Knowing that Brick Memorial’s triple option offense was capable of putting up big numbers very quickly entering a key Shore Conference Class A South matchup on Friday night, Southern’s game plan was brilliant if you think about.
The Rams simply didn’t let the Mustangs have the ball.
Led by 169 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries from junior running back Abe Gonzalez, Southern controlled the ball and the clock throughout on its way to a 28-21 win at Brick Memorial’s DiFabio Field that gave Rams’ chances of qualifying in NJSIAA South Jersey Group V a big jolt.
At 4-2, the Rams will close the regular season with vs. Toms River East and Central, who have a combined 3-9 record.
“Our last three games are must-win and it all started tonight, we had to take care of Memorial,” said senior quarterback Dan Higgins, who finished 6-for-8 for 87 yards and two second-half touchdown passes. “They’re a real tough team, they played a great game against Toms River North last week (a 30-25 TRN win) and we knew we had to come in here and play a great game to beat them and we did.”
The Rams only had two possessions in the first half, but made them both count. The first, a 13-play, 82-yard drive, tied the game at 7 early in the second quarter thanks to Gonzalez finding a hole up the middle and sprinting 19 yards for the score.
The second scoring drive was an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ended as Gonzalez plowed in from one yard out for a 14-7 lead.
Of those 24 plays in the first half, 20 were runs. Of those 20 runs, 12 went to Gonzalez, who did a good job all night of protecting the ball and moving the chains with short, powerful runs.
“Our game plan was really execute. If we don’t execute, we don’t win,” Gonzalez said. “Against Lacey (on Oct. 13), we missed a couple of field goals that cost us the game. Toms River North (on Sept. 21), they had a punt return (for a touchdown). They had the fundamentals. We did it today against Memorial.”
After Brick Memorial’s first drive of the second half stalled on the Southern 30, the Rams’ ensuing drive would be the biggest of the night.
Nine plays and eight Gonzalez carries into the drive, which included Gonzalez picking up two yards on 4th-and-1 on his 39 to move the chains, Southern switched it up. On 1st-and-10 from the Mustangs 30, Higgins dropped back after play-action, lofted a pass over the defense and hit athletic 6-foot-6 junior wide receiver Mike Gesicki for a TD and a 21-7 lead.
“We kept running, running, running and we started to see the safety bite up, so coach (Chuck Donohue) called play-action,” Higgins said. “I saw the safety take two steps up and I knew I had Mike. I just floated the ball up there and let him get it.”
Brick Memorial (5-2, 3-2) needed just two plays to go 78 yards and pull back within seven points as Ryan Cieplenski hit sophomore wide receiver Joe Hans down the right sideline for a 49-yard score. However, Southern went right back to the game plan, marching 69 yards in 12 plays, capped off by Higgins slinging a quick pass over the middle to Nick Hem, who raced for a 21-yard touchdown.
Out of the hurry-up offense, Cipelenski quickly took the Mustangs 75 yards in seven plays he hit Karl Kumm for a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle.
On the ensuing onside kick, the Mustangs had a legitimate chance at the ball after a good bounce, but the ball rolled out of bounds as Southern was able to bleed the clock and ice it.
Josh Newman: 732-643-4246; firstname.lastname@example.org