POINT PLEASANT BEACH
Nineteen hundred and eighty two . . . that’s 31 years ago. That’s how long it has been since Point Pleasant Beach advanced into a state sectional football final.
Seven days ago, the opponent standing between the Garnet Gulls and the NJSIAA Central Group I championship game — Burlington City — roared back from a 17-point halftime deficit to reach Friday night’s semifinal at Don Fioretti Field.
No. 7 seed Burlington City found itself in a similar situation against No. 3 Point Beach, trailing 21-8 at the half. This time, a strong-willed, spirited Point Beach team effort erased every thought of a Blue Devils comeback.
The Gulls opened the second half with a relentless pass rush on Burlington City quarterback Ryan Daniels, which helped create a “Pick 6” interception for senior Gulls football thief Noah Yates.
Yates made his 10th interception of the year, going 22 yards into the end zone on the third play of the second half to put the Gulls on top, 27-8. The next time Point Beach had the football, Yates caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jake Fioretti.
Point Beach would hold serve the rest of the game, prevailing, 41-22.
“We were in the semis last year and could not get the job done,” Yates said. “We knew they had big-play capability, but we know this year we had to get the job done. We made the plays, stuffed the run.”
Point Beach’s next two games will be for championships, first the Class C Central title it won last year and then the CJ I final. In both games, the opponent will be Shore Regional.
“Yes, this was a team effort tonight,” Point Beach coach John Wagner said. “Having kids that are interchangeable parts is a key to winning for us. We did not get too high. Did not get too low. Burlington City has a good group of athletes and we did a good job of containing them.
“Now we want to defend our division title. Win our own backyard game first. We’ll worry about the section later.”
Point Beach (9-1) needed just three plays to march 62 yards with the opening kickoff. Junior Joe Wegrzyniak raced 61 yards around the right side on the first play from scrimmage. One play later, junior Mike Fraunheim rode the right tackle into the end zone from 1 yard out.
After an exchange of punts, Burlington City (6-4) put together a 7-play, 55-yard touchdown drive. Daniels completed all three of his passes and Tamon Sykes spun into the end zone from 3 yards out for the score.
A Daniels 2-point conversion pass to Wade Singletary put the Blue Devils on top, 8-7. Point Beach responded with lengthy touchdown drives on its next two possessions. Wegrzyniak, who had 145 yards rushing in the first half, finished off a 9-play, 57-yard drive by scoring on a 1-yard run.
Wegrzyniak climaxed an 11-play, 6-minute drive to put the Gulls on top, 21-8 with another 1-yard TD plunge.
After Yates’ pick-6, the Gulls’ Sean Struncius recovered a Burlington City fumble to set up Fioretti’s TD pass to Yates.
The Blue Devils pulled to within 34-14 on a 9-yard Daniels to Singletary TD pass late in the third quarter, but another long Point Beach drive ended with Wegrzyniak’s 1-yard TD run to ice the game.