It was a game of three yards and hit you in the mouth.
No big plays, just smacking on the lines until Carteret broke through in the fourth quarter. The Ramblers scored twice in the final 10 minutes to defeat Long Branch 13-3 Friday in a NJSIAA Central Group III first-round football playoff game at Overholt Stadium.
Fourth-seeded Carteret (7-2) advances to next week’s semifinal against the winner of Saturday’s game between top-seeded Lawrence (8-0) and No. 8 Allentown (5-4).
Despite the loss, fifth-seeded Long Branch (6-3) still has one more game, at rival Red Bank on Thanksgiving.
The Green Wave just won’t be getting the added postseason contest they wanted.
“We ran out of steam a little bit and we didn’t get it done,” Long Branch coach Dan George said. “We made those big plays up to this point. Tonight we just didn’t have that big play.”
And the Ramblers did. Carteret’s Terell Merricks rushed for 163 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown run to give his team a 13-3 lead with 2:49 remaining. The senior’s interception in the final minute sealed the win. Cory Baccarella added 54 rushing yards, including several that ate the clock in the fourth.
Deon Williams led Long Branch with 61 rushing yards.
“It was exactly the way I thought it would play out,” Carteret coach Matt Yascko said. “Defensive game. Power running. We gave them the three in the beginning. Other than that, they didn’t get much going offensively all night. In the second half we won the battle in the trenches.”
Neither team got much offense going for most of the night. Friday saw few highlight film plays until late. Carteret junior quarterback Nelson Baez completed a 30-yard pass to Ra’keem Bennett to move the ball to Long Branch’s 27-yard with 0:11 left in the third quarter. Seven plays later, Baez punched in a 1-yard keeper for a 6-3 Carteret lead with 9:53 remaining.
On that drive, Baccarella gained 25 rushing yards on six carries. Bennett gained redemption after dropping a sure first down in the first quarter. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder got behind the defender on a ball described by George that “was thrown a mile high.”
“I had to make it up for my coaches and my team,” Bennett said. “It was bothering me all game.”
For a while, it seemed like it might finish 3-0.
Long Branch scored in the first 2:22 off a 22-yard field goal from a Vicente Mota field goal following a fumble on the opening kickoff. After that, it was a game of defense, defense and more defense.
Credit a lot of the stingy success to Carteret’s front four of Baccarella, Javier Gonzalez, Cory Guzman and Elmer Portillo.
“As well as they all played and the big plays the skilled kids had all night, the game was won with the five offensive linemen and the four defensive linemen,” Yascko said. “I can’t say enough about the effort they all gave.”
Baccarella added: “We knew this was going to be a hard-nosed game. We knew we had to be physical.”