The contrast between the first and second halves was quite noticeable. In fact, Barnegat made it clear from the opening drive of the third quarter that it was going to dominate the rest of Thursday night’s contest.
The Bengals scored on each of their three offensive possessions in the second half and capped the scoring with a defensive touchdown, as they went on to rout Holmdel 37-6 in both teams’season openers. The Bengals tallied 250 yards on the ground, 161 of which came during the last two quarters.
“The expectations are high this season and I think it got to us a little bit in the first half,” said senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine, who rushed for 67 yards. “I played a little selfish and we couldn’t get a rhythm, but we came out in the second half, got our heads focused and just went out there and played football. We started trusting each other.”
For most of the first half, things puttered along for the Barnegat offense, which had just 31 yards through four possessions before using up the final 3:03 of the half to go 80 yards in 9 plays and got its second touchdown when Erskine tossed an up-for-grabs ball into the end zone with no time on the clock and senior Ricky Gerena caught the deflected ball for the score, making it 13-6 at the half.
“We talked at the half and the coaches gave us that speech about playing four quarters,” said junior wide receiver Manny Bowen, playing in his first game for Barnegat after transferring from Central last year. “We got our heads on straight.”
After Bowen returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the Bengals 40, their line put on a clinic in moving bodies, allowing senior running back A.J. Opre, who scored on a 2-yard run early in the first quarter after a fumble gave Barnegat the ball on the Hornets 4, to amass 32 yards on five carries to help set up a 22-yard field goal by senior Ryan Ulrich, making it 16-6 with 6:18 to go in the third.
After the Hornets went three-and-out, the Bengals’ came back with a bruising offensive possession, as Erskine ran for 38 yards on four carries and Opre, who finished with 135 yards, added 45 yards on four carries, including the final 6 to bulldoze his way into the end zone with 10:35 left. Ulrich’s PAT mat it 23-6, but the Bengals weren’t done.On their next possession, which started on Holmdel’s 49 after the Hornets turned the ball over on downs, junior running back Tyler McGuinness got his chance to shine a little. After carrying the ball 32 yards on four carries, he finished off the drive with a 4-yard burst before Ulrich added the PAT to make it 30-6 with 3:54 to go.
On Holmdel’s next possession, a botched snap from its own 47 turned into a race for the ball between Bowen and quarterback Jeff Harris. Bowen shoved Harris off the ball, picked it up at the 22 and brought it to the house with 1:37 left. Ulrich’s PAT finished off the scoring.
“After I dropped a fade pass in the end zone in the third quarter, I wasn’t going to pass that up,” Bowen said. “I knew as soon as I saw the snap go through the quarterback’s hands that I was getting it. I was hungry for the ball.”
Now, the Bengals are hungry to keep on winning.
“We have big expectations and we know teams are coming after us,” Bowen said. “We’ve got Manchester next week, and starting right now we have to get hungry again. This game’s over and we have work to do for next week.”