It did not take long last Friday night for the Point Pleasant Beach coaching staff to perhaps find out more about their team than they did in the first four weeks of the season.
The Garnet Gulls found themselves down by seven points against Asbury Park, and the Blue Bishops had run just one play from scrimmage.
“Let’s see if we can answer,” Point Beach coach John Wagner said he thought to himself.
Point Beach sure did answer. The Garnet Gulls drove right down the field to tie the game. Next time, Point Beach got the ball, it drove down the field again to take the lead.
By the time the night was over, Point Beach had delighted the home fans on a “Red Out” night at the Antrim Street School field and had recorded a resounding 54-20 over the defending Shore Conference Class B Central and NJSIAA Central Group I champions.
“We did respond to adversity,” Wagner said. “There’s going to be adversity in a game. You have to play your way back into it (a game).”
Point Beach is off to its first 5-0 start since 1982, when it advanced to the Central Group I championship game before it was defeated by Middlesex, 25-14. It was also Point Beach’s first win over Asbury Park since a 21-16 victory on Sept. 22, 2006.
“I think the biggest thing is they (the players) believe in what we’re doing,” said Wagner, who has guided the Garnet Gulls to a 13-3 record in his 1½ seasons at Point Beach and had a successful 25-year tenure as Roselle Park’s head coach from 1981-2005. “They know we’ll do whatever it takes to put us in position to play a good football game and then we’ll tweak things and make subtle adjustments.”
Point Beach, which this week entered the Asbury Park Press Top 10 for the first time in many years, has been an offensive machine this season. The Garnet Gulls have scored 229 points and are averaging 45.8 points a game. They are second in the Shore in scoring. Lacey has scored 233 points for an average of 46.6 a game. The Garnet Gulls have scored at least 41 points in every game.
Last year, in recording a school record for wins with eight and winning their first playoff game since 1982, Point Beach scored just 280 points in 11 games for 25.4 points a game.
“The speed of our backs and the balance of our offense makes us that much better,” Wagner said. “(Senior running back Danny Tighe, who now has 823 yards and 11 TDs on just 52 carries) improved his speed tremendously by running track. He didn’t really play that much offensively last year. (Sophomore quarterback Jake Fioretti) has had a couple of 100-yard passing games. If we can open up the passing lanes, it’s going to help our backs.”
The Garnet Gulls also returned four starters on the offensive line, plus their tight end from last year. With the play of the line and the running backs blocking for each other, Point Beach has been able to rip off big play after big play out of the Wing-T set.
However, the meat of the schedule is still in front of Point Beach (5-0, 2-0) beginning with Friday night’s key Class B Central game against Keansburg (4-1, 1-0).
The Garnet Gulls, based on their explosive start and the success they’ve had since the start of the 2011 season, will not be sneaking up on anybody.
“They’re (the players) going to find out more about themselves. How are we going to respond to this (the accolades they have received since the Asbury Park game)?” Wagner said.
Monsignor Donovan, which had high hopes entering the season, appeared to be a team in trouble after its season-opening 40-0 loss to St. John Vianney.
Right after that game, Monsignor Donovan coach Dan Duddy had a simple message for his players.
“I said, ‘That game could continue to make us losers, or it could flip us into winners,’ ” Duddy said. “It was just a matter of choice. It’s like the kid on the bike who falls of and skins his knees. Do you get back on the bike, or do you let the fall affect you? We got back on the bike.”
Monsignor Donovan, starting with a come-from-behind 18-14 win at Lakewood on Sept. 15, has not lost since. This past Friday night, the Griffins (3-1, 3-0) moved into sole possesion of first place in Class B South with a 24-14 win over Point Pleasant Boro.
Monsignor Donovan, with four divisional games remaining — two of which are against teams who are currently winless — is in prime position to claim at least a share of the Class B South championship. The Griffins, who are 3-1 for the first time since 2004, have not won a divisional title since 1993 when they beat out Manasquan with a 7-6 win at Manasquan for the Class C South title.
“They (the players) are starting to understand that when we take care of business, good things can happen,” Duddy said. “They are not on the outside on the periphery. When we take care of each other and have the kind of focus they need, they have the tools to win.”
Duddy and his coaching staff made a key decision after the St. John Vianney game, when they switched from the flexbone formation to the “The Pistol” or spread alignment. The Griffins are still running the triple-option series, but the spread look is giving 5-foot-6, 150-pound junior quarterback Vincent Grasso a better look at the defense. It has also enabled Grasso to handle the snap better.
NEWS & NOTES
* Brick is 0-5 for the first time since 1986 and just the second time in its 55-season history. In 1986, the Green Dragons rebounded to win their final four games That Brick team allowed just three points total in those games, with shutouts in the last three. The fewest games Brick has ever won in a season is four.
* Manasquan is 1-4 for the first time since 1984, when it won its final four games with three shutouts and just six points allowed. The next season, the late legendary Vic Kubu returned to his scholastic alma mater as head coach.
* Keansburg is 4-1 for the first time since 2007, when it went 10-2 and advanced to the Central Group I championship game.
* The 40 points Brick Memorial scored against Neptune this past Friday night is the first time a team has scored 40 against a Mark Ciccotelli-coached team since Long Branch scored 42 against Freehold on Oct. 22, 2005.
* With Brick Memorial snapping Neptune’s 14-game winning streak, Point Beach and Red Bank Catholic both have the Shore’s longest current winning streak at six.
* There are still seven unbeaten and nine winless teams in the Shore.
* Shore Conference teams are 15-7 in games against Middlesex County teams so far this season. Both Point Beach and Keyport are 3-0 against Middlesex County teams. Shore is 2-0 against Middlesex County teams and Keansburg is 3-1 against Middlesex County teams.
* The Monsignor Donovan at Pinelands game will be played at 7 p.m. Thursday.