagles’ pistol offensive alignment on Saturday. “We practiced hard this week. We emptied the tank. We knew it was now or nothing.”
Middletown South, which has always emphasized the run first, did the reverse on Saturday. It began the game throwing the ball. Brey was 12-for-16 for 234 yards with three TD passes in the first half.
He connected with Citarella for a 78-yard TD on an up pattern that gave the Eagles the lead for good at 14-7 with 10:47 left in the first half. Less than three minutes later, Brey and Citarella teamed up for a 45-yard TD on a slant pattern to make it 21-7 with 8:06 left in the first half.
“The first time we played into their hands,” Antonucci said. “They had eight guys in the box and we were trying to slam the ball in there. This game, the point of emphasis was to open it up.”
Brey’s third TD pass — an 8-yard pass to Andrwe Wisialko with 2:40 left in the first half — gave Middletown South a 28-10 lead. Colts Neck closed to within 28-17 by halftime as Mike Campbell connected with Tim Vangelas for an 8-yard TD pass four plays after Vangelas returned a kickoff 90 yards to the Eagles’ 5.
Then, in the second half, Middletown South gave Colts Neck a heavy dose of Smith..
“We wanted to play next week, and I felt like in order to play next week, we all had to give it our all. I gave it my all,” said Smith, who also played cornerback on defense and on special teams and hardly left the field.
“He’s the best player on the field,” said Antonucci, whose team has a 1,000-yard rusher in senior Jake Ripnick. “It’s silly not to give him the ball. I said to him after the game,. ‘The best players step up in games like this. This is what they’re made for.’ The great ones don’t need to be motivated.”
Connor Ryan had a 26-yard field goal, Smith a 1-yard run and Brey a 4-yard TD pass to Taylor Hendrickson in the second half. That was enough to keep Colts Neck at bay. Campbell, who threw for 354 yards and four TD passes, fired TD passes of 13 yards to Vangelas (eight receptions for 110 yards) and Lucien DellaFerra in the second half.