Faced with the prospect of being shut out on opening day, Asbury Park quarterback Robert Barksdale and receiver Jaedon Stephens pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in a Shore Conference Class B South game Saturday, connecting on a final-minute touchdown pass that boosted the Blue Bishops to a 7-6 win over Keyport.
Stephens ran a fade route and made the catch of the 11-yard pass despite being turned around by the close coverage of defensive back Ezra Hill. But the sophomore said he saw the ball all the way, and freshman kicker Dyquan Young – a replacement when wide receiver Amir Archer-Jones relinquished kicking duties due to a back injury – nailed the extra-point kick.
“The ground out here is kind of slippery but when I had to find the ball I knew I could make the play,” Stephens said. “I became a different person when the ball was in the air.”
Keyport coach Mike Ciccotelli said Hill’s tight pass coverage “made it a jump ball,” adding, “Our kid played well all day. He had good hits, made a guy fumble, disrupted pass patterns and made tackles.”
The scoring play with 1:06 left helped Asbury Park (1-0, 1-0) overcome 87 yards in penalties and a first half in which the Blue Bishops could only register two first downs.
Barksdale completed 10 of 27 passes for 87 yards but was intercepted by Alex Thomson, who doubles as Keyport’s quarterback, with six minutes left in the game with his team trailing 6-0, seemingly dousing Asbury Park’s comeback chances.
But Asbury Park forced Keyport to punt the ball back thanks largely to a sack of Thomson by Malik King and Barksdale engineered the winning 47-yard drive over 12 plays.
“We still had faith when we got the ball back though we were down a little bit. We could have played better,” said Barksdale, who had a team-high 60 rushing yards.
Asbury Park improved after its sluggish start when Barksdale developed reliable passing targets in Archer-Jones, who had five receptions for 47 yards, and Stephens, who had three receptions for 34 yards.
Keyport (0-1, 0-1) went up 6-0 on Thomson’s scoring run in the second quarter. It was set up when Jeff Sheard hauled in a 37-yard pass in single-coverage against Daquane Bland-Bennett, being brought down by Bland-Bennett at the Asbury Park three-yard line, and on second down he held up Bland-Bennett on a block as Thomson scooted into the end zone on an option keeper reverse.
Asbury Park earlier in the quarter also had a big play with Bland-Bennett’s 72-yard punt but the Bishops stalled in the red zone. Keyport dug in at its five-yard line with senior 200-pound lineman Drew Bright tagging running back Tyquis Davis for no gain on first down and none of three pass attempts by quarterback Barksdale connected, as Sheard’s tight coverage of Elijah Scott on a quick slant turned the ball over on downs.
Thomson faced frequent pressure from Asbury Park’s defense in the first quarter and didn’t complete any of his first four passes. He was sacked for an eight-yard loss late in the quarter under pressure by Josue Williams and being taken down by King. In the second quarter King and Devon Moore combined to sack Thomson for an 11-yard loss.
Thomson was 4 of 13 for 71 yards and Des Underwood led Keyport with 70 yards rushing.