HOME NEWS TRIBUNE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME OF THE WEEK: Monroe vs. Old Bridge

HOME NEWS TRIBUNE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME OF THE WEEK: Monroe vs. Old Bridge

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HOME NEWS TRIBUNE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME OF THE WEEK: Monroe vs. Old Bridge

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Turnovers have plagued the Monroe High School football team in recent seasons, but the Falcons have yet to throw a pick or lose a fumble this year.

Top-ranked Monroe (5-0) doesn’t want to start giving away the pigskin in tonight’s Home News Tribune Game of the Week against second-ranked Old Bridge (4-1), which has capitalized on those mistakes in recent years.

The Knights, who have won the last three meetings between the schools, converted two interception returns into fourth-quarter touchdowns to break a 13-13 deadlock on the way to a 27-13 victory last season.

“At every level of football that takeaway ratio is the key to success,” Monroe head coach Chris Beagan said. “We’ve been successful protecting the football (this fall) and also had some success getting our share of turnovers.

“We lost the turnover battle (against Old Bridge) each year going back to 2010. Our kids are aware of how turnovers have come back to hurt us in this game. At the same time, you’ve got to give Old Bridge credit because they created and converted them.”

Not only is the game the biggest of the season in the Greater Middlesex Conference, with the Red Division title possibly on the line and abundant NJSIAA playoff power points at stake, but Old Bridge is attempting to set a Guinness World Record at Lombardi Field during a halftime activity.

The high school is culminating its week-long “Pink Out” festivities with a “Swish Away Breast Cancer” fundraiser to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Central and South Jersey chapters. About 2,000 spectators, who each donate $1, are expected to simultaneously swish mouthwash for 15 seconds, shattering the previous world record 1,200 people set four months ago in Times Square.

“Walking around school (this week) has been kind of electrifying with everybody talking about Friday,” Old Bridge quarterback Nick LaVecchia said. “They are excited. They know it’s going to be a great game and an opportunity to support something great.”

LaVecchia said the extracurricular activities — Old Bridge has been engaged with breast cancer awareness projects all week and at least 700 students are expected to wear pink T-shirts to tonight’s game — have not detracted from his team’s focus.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been more excited to play any game in our high school careers,” said LaVecchia, whose Knights qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs last season for the first time since 2005, advancing to the sectional semifinals.

“We came into this week, right after (defeating) Middletown North (last Friday), locked in on Monroe.”

The Falcons enter with the league’s most explosive offense. They are averaging 44.2 points and 352.4 yards per game.

Signal-caller Stephen Karoly, who underwent some growing pains, throwing 10 interceptions while learning a new offense as a sophomore last season, has been brilliant this fall. Karoly has completed 42 of 66 passes for 734 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception for a conference-best quarterback rating of 141.

Running back and return specialist Akeer Franklin, who has amassed 1,060 all-purpose yards, complements Monroe’s passing game.

“I think the more we keep their offense and their players off the field, the better shot we have to win the game,” LaVecchia said. “I think one of the biggest things for us is our defense.”

LaVecchia said he believed the Knights must create turnovers but added the offense can help the defense by slowing down the game with its read option, which can control the clock but still has quick-strike ability.

“They are extremely dangerous,” Beagan said of Old Bridge’s offense. “They execute with a speed that’s very difficult to simulate in practice. The early portion of the game is really important, particularly playing an option team like this.”

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