If Manalapan’s matchup against Marlboro on Friday afternoon is any indicator, the Braves are ready for their NJSIAA Central Group V championship on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. against Hunterdon Central at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium.
The Braves put up 35 first-half points and rolled past the Mustangs to a 42-0 win at home that clinches their fourth straight outright Shore Conference Class A North division title. Manalapan is the first Shore Conference team since Middletown South from 2001-05 to win four consecutive outright divisional championships.
“Winning the division is important,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “Our goal this year is to be state champs and that’s all we care about right now. We got out of this without any injuries. We’re going to have a great week of practice. I just told our player to treat every practice like it’s your last.”
Senior running back Tyler Leonetti led the Braves with 144 rushing yards on 14 carries. Leonetti took a handoff 14 yards for a score on the Braves’ first drive of the game and then punched in a 2-yard touchdown with 48 seconds remaining in the first half to put the Braves up 33-0. On the opening play of the second half, Leonetti took a handoff 52 yards up the middle for his third score of the day.
Senior wideout Saeed Blacknall also had a standout game for the Braves. The 6-foot-3 receiver had 106 yards on a pair of catches for touchdowns. In the first quarter, he beat his coverage down the right sideline for an 80-yard catch-and-run that put the Braves up 13-0. In the second quarter, Blacknall overcame double coverage in the left side of the end zone for a leaping touchdown grab.
“Winning the division is very important,” said Blacknall. “It’s just another one in the books for us and another win for our seniors and everyone else who’s been working hard. We just have to finish this thing out. We’ve played 11 games, and we’ve got one more game to play in and do it again.”
Junior quarterback Dan Anerella finished with 4-for-6 for 103 yards, including the 80-yard strike to Blacknall.
Between the Leonetti and Blacknall touchdowns in the first quarter, junior running back Imamu Mayfield added a 48-yard score when he took a handoff up the middle and broke free to the end zone. Mayfield finished with five carries for 65 yards.
The Braves scored again on the final play of the first half. With Marlboro backed up to its own 2-yard line, Mustangs quarterback Dustin Jensen fumbled a snap and was pulled down in the end zone for a safety by senior Chris Noesges.
Marlboro came closest to scoring on its second drive of the game. Jensen hit senior wide receiver Chris Coyle over the top for a 38-yard gain that moved the Mustangs to Manalapan’s 20-yard line. Four plays later, though, Jensen’s pass to Coyle in the end zone was broken up by the Manalapan secondary, and Marlboro was forced to turn over on downs.
Senior linebacker Nick Noto added a fumble recovery for the Braves in the third quarter.