Sometimes a team needs a reminder of its identity.
In the first half of its game Friday night against Middletown South, Manalapan received a reminder what it does not want to be as it shot itself in the foot with penalties.
However, in the second half, Manalapan, No. 2 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10, went back to basics and was able to ground out a 29-14 win over the No. 4 Eagles for its 19th straight Shore Conference Class A North win and its fourth straight victory over Middletown South.
The Braves (3-0, 3-0) held the Eagles (2-1, 1-1) to minus-8 yards rushing and 64 yards of total offense in the second half. They ran for 153 yards in the second half even though starting tailback Tyler Leonetti was sidelined from the second series of the game with a sprained ankle.
“This shows that we can pound and pound and pound,” said Manalapan senior tight end and nose tackle R.J. Krause. “That’s what we’re going to have to do. That’s what Manalapan football is and we’re going to just pound and pound it out.”
“We tried to be a little bit too cute in the beginning,” said Manalapan coach Ed Gurrieri.
The first half was bizarre. Manalapan had a 21-14 lead even though it was penalized eight times for 73 yards and ran just 17 plays from scrimmage to Middletown South’s 34.
“We made a lot of mistakes, a lot of nonsense mistakes that we shouldn’t have made,” Krause said.
The Braves had the halftime lead because of big plays.
Leonetti burst 53 yards for a TD on the first play of the game.
Middletown South tied it at 7-7 on a Kyle Brey to Patrick Crowe 4-yard TD pass after a drive in which it was aided greatly by penalties, returned a kickoff 67 yards for a TD before junior John Cheung returned a kickoff 67 yards for a TD.
Then, after the Eagles tied it 14-14 on a Brey to Andrew Wisialko 51-yard TD pass, Rutgers University recruit Saeed Blacknall scored on a 31-yard slant pass from quarterback Dan Anerella.
Middletown South had a golden opportunity to tie the game late in the third quarter when Nolan Peerless intercepted an Anerella pass and returned the ball 19 yards to the Braves’ 11.
However, after a 4-yard Brey run, the Eagles had two consecutive penalties to put themselves in a second-and-30. Senior cornerback Chris Cruz then intercepted a Brey pass and returned it to the Manalapan 26.
From there, Manalapan’s offensive line and backup tailback Imamu Mayfield, a transfer from Freehold, took over.
Mayfield, who rushed for 91 of his 112 yards in the second half, gave the Braves a 27-14 lead with a 37-yard TD run on a counter play, which he took up the middle and cut to the right.
“Before Tyler got hurt, I was still get reps at running back, but when he got hurt and it was an opportunity for me to step up and I had to stay composed,” Mayfield said. “I love power football, downhill, and I have a great fullback (senior Nelson Rivera).”
“When we had to, we played Manalapan football,” Gurrieri said. “We ran the ball when we had to. We finished the game.”
Krause finished Middletown South off when he sacked Brey in the end zone for a safety with 8:34 remaining.
“We saw their faces at the end of the game, in that they were tired. They had a lot of people going both ways,” Krause said. “We knew right away we had to come after them and finish the job.”