For the past two weeks, Shore Regional coach Mark Costantino had been warning his team about the potential dangers that lurk when coming off a bye, like the Blue Devils were on Saturday.
Just minutes into Shore’s 38-12 Class B Central victory over host Mater Dei, Costantino knew that his worst fears were unfounded.
“I saw how our defense was playing,” the veteran coach said, “then I saw how we were moving the ball offensively. I knew that the layoff didn’t hurt us.”
Shore (5-1, 2-0) jumped to a 10-0 first-quarter lead and never looked back, dominating Mater Dei (3-4, 1-4) behind a punishing ground attack that compiled 304 yards on 59 carries. Brian Miller led the way for a balanced Blue Devils ground game with 160 yards and two touchdowns on 22 tries.
“We strive for that,” Costantino said of his team’s balanced ball-control offense that featured five runners through the first three quarters. “When we’re good, that’s what we have: a group of guys who we can put in and not lose anything. It’s also good not to rely so much on one person in case someone goes down (with an injury).”
On its opening possession, Shore moved from its own 27 to the Seraphs’ 18 before Jake Montero opened the scoring with a 44-yard field goal that made it with 10 yards to spare. Montero was also perfect on his five extra-point attempts.
“Jake kicks them from 50 in practice all the time,” Costantino said. “We had complete confidence in him in that spot.”
A Mater Dei fumble on the first play after the ensuing kickoff gave Shore possession at the Seraphs’ 32. Three plays later, Doug Goldsmith burst up the middle from 18 yards out for the game’s first touchdown to give Shore a 10-0 lead with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
A short punt gave the Blue Devils possession at the Mater Dei 38 late in the first quarter, and Shore took nine plays from there to increase its lead to 17-0. Quarterback Matt Muh ran in around left end for the score with 9:32 left in the opening half.
Shore seemed poised to go in again on its next possession, but a fumble at the Mater Dei 1-yard line foiled the drive. The Blue Devils, though, scored again when Miller scooted in from 10 yards out with 57 seconds to play in the half to build the advantage to 24-0.
A 45-yard pass down the seam from quarterback Christian Palmer to Eddie Lewis on the last play of the half got the Seraphs on the board at 24-6 as Lewis outraced the Shore secondary to the end zone. Lewis finished with six catches for 90 yards.
“The fumble at the 1, and the play before the half,” Costantino said. “You just can’t let things like that happen.
“Mater Dei is a much-improved team. We talked about that all week. The guys saw the speed they have, they saw what the quarterback can do and they took that very seriously. But you can’t have that kind of breakdown.”
Shore bounced back strong after intermission, moving 60 yards in seven plays off the second-half kickoff for a 31-6 lead. Miller did the honors with a 29-yard touchdown run.
Chris Francisco’s 9-yard run with 1:41 left in the third quarter made it 38-6, capping a quick 33-yard drive that started after a short punt.
Mater Dei recorded the game’s final touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter when Palmer ran in from 13 yards out. He also had a 37-yard run and a 29-yard pass to Lewis on the drive. Palmer finished the day with 83 yards rushing on 13 carries and eight completions in 10 tries for 88 yards and a touchdown.
“We did what we had to do today,” Costantino said. “We got out in front early and never let them back in the game. But we made some mistakes and there are some things we need to work on before we play Keansburg next week.”