There was a bit of a puzzle Friday night for Southern facing Jackson Memorial’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense, but it was something defensive end Frank Thissen helped solve.
Thissen made key plays that ended two threatening drives, helping the Rams to a 20-7 victory that also was highlighted by a 171-yard rushing outburst by Abe Gonzalez.
Thissen blocked a pass and on the next play tackled quarterback Joe DMaio at the line of scrimmage on an option run, helping ward off a red-zone drive late in the first quarter of the Shore Conference Class A South game.
The ball went to Southern (5-2, 4-2) after a missed field goal, and the Rams took control of the game with a 14-play, 82-yard drive. Gonzalez scored on a 1-yard run to make the score 13-0.
On the knockdown of DeMaio’s pass, Thissen said, “My pass-rushing move didn’t work so I was kind of stuck there. I just tried to do whatever I could by putting my hand up and maybe break up a play and I happened to get it.”
Jackson Memorial (1-6, 1-5) was equipped with wristbands and substituted single players instead of changing personnel groups, adding extra speed to its no-huddle.
Coach Walt Krystopik said the team uses different tempos and decided to give Southern a pace designed to “to try to keep them in basic looks and to keep them from doing anything exotic. We keep it as fast as possible and try to get the ball snapped by the time the referee has the ball ready for play.”
Said Thissen: “They make it hard to get the calls in. They get the ball down and once it’s set, they’re ready to go, and you’re still waiting for the call to come in.”
Thissen, a 180-pound senior who doubles as an offensive tackle, also recovered a fumble in the third quarter, with Jackson Memorial in the red zone at the time and on a 74-yard drive.
Gonzalez also scored the game’s first touchdown, set up by Al Manzo’s interception on the game’s second play, and a short run by Grant Bissey made it 20-0 early in the fourth quarter.
But Jackson Memorial created excitement for its home crowd when DeMaio connected with Mike Specht for a 56-yard touchdown pass, followed by a successful onside kick with 5:30 left.
Southern’s Logan Sheehan finally intercepted a pass to end the drama but Rams’ coach Chuck Donohue Sr. ended up as not a happy camper despite the victory.
“I’m not happy at all. I wasn’t happy with how we practiced all week long,” said Donohue, who said his players “were lucky they got out of Dodge with a win.”
With the win, Southern moved into a tie for second with Toms River South in Class A South. Also, the Rams enhanced their chances of earning a first-round home playoff game.