Senior captain and lineman Greg Moran knows some people out there may still doubt whether Barnegat can make a serious run in the playoffs next month.
“Given our past, they have a reason to doubt us,” said Moran, whose Bengals gave up one long pass play to Central in the fourth quarter but otherwise shut down the Golden Eagles in a 23-7 Shore Conference Class B South victory. “But this is a different team. We’re a lot closer. We’re working harder. We’re not taking anybody lightly. And we feel like we’re legit.”
With Friday night’s win, the Bengals improved to 5-0 for the first time in program history and they now sit atop B South by themselves at 4-0.
“People can think what they want about us, but we’re just going to keep working hard,” said junior wide receiver/cornerback Ricky Gerena, who had three receptions for 44 yards and a pair of interceptions. “We’re a lot tighter as a team. We have great chemistry this season.”
And it showed throughout the contest, as Barnegat took control early, forcing a Central fumble, recovering at the Golden Eagles’ 32, then scoring 10 plays later when junior quarterback Cinjun Erskine tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Ryan Ulrich, who kicked the point-after to make it 7-0 with 5:31 left in the first quarter.
After forcing Central to a three-and-out midway through the second, the Bengals took over at the Eagles’ 43 and used six plays to score their next TD as senior running back A.J. Opre, who tallied 126 yards for the game, zipped into the end zone from 13 yards out with 5:45 left in the half. Ulrich’s second PAT made it 14-0.
For Barnegat’s second possession of the third quarter, the Bengals again took over at Central’s 43 following the first of Gerena’s picks, then used 8 plays to put Ulrich in position for a 27-yard field goal, which he delivered for a 17-0 advantage with 3:05 left in the third.
On the Bengals’ next possession, they started at their own 45 and used a combination of running and passing plays to reach Central’s 5 before Erskine barreled his way into the end zone on a keeper with 8:52 left. Ulrich’s kick was blocked, but Barnegat had a comfortable 23-0 lead.
After senior quarterback Marquis Drumright fired a long pass to junior receiver Jordan Hardy, who made four grabs for 116 yards for the contest, and Hardy dashed through the secondary en route to an 80-yard score, Josh Foca booted the PAT to cap the scoring with 7:33 left.
On Central’s next possession, the Eagles got down to Barnegat’s 27 before Gerena picked off Drumright again, this time at the goal line, and brought the ball back to the Bengals’ 41 with 1:22 to go. Gerena, who leads the conference with five interceptions, had a solid night at cornerback, drawing duty opposite Central receiver Isiah Akers, who had 21 receptions heading into the contest, and holding him to a single reception for 6 yards.
“I just did my job tonight,” Gerena said. “I knew it was going to be a hard assignment, and I just played where the coaches told me to play. I was in the right place at the right time.”
Moran said the Bengals have to remain focused each game going forward if they really want to prove they’re contenders for anything bigger than a division title.
“We’re 5-0 now but we still have to play like we haven’t won a game,” he said. “We have to keep working hard.”