The first part of the season didn’t turn out the way Red Bank players envisioned but their Saturday game against powerhouse Neptune meant a chance for a fresh start.
“We’re at the point where we could play a lot less stressed-out. We just put our heads down and started working and that felt good,” said Penn State-bound defensive end Garrett Sickels, whose first career interception helped lock up Red Bank’s 21-19 victory over No. 5 Neptune in a Shore Conference Class B North game.
Red Bank was a playoff team a year ago but entered the game winless. Sickels said the team didn’t expect to wait until mid-October for the first win of the season.
“We finally calmed down today and went back to what we do best, staying with our original reads and keeping the game simple,” Sickels said.
“It could have been ‘woe is me,’ but all of the sudden we put things together during the week,” said coach Nick Giglio. “No one missed practice and guys started to understand why we lost those six-point games. Now we win a close one.”
Neptune (4-2, 3-1) made 19 first downs to Red Bank’s 5 and rallied back from a 21-7 deficit but overall was unsuccessful with a switch to a run-oriented game plan. When it was time to for the offense to air it out, the results included numerous mishaps, with Ajee Patterson getting picked off twice, and two other passes resulting in fumbles by receivers. Patterson was 16 of 26 for 203 yards.
The Sickels interception late in the fourth quarter was Neptune’s fifth turnover. Neptune has lost back-to-back games after riding a 14-game winning streak.
“The takeaway battles usually win the game. Everybody knows that,” said Neptune coach Mark Ciccotelli.
Ciccotelli said Red Bank (1-4, 1-2) was expected to be a dangerous opponent “because their backs are against the wall and they’re playing for pride,” he said. “They want to be a spoiler. They have a lot of character over there.”
Red Bank’s Tajhi Tomaino scored two touchdowns but left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury sustained during pass coverage in the Red Bank end zone.
Tomaino got his team off to a fast start by breaking down the left and outsprinting Neptune’s defensive backs on a 73-yard touchdown run on the third play of the game.
Neptune tied the game at 7-7 with a 14-play drive that consumed 7:45, ending when Myles Martin scored on an eight-yard run. The TD was Martin’s sixth carry of the drive, resulting in 27 yards, with a key five-yard carry on a third-and-two from the Bucs’ 19. Martin had a game-high 78 rusing yards.
Red Bank picked up a go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter but it didn’t come on the team’s first red-zone chance.
Ross Gisondi took a fake punt for a 50-yard run to the Neptune 7. After a penalty pushed Red Bank to the 12, Neptune’s Najee Lewis recovered a fumble by Issac Coates, ending the drive.
That ignited a rash of fumbles that led to Red Bank’s touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
Patterson completed a short pass to Martin, but Red Bank’s Gary Johnson stripped Martin, and Tomaino picked up the fumble and returned it 35 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
A nearly identical sequence followed but didn’t result in points.
Patterson this time completed a pass to Keith Kirkwood, who was stripped of the ball by Saiquan Thigpen. Mario Williams recovered at the Neptune 36. Red Bank couldn’t convert, despite starting the possession with a nine-yard run by Jahimere Hinton, and a punt by Gisondi was downed at the Neptune two-yard line.
Pinned in its end, Neptune drove the ball to the Red Bank 28 but the rally ended in the final minute of the half when Williams intercepted a Patterson pass.
Red Bank converted another fumble recovery into a touchdown to take a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, with Jahimere Hinton scoring on a four-yard run.
Neptune rallied back with a pair of touchdowns but came away with nothing on extra-point conversions. Patterson and Anthony Hill connected for 49-yard touchdown pass with 4:17 left in the third quarter Patterson chucked a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kirkwood with 8:49 left in the game.
Sickels came up with his interception when Patterson threw slightly behind Hill in the red zone, with the ball popping free off the wide receiver’s shoulder.
“I was doing my job, rushing the gap and I saw the ball hit off the kid and come to me. I just held on and started running with it,” Sickels said.