It was the type of game Southern never would have had won through much of its history.
The Rams have usually been known for their methodical approach and reliance on defense and the kicking game.
However, here they were last Friday night involved in a shootout at Washington Township in an NJSIAA South Group V quarterfinal.
“We were ready as a coaching staff for that kind of game,” said Southern coach Chuck Donohue Sr.
And Southern’s offense showed it could play in that kind of game. The Rams, behind running back Abe Gonzalez, quarterback Dan Higgins, a dominant game from their veteran offensive line, a blocked extra point by Logan Sheehan with 3:13 left and a blocked field goal by Frank Thissen on the last play of the first half, recorded a wild 33-32 win.
“There was like a 1,000 yards of offense (949). That’s not a typical Southern game,” said Donohue Sr., who is in his 15th season at Southern and has coached the school to the only four playoff wins it has ever had.
In a lot of ways, the Rams (7-2) were methodical against the Minutemen, who run the spread with 4-5 receiver sets on offense. Southern had 51 rushing attempts and had a 67-51 advantage in plays.
“We were able to control, for the most part, field position,” Donohue Sr. said.
Gonzalez, a 5-foot-9, 174-pound senior and the offensive line were able to wear down Washington Township’s defense. Gonzalez ran for a career-high 238 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on a career-high 39 carries It was the third time in the last four games, Gonzalez has run for at least 168 yards and was his fifth 100-yard game of the season. He now has 1,113 yards and 14 TDs on the season
“The thing about Abe is he’s exceptionally strong,” Donohue Sr. said. “He runs the 400 for the track team. Has been a track kid for four years and has a really powerful lower body. He’s such a well-conditioned kid. On the last drive, the other night, he ran like it was still the first quarter.”
Higgins, who had a shoulder injury in the early part of the season, has been coming on like gangbusters lately. He was 10-for-16 for 210 yards with a 23-yard TD pass to Rob Yaiser against Washington Township and is 24-for-30 for 480 yards and four TDs in the last two games.
On Southern’s 17-play, 83-yard TD drive that gave it first lead of the game with 10:41 remaining, Higgins threw an 11-yard completion to Nick Hem on a third down and an 18-yard completion to Mike Gesicki on a fourth-and-2.
“The first thing I told him (Higgins) after the game was, ‘You were a quarterback tonight,’ ” Donohue Sr. said. “He played within himself. On the last drive (when Southern ran out the final 3:13 after Sheehan’s blocked extra point had left Southern with a one-point lead), he milked every second on the clock.
“You spend so much time with quarterbacks trying to get them to understand the position. Some of them it takes a long time. It was such a great feeling to see him play this way. He was everything you need at this time of year.”
News & notes
* Shore Conference schools went just 6-11 against out-of-area teams in first-round playoff games.
* Southern and Middletown South were the only lower-seeded Shore Conference teams to win.
* Middletown South, which routed No. 2 seed West Windsor-Plainsboro South, extended its all-time record against Mercer County teams to 14-0. Eleven of those wins have come in the 15 seasons Steve Antonucci has been the Eagles’ head coach.
* Manasquan, which was defeated, 21-14, at Nottingham, lost a first-round playoff game for the first time since 2007, when it was defeated, 20-14, by Bridgeton in South II.
* Point Beach’s 44-6 win over South River made it 5-0 against the Greater Middlesex Conference’s Blue Division this season. The only teams in the GMC Blue Division the Garnet Gulls did not play were Metuchen and Middlesex.
* Shore Conference schools went 7-4 against out-of-area teams in consolation games. That included a 3-0 record against teams from the Greater Middlesex Conference.
* Howell picked up its first win with a 42-7 romp over Perth Amboy (0-9).
* Freehold Township (3-6), which defeated East Brunswick, 15-7, has recorded its most wins since it went 4-6 in 2008. The Patriots also have won consecutive games for the first time since November, 2009.
* Marlboro (4-5), which defeated Trenton, 27-6, has won four games for the second time in the last three seasons.
The Monsignor Donovan at Manchester game, which was originally scheduled for last Friday night, but was moved back because the start of the playoffs was pushed back a week due to superstorm Sandy, will be played at 6 p.m. Friday.
Monsignor Donovan (5-4, 5-1) can clinch the outright Class B South championship with a win.
If Manchester (1-7, 1-5) wins, then the divisional championship will likely be split four ways amongst Monsignor Donovan, Lakewood (6-3, 5-2), Jackson Liberty (6-3, 5-2) and Barnegat (4-5, 4-2).
The Barnegat at Pinelands game will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday; The Toms River East at Toms River North game will be at 7 p.m. Friday; the Matawan at St. John Vianney game will be at 11 a.m. Saturday and the Jackson Memorial at Jackson Liberty game will be at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Manalapan at Marlboro game on Wednesday will be played at 5:30 p.m. at the Marlboro Recreation Center.
Also, Southern and Central will play each other at Central on Thursday for the Boyd/Emmert Trophy, named after the late Joe Boyd, who coached Central to a 9-0 season in 1971, and Ron Emmert, who was Southern’s head coach from 1972-1986. It is the first time the two schools have met since 2005 and the first time on Thanksgiving Day since 1983. Central leads the all-time series, 21-17-1, including 9-7 on Thanksgiving Day from 1968-1983.