WEST LONG BRANCH
Trailing Asbury Park 6-3 midway through the fourth quarter of the NJSIAA Central Group I semifinals on Friday night, Shore Regional needed to rely on its struggling offense to keep its playoff hopes alive.
With six minutes to play, senior quarterback Matt Muh and senior running back Brian Miller connected for what might have been the biggest play of the Blue Devils’ season.
On third-and-15 from the Asbury Park 41-yard line, Muh dropped back, pump-faked towards the sideline and sent a deep pass to Miller, who had his coverage beat by two steps. Miller hauled in the pass for a go-ahead touchdown that sent the top-seeded Blue Devils to a 15-6 win over the No. 5 Blue Bishops and clinched a spot in the CJ I final against Point Beach.
“It was a tunnel and go,” head coach Mark Costantino said. “We hadn’t really run that yet this year. (Our offensive coordinator) wanted to call it earlier and I said, ‘Let’s wait.’ Then on that play, I said ‘Alright, let’s go.’ Matt did a great job waiting for Brian to break clear, and Brian made a great play tracking that ball down.”
Miller finished with a game-high 121 yards on 24 carries and two catches. Muh had 109 yards on 8-for-13 passing.
“Muh was connecting the whole game,” Miller said. “We were down by three. I had to make that catch, and Muh put it right in front of me. He’s a great quarterback.”
Shore (9-1) got a big boost from its defense. Asbury Park’s only points came on a 53-yard fumble return from senior Robert Barksdale on the second-to-last play of the first half. The Blue Devils limited the Blue Bishops’ running game to just 47 yards on 24 carries, and junior linebacker Mitchell Canditto added three sacks.
“We were down 6-3, and we didn’t panic,” Costantino said. “I let them have it a little bit at halftime. We said, ‘You don’t want to lose like this.’
“This was the third touchdown our offense has given up in the last four games, so our defense is playing at a really high level,” he continued. “Just tremendous. We’ve had some great defenses (over the years). This one is a great run-stopping defense. They’re intelligent, like last year. We’re able to change fronts and coverages and do some college level-type stuff.”
After Miller’s go-ahead touchdown, Shore forced the Blue Bishops (7-3) into a three-and-out from deep in their own territory. A short punt landed at the Blue Bishops’ own 20-yard line and took a bounce back to their 15-yard line. Three plays later, Miller took a handoff and punched in an insurance touchdown from 3 yards out.
On the final series, Canditto dragged down Barksdale for a loss twice to clinch the win for the Blue Devils.
In the first quarter, junior kicker Jake Montiero got Shore on the board with a 25-yard field goal.
“I was confident we would have a great season from the start,” Miller said. “We worked really hard from day one and now this is what it was all for.”