Carteret getting healthy at right time

Carteret getting healthy at right time

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Carteret getting healthy at right time

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The injuries that plagued the Carteret High School football team early on this year have all healed, making the defending sectional champion Ramblers a dangerous opponent entering the postseason.

Carteret (5-2), ranked No. 10 in the Home News Tribune Top 10, has lost a starter to injury at every offensive position for at least part of a game this season, with the walking wounded combining to miss a total of 17 contests.

Team trainer Brian Zimmerman, along with orthopedic physicians Dr. Nadir Kasim and Dr. Greg Lane, have been as integral a part of head coach Matt Yascko’s staff as his assistants.

The most significant return to health has been that of tailback Terell Merricks, who has been slowed by ankle and Achilles heel problems for much of the year.

Merricks rolled up a season-high 175 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns to help the Ramblers, who have been victorious in five of their last six, extend their winning streak to four games with a 34-14 drubbing of Colonia on Friday night.

The injuries to Merricks were a blessing in disguise as Yascko decided out of necessity to play defensive lineman Cory Baccarella at running back, a maneuver that has jump-started Carteret’s once-stagnant running game.

Carteret rushed for a mere 139 yards (46.3 yards per game) over its first three games combined, sandwiching a 14-7 victory over Raritan between losses to Greater Middlesex Conference White Division champion St. Joseph and South Plainfield.

Since then, the Ramblers have amassed 884 yards on the ground (221 yards per game) over their last four outings.

The complementary running styles of the bruising Baccarella and the shifty Merricks are benefiting from improved play up front.

“The fact that my offensive line is finally playing together as a unit is making the biggest difference in the world,” Yascko said. “They have gotten more comfortable together and are getting better up front. Our ability to control the clock is also helping us defensively.”

Carteret had just one sustained drive – the opening series of the second half in a season-opening loss to St. Joseph – over its first three games, which left Yascko’s highly touted defense on the field entirely too long.

“When you’re on the field constantly it’s hard to be a good defensive team,” Yascko said. “The last couple of weeks we’ve been running the ball and controlling the clock.”

Carteret, which went undefeated, finishing 12-0 for the first time in school history last season en route to claiming the Central Group II championship, is now competing as a Central Group III school and will likely earn the No. 4 seed in that section if it can defeat J.F. Kennedy on Friday night.

The Ramblers graduated the school’s career rushing (Jerod Johnson) and career passing (Tyler Rodriguez) leaders, leaving Merricks and quarterback Nelson Baez with big shoes to fill. The rapid improvement of Baez has been integral to the team’s turnaround.

“He’s been making plays as opposed to just trying to manage the game,” Yascko said of Baez, adding that all of his inexperienced players are starting to peak.

“The more games you play the better you are going to be. The game was almost going too fast for them, and it has slowed down a lot. Maybe we as a coaching staff are to blame for not being on top of it.”

Yascko said he believed his team would have put forth a better performance against the division’s top teams had Carteret faced them in November instead of the season’s opening weeks.

“I wouldn’t take anything away from St. Joe’s and South Plainfield,” he said. “They beat us fair and square. But we are a different football team than we were in the beginning of the year.”

TOP 10

1. Old Bridge 6-1

2. Sayreville 6-2

3. St. Joseph 8-2

4. South Brunswick 5-3

5. Piscataway 4-3

6. Monroe 6-2

7. Linden 4-3

8. Edison 4-3

9. South Plainfield 5-2

10T. Carteret 5-2

10T. Rahway 5-2

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