As a young quarterback in a new system, Stephen Karoly showed flashes of brilliance last season, but also had some growing pains.
The junior signal-caller, however, is beginning to master the Monroe High School football team’s complex spread offense, complementing the rushing attack of Akeer Franklin, and making the Falcons difficult to stop this fall.
Karoly completed 14 of 19 passes for 160 yards and three scores, while Franklin rushed for 132 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries in a 26-18 victory over defending Central Group V champion South Brunswick, ranked No. 3 in the Home News Tribune Top 10, at Hugh Walsh Stadium on Friday night.
“Defenses definitely have to honor our running game,” Monroe head coach Chris Beagan said. “We have a terrific offensive line.
“Stephen Karoly is mastering now being able to read some defenses and being able to make some good decisions at the line of scrimmage. That makes us a little more difficult to prepare for, whereas I think teams last year took advantage of his inexperience.”
Monroe’s first-team offense, which scored on its first eight possessions of the young campaign, including six touchdowns in a season-opening win last weekend, needed all the points it could muster to counter the explosive rushing of Dante Strickland.
While the sixth-ranked Falcons strung together three long scoring drives that totaled 227 yards, Strickland scored on electrifying runs of 68 and 80 yards to help the Vikings close to 19-12 with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter.
Monroe, coming off a 55-6 victory over North Brunswick, received touchdown passes of 6 and 1 yards from Karoly to David Betancourt, both on slant patterns, while Franklin opened the scoring with a 12-yard jaunt.
The Falcons (2-0) put the game out of reach 26-12 with 8:07 remaining on Cameron Coleman’s remarkable juggling 12-yard touchdown reception on which he showed tremendous concentration. Karoly, who was flushed from the pocket on the play, displayed impressive escapability and made a nice throw on the run.
He demonstrated a deft touch on swing passes and a rifle arm on both scoring strikes to Betancourt. Karoly completed a 28-yard pass on fourth-and-long to keep alive the first scoring drive and a 20-yard completion on third-and-long to keep alive the decisive fourth scoring drive.
Fullback Dahrae Ford closed out the scoring on a 1-yard plunge with 3:30 left. Monroe recovered the ensuing onside kick and was able to run out the clock as the student section chanted, perhaps fittingly, “You can’t stop us.”
“Last year you could tell I was a sophomore,” Karoly said. “I was going through growing pains, but coach (Justin) Cella – he’s a great quarterback coach, he’s a great offensive coordinator – he really helped me develop throughout the year. And in the offseason, constantly we were working, so I know the offense like the back of my hand and I can just go out there and execute without any problems.”
Monroe used the run to set up the pass. Franklin carried eight times for 68 yards on the first scoring drive, which he capped with his 12-yard scamper.
“The first drive was great,” Franklin said. “The offense just clicked. Coaches said start the tempo and we did it. Great blocking from the line; they won this game.”
Strickland, whose scoring runs came on an option and a direct snap out of the wildcat, finished with 189 rushing yards, all but nine of which came in the second half.
Monroe was outgained 335-325 in total yards from scrimmage.
M – Franklin 12 run (kick failed)
M – Betancourt 6 pass from Karoly (Schreiber kick)
SB – Strickland 60 run (kick failed)
M – Betancourt 1 pass from Karoly (kick failed)
SB – Strickland 80 run (kick failed)
M – Coleman 12 pass from Karoly (Schreiber kick)
Passing: SB – Johnson 4-9-33; M – Karoly 14-19-0-160. Rushing: SB – Strickland 11-189, Ford 16-66, Johnson 10-50; M – Franklin 24-132, Karoly 9-20. Receiving: SB – Strickland 1-13, Ford 2-7; M – Betancourt 4-38, Franklin 5-43, Coleman 1-32, Thompson 2-20, Baclayon 1-11.