Mike Gesicki has received all the attention when it comes to the offensive unit of the Southern Regional football team.
However, Brick Memorial still knew the way to stop Southern was to not just focus on Gesicki.
“There’s all the accolades and all the hype around Gesicki,” Brick Memorial senior middle linebacker Jake Lombardo said. “Our game plan was to take away No. 15 (senior running back Rob Yaiser) and their rushing game. We thought that was really the head of the snake.”
And Brick Memorial’s rapidly improving defense was able to cut off the heart of Southern’s offense. The Mustangs held the Rams to minus-14 yards rushing while accumulating 301 yards rushing themselves for a 12-7 win on Saturday at Goldberger Memorial Field that kept them in the Shore Conference Class A South race.
Brick Memorial (5-2, 3-2), which has won four straight, is tied with Lacey (5-2, 3-2) and Toms River South (4-2, 3-2) — one game behind co-Class A South leaders Brick (5-2, 4-1) and Jackson Memorial (4-2, 4-1).
Seven of Southern’s 18 rushing attempts resulted in minus yardage, as a defensive front led by Lombardo, senior end Dwayne Gudge and sophomore lineman Mike Nobile was constantly able to get penetration. Southern’s longest rushing play was 6 yards.
“We came into this game to play our defense,” said senior safety/slotback Mike Basile, who had an excellent all-around game, perhaps his best game of the season. “Gesicki is a top player, but we don’t worry about one player.
“Southern is a run-first team. Taking away that run really helped us out. We put them in a position they really didn’t want to be in. Them throwing the ball on every play was a big advantage to us.”
Southern quarterback Logan Sheehan was 9-for-22 for 150 yards, with 68 of those yards coming on a touchdown pass to Yaiser late in the third quarter. Gesicki did have five receptions for 57 yards. However, Sheehan spent much of the day under pressure.
“If they’re relying on the passing game, it’s not a surprise. We know it’s coming and we can shut it down,” Lombardo said.
Brick Memorial’s defense made two key stands.
The first one came in the second quarter. Southern (3-3, 2-3) followed a fumble recovery by driving from the Mustangs’ 28 to fourth-and-goal at the 4, where a pass to Gesicki in the right corner of the end zone was broken up by Basile.
The second one came in the fourth quarter, after another fumble recovery at the Brick Memorial 28. This time, Sheehan was sacked for 6-yard losses on consecutive plays by Gudge and Lombardo respectively. A third-down pass was incomplete and Southern quick-kicked on fourth-and-22.
Brick Memorial proceeded to run out the last 6:14 of the game with an 11-play, 83-yard drive that saw it end the game on the Southern 2.
“I said from the beginning (of the season) our defense is going to be the top in the Shore,” Basile said. “I knew we had the talent and we had the ability to be one of the best. It has shown in the last couple of weeks.”
Brick Memorial’s triple-option running attack out of the flexbone alignment under center was another key even though the Mustangs lost three fumbles and had seven fumbles in all — six on the exchange between quarterback and center.
Basile, who missed two games earlier in the season with a turf toe injury, rushed for 136 yards on 13 carries. Quarterback Rob Triano added 106 yards on 22 carries. Southern had held Lacey to minus-6 yards rushing on Oct. 19.
“A couple of weeks ago, we switched up the blocking scheme a little bit — turned it into a more aggressive attack,” said Lombardo, who also plays offensive tackle. “We’re a hard-nosed team.”
Triano gave the Mustangs a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter when his 4-yard TD run capped a seven-play, 57-yard drive that he sparked with runs of 12 and 33 yards on counter-option plays.
A 1-yard plunge by Mustangs junior fullback Connor Owen concluded a nine-play, 57-yard drive and made it 12-0 in the third quarter. Basile sparked the drive with a 19-yard run off an option pitch to the right and a 10-yard reception on a shovel pass.
Basile and Triano were both major factors on Brick Memorial’s final drive. Basile ripped off runs of 16 and 20 yards on option pitches, and Triano added a 22-yard run on a keep to the left.
“That (the last drive) was awesome,” Basile said.