The sign proved prophetic.
The sign, displayed by the Manasquan High School cheerleaders, read, “No storm can stop a Warrior.”
“I kind of just thought of it,” senior Brianna Fox said. “The slogan entered my mind around 11 this morning. Our boys plowed the field. Even though the storm (superstorm Sandy) hit us, we still needed to be out here. It feels good to be back out here. Things are getting back to normal. Our towns can get back together.”
“We go back to school Monday for the first time in two weeks,” junior Nicole Tomkiel said, “and I am excited. I never thought I’d say that.”
The cheerleaders displayed the sign on Vic Kubu Warrior Field. Fans snapped pictures of the sign. The first player to run through the sign was junior running back Joe Murphy.
Murphy scored two touchdowns in the final 5:13 of the game to rally the Warriors past Rumson-Fair Haven, 14-9, on Saturday in a Class A Central game. It appears the win also enabled Manasquan to qualify for the NJSIAA Central Group III playoffs.
“I wanted to play on this field,” Murphy said. “I had to run onto the field as we put so much work into getting it ready. Being back on the field felt great. We had a two-week layoff and a lot of our players got healthy. We were antsy to get back out there.
“This win shows the character of this team. We pulled together and got it done.”
Seconds after the win, senior teammate Tom Bellefeuille hoisted Murphy, who screamed, “Yes, yes!”
Snow from Wednesday’s storm ringed the field. Conditions were sloppy. The game almost did not come off.
“At eight this morning, they were going to cancel the game,” Manasquan coach Jay Price said. “We raked and used Speedy Dry, a clay substance, to get the field ready. We borrowed Speedy Dry from area little leagues. We begged, borrowed and stole it.
“Our kids shoveled the field for 51/2 and 4 hours per day for three days. If there is any kind of magic on this field, today was one of those days.
“This win means a lot. All of the people here came to get away from the sand and water. This town has houses that were gutted — bombed out like World War II. We wanted to give the people of Manasquan something to be proud of for a couple of hours.”
A tuition student from Point Pleasant Boro, Murphy said his home escaped most of Sandy’s wrath.
“There was no damage,” he said, “but we lost power for a couple of days. I came here and saw the devastation. It was depressing. We wanted to play 48 minutes for the town of Manasquan, the town I go to school in and the town I love. The people deserve it.”
Murphy said he and his teammates assisted Manasquan citizens.
“We dug out maybe five houses — maybe more — out of the sand,” Murphy said. “We went to the beach and dug an elderly couple out of the sand.”
Murphy went to work late in the fourth quarter, digging Manasquan (4-4, 4-2) out of a deficit and knocking the Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1) from the unbeaten ranks.
“Joe has always been an emotional sparkplug,” Price said. “He lights up the field. When he gets excited, the kids get excited. He’s been great for us all year. We didn’t plan for him to carry the sign. It was spontaneous.”
It was Manasquan’s defense that set up the winning touchdown. With five minutes to go, senior Chris Miller sacked Bulldogs senior quarterback Danny Roberto, who fumbled. Miller recovered, giving Manasquan the ball at the Rumson 20-yard line. The sack spawned the winning touchdown and resulted in a 14-yard loss.
After two running plays failed to gain a yard, Manasquan junior quarterback Tucker Caccavale completed a 13-yard screen pass to Murphy in the left flat, putting the ball at the 7. Murphy muscled for 4 yards to the 3 and a facemask penalty on the play put the ball at the 1.
Murphy scored on a smash through the middle of the line on the following play with 2:26 to go. Junior Raul Perez kicked his second extra point for a 14-9 lead.
“We don’t quit,” Murphy said. “We fight to the last second. We know our stuff works. We started executing and started scoring some points.”
Rumson drove from its 48 to the Manasquan 13 on its final possession. Manasquan junior Joe Fittin then made a leaping interception of a Roberto pass in the end zone, ending the threat with 2.6 seconds to play.
“Manasquan is a good club,” Rumson coach Shane Fallon said. “I felt it would be a four-quarter game. Give credit to them. They made the plays when they had to.”
Special teams play set up Manasquan’s first touchdown. Miller blocked Jake D’Amelio’s 42-yard field goal attempt on fourth and 13 and junior Kieran Preston recovered at the Manasquan 18-yard line with 9:22 remaining.
The Warriors went the distance on nine plays. Murphy capped the drive with a 3-yard run around left end on a toss sweep, cutting Manasquan’s deficit to 9-6 with 5:13 to go. Perez kicked the extra point to pull Manasquan to within 9-7.
Caccavale completed a 44-yard pass to senior Connor Grogan, setting up the score. Murphy keyed the drive with 38 yards on seven carries.
Rumson took a 3-0 lead with 7:39 left in the third quarter on D’Amelio’s 40-yard field goal on fourth and 10. The Bulldogs made it 9-0 with 1:54 to go in the third quarter on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Roberto to senior John Ryan.
Prior to the game, public address announcer John Burke introduced first responders Sgt. Sean Gleason of the New Jersey State Police, Manasquan police chief Elliot Correia, Manasquan fire chief Mike Galos, Manasquan First Aid captain Mike Lauber, and Dave Kircher and Chris Tucker, both of the Manasquan Office of Emergency Management. Each were honored at midfield as honorary captains.
Food at the refreshment stand was free as long as customers donated money to the Manasquan Relief Fund.