HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Defense fundamental to Ocean's perfect start

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Defense fundamental to Ocean's perfect start

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Defense fundamental to Ocean's perfect start

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All the attention regarding the Ocean Township High School football team during the preseason was on the potential big-play ability of its offense.

The Spartans showed that big-play potential in their season-opening 51-21 win over Manchester.

However, the last two weeks, it has been mostly about the defense for Ocean as it has grounded out key Shore Class B North wins at Neptune and Matawan by scores of 7-0 and 7-3 respectively.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the job the defense has done the last two weeks,” said Ocean coach Don Klein, whose team is 3-0 for the first time since it started 2009 5-0. “It’s remarkable what they’ve been able to accomplish. A couple of times they’ve been in bad spots and they’re not breaking. They’re finding ways to keep opponents out of the end zone.”

The defense has been led by senior defensive end Mike Halawani, who Klein said has five sacks and has been a “terror all over the field”; Senior middle linebacker Dan Loizos, who Klein said has been “absolutely tremendous”; Senior free safety Cole Mehr and junior cornerback Royal Moore, who also doubles as the team’s starting quarterback.

“When you have guys that opponents have to account for on all levels, you have an opportunity to play pretty well,” Klein said.

It also did not hurt that Ocean returned seven starters on defense. That gave defensive coordinator Marc Tomo, linebackers coach Jim Simonelli (who is one of the veteran defensive coaches in the Shore Conference) and defensive backs coach John Barnacle a pretty good base to build around.

“I like our talent defensively. I like our experience and I like that we run well on defense and talk well on defense,” Klein said. “With experience comes knowledge. We’re able to change up schemes.”

Ocean is far from the only team in Class B North that has shown it can play excellent good defense. In four of the six games between Class B North teams, the winning team has scored two touchdowns or fewer. All four of those games have been decided by seven points or less.

“You look across the board you have defenses that get to the point of attack and are very physical,” Klein said.

An unexpected shootout

While defense has dominated in Class B North, offenses have dominated, for the most part, in Class A South.

An unexpected shootout happened at Lacey this past Saturday, when the Lions (ranked No. 3 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10) outlasted a Toms River East team that had not scored in its first two games, 45-42.

Lacey’s struggles on defense were a combination of several factors, according to coach Lou Vircillo.

One factor was the Lions were shorthanded. They entered the game without their starting middle linebacker Brian Lester, who was sidelined with a concussion, according to Vircillo. Then, Lester’s replacement, Jacob Post, was injured during the game. That resulted in a player who had never played the position.

Vircillo also said during the game, three other Lacey defensive starters were injured. That shuffling resulted in a defensive lineman being placed at outside linebacker.

A change in alignment by Toms River East’s coaching staff also had something to do with Lacey’s defensive struggled.

After running mostly the spread alignment in the first two games, in which they were outscored, 86-0, the Raiders resorted back to the Wing-T set they have run at times in recent years. Toms River East also presented some unbalanced line looks with a gap blocking scheme.

“We did not prepare for it,” Vircillo said. “They got what they wanted on us.”

Toms River East rushed for 363 yards, compiled 457 yards of total offense with senior running back Matt Gudzak, who ran for more than 1,100 yards last season, running for 182 yards and three TDs.

“Gudzak is legitimate. You get him some blocking and anything can happen,” Vircillo said. “What would happen is we would stop them, stop them, and then there would be a big play. When we looked at the film, we could understand how it could happen. Some of the guys making mistakes were in those positions out of necessity and a couple of other kids did not play well.”

This and that

The status of Brick Memorial senior slotback/safety Mike Basile (who did not play in the Mustangs’ 35-7 loss to Jackson Memorial because of a foot injury) for Saturday’s game at Toms River East is uncertain, Brick Memorial coach Walt Currie said.

* According to Asbury Park Press records, the 49 points Mater Dei scored in its 49-35 win over Dunellen is the most points it has scored since a 54-0 win over Allentown in the 1992 season opener.

* The 47 points Brick scored against Toms River South in a 47-21 win was the most either team had scored in a game against the other since a 47-12 Brick win in 1981. Brick went 11-0 and won the NJSIAA South Group IV championship that season for its last unbeaten season. It was also Brick’s largest margin of victory over Toms River South since a 45-13 win in 1996.

* The 35 points Jackson Memorial scored against Brick Memorial was the most it has scored against the Mustangs since a 41-0 win in 2001. Jackson Memorial went 12-0 that season, won the South Group IV championship and was the No. 1 ranked team in the then Gannett New Jersey Top 20 Poll.

* Long Branch’s overtime win over Neptune was its first victory over a Mark Ciccotelli coached team since a 42-28 win over Freehold in 2005. The Green Wave had lost four consecutive times to Ciccotelli-coached teams at both Freehold and Neptune since then.

* Toms River North is 0-3 for the first time since 2005, when it finished 4-6. That was also the year Bob Nani, Toms River North’s successful head coach from 1989-2004, was not rehired as head coach shortly before the season began.

* Freehold is 0-3 for the first time since it started the 2005 season 0-5 in Ciccotelli’s second season as its head coach.

* Point Beach’s 7-3 loss to Spotswood snapped its eight-game winning streak against teams from the Greater Middlesex Conference, dating back to a 24-22 loss to Dunellen in eighth game of the 2011 season. It was also the first time in John Wagner’s three seasons as head coach the Garnet Gulls did not score a touchdown in a game. |

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