It would have been hard to imagine Toms River East doing what it has done on offense the last four weeks after its second game of the season.
The Raiders, despite having a big-play running back in Matt Gudzak and three returning starters on the offensive line, did not score in their first two games of the season. Gudzak, who rushed for 1,159 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, had just 52 yards on 23 carries in the first two games.
“We all knew we were a better team than how we were playing,” Gudzak said. “It’s just the thing was we were not playing as a team. We weren’t putting it together as a whole. That’s why the results were what they were.”
Four weeks later, aided by a change in offensive philosophy, Toms River East currently has one of the most explosive offenses in the Shore. Gudzak has been one of the best running backs in the Shore the last month. He has rushed for 626 yards and nine TDs during that time and also added two TDs receiving.
Last Friday night, in the Raiders’ second straight win — a 42-35 victory over Brick — Gudzak raced for 152 yards and two TDs on 13 carries and also had two TDs receptions from senior quarterback Paul Aliseo. It was the second straight win for Toms River East after an 0-4 start. The Raiders have scored 42 points or more in three of their last four games.
“The difference is definitely our attitude,” Gudzak said. “The team attitude has definitely changed since we got that first win (a 47-41 overtime win at Howell on Oct. 11). We found out what we can do. We found out if we work as a team, we know what we can accomplish.”
A decision by the Toms River East coaching staff has also played a role in both the Raiders and Gudzak’s resurgence.
Toms River East began the season running the “Spread Pistol” formation. However, before the Lacey game in Week 3, head coach Charlie Diskin and his offensive coaches decided to go back to the Wing-T set the Raiders had used with success previously under Diskin. Toms River East has also mixed some I-formation in.
“We just figured out that (the Wing-T) was just a better system for what we had personnel-wise,” Diskin said.
The Raiders caught Lacey by surprise in a 45-42 Lions’ win. Toms River East struggled on offense against Brick Memorial in Week 4. But, the last two weeks, there has been no catching opponents by surprise. It has been about execution for Toms River East.
“Definitely changing it up gave me more success because it opened it up for me. We did things that we haven’t done in a while,” Gudzak said. “Teams can key on me, but we can throw pass plays and give the ball to somebody else if they (the defense) just concentrate on some other kids.”
“We just said, ‘Hey, look. We’ve got to attack the line of scrimmage and let him (Gudzak) run and do his thing,’ ” Diskin said. “Everybody bought into it. It’s hard to do that sometimes, when you’re selling a product (a system) all season (offseason and training camp) long.”
Another decision Diskin and his assistant coaches made that has paid off has been one to insert senior Aliseo at quarterback. Senior Jerry Caporale, who is a solid defensive back and placekicker, had been the quarterback most of last season and the first four games. Aliseo was the starter early in the 2012 season and was playing wide receiver this season.
“He’s doing a hell of a job,” Gudzak said.
Gudzak and Toms River East’s running backs have ripped off one big play after another the last four weeks. Eight of Gudzak’s TD runs have been 20 yards or more. Against Brick, which was ranked No. 7 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10 and unbeaten in Class A South play, Gudzak had TD runs of 71 and 59 yards. His TD receptions were 18 and 48 yards.
“He is lightning. I don’t know how many gears he has,” Diskin said. “When he gets outside, it’s amazing because you know the kids we’re going against. They’re some fast kids and they seem to have an angle on him, but he just breaks it and he hugs the sidelines. That’s like his trademark. You think he’s going out of bounds, but he just finds a way to stay in and just accelerates down the sideline. It’s fun to watch.”