WEST LONG BRANCH
On a night when the Shore Regional offense struggled to put up points, the Blue Devils relied on a shutdown defense to survive the first round of the NJSIAA Central Group I playoffs on Friday.
Shore’s defense bottled up the Palmyra running game and pitched a shutout into the fourth quarter to help the top-seeded Blue Devils overcome an otherwise sloppy performance and narrowly escape with a 10-7 victory and avoid an upset bid from the No. 8 Panthers.
The Blue Devils limited the Panthers to just 21 total rushing yards on 19 carries, forced eight punts and had five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Senior defensive back Nick Kessler also made an interception in the third quarter.
“We survived. That’s what the playoffs are all about,” Shore coach Mark Costantino said. “The defense did a great job. (Even when Palmyra scored), we almost had some of their passes. There’s two or three of our guys right there, it’s going through our hands, and their guy is still catching it. (Palmyra) couldn’t run the ball. We had a great run defense. They’re playing great and they’re saving us. Ten points from the offense is unacceptable.”
The Blue Devils did all their scoring in the second quarter but left some points on the field. Early in the quarter, the Blue Devils missed a touchdown opportunity when senior quarterback Matt Muh was stuffed on a keeper from the 1-yard line. On the following play, a false start pushed Shore back five yards. After a third-down drop from Kessler in the end zone, the Blue Devils settled for a 22-yard field goal from junior kicker Jake Montiero and a 3-0 lead.
On their following possession, senior Brian Miller carried eight times to lead the Blue Devils on a 13-play, 70-yard drive. He ran in a 10-yard touchdown to cap the drive and extend the lead to 10-0. Miller had 80 yards on 17 carries in the first half and finished with a game-high 99 yards on 23 carries.
The Blue Devils never got their running game going again in the second half. Shore reached Palmyra territory four times in the second half but was stopped each time.
“We missed blocks,” Costantino said. “The holes were there. It should have been there. Our footwork was just very slow. It was always one missed block . . . We’re not going to win another game if we play like this again. Everyone’s good from here on out.”
“We talked about it after the game,” Miller said. “We have to take this as a lesson. We made it to the end zone a couple times but couldn’t finish it. We just have to take this game and work from it. We’re going to watch film tomorrow and get better. Coach Cos says it’s on the seniors and we have to push everyone.”
Palmyra’s scored in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Senior Max Smith led the Panthers on a 13-play, 91-yard scoring drive and hit junior Jomo Percell on a 3-yard touchdown to keep the Panthers’ comeback hopes alive. On Shore’s following possession, though, Doug Goldsmith carried three times to pick up a first down as the Blue Devils ran out the clock.