Giving up points for the first time this season wasn’t the end of the world for the Colts Neck defense. That was because the team was prepared for the eventuality, said senior tackle Martin Hooper after a 35-7 victory over St. John Vianney Saturday – the first time the unbeaten Cougars did not win by shutout.
“We acted out during practice where our JV team scored on us, and we’d be all upset about it so when it happened in a game it wouldn’t be a big deal. The coaches called it systematic desensitization,” Hooper said. “Obviously we were going to get scored on at some point so we were ready when it happened.”
The touchdown late in the second half of the Shore Conference nondivisional game was all St. John Vianney (1-4) could get.
Meanwhile the No. 6 Cougars (5-0) tuned up for next week’s showdown with division rival No. 2 Manalapan by building on their 21-7 halftime lead with a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter – quarterback Christian Sanchez scored on a 22-yard run, then connected with Nick Volpe for a scoring pass, their second TD combination of the game.
Sanchez was 7 of 16 for 92 yards and no interceptions and Volpe caught 3 of the passes for 37 yards.
Anthony Gargiulo scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in the first half and finished with 135 yards and Colts Neck coach Greg LaCava said Hooper, a two-way lineman, was another star.
“The kid never comes off the field,” LaCava said of Hoooper, who is 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds and boasts a 4.4 grade-point average. “We have some very good skill players who get all the statistics and all the accolades but Hooper and these other big guys up front, we challenge them every week. Hooper is a two-way tackle and we also use him at defensive end. He has a toughness that many people don’t have. We want our kids to emulate him. He plays every snap, every game. He’s the only who has done that for us.”
Colts Neck got careless with the ball late in the second quarter and looked ripe to be scored on but the defense remained stubborn.
The Cougars handed St. John Vianney three possessions in the red zone during the final minutes of the second quarter. They turned back the Lancers twice but Frank Bonavitacola broke through with a catch of Anthony Brown’s 13-yard scoring pass. That reduced Colts Neck’s lead at the time to 21-7.
The TD came with 23.6 seconds left in the second quarter. So Colts Neck, counting the shutouts pitched in the first four games of the season, went 215 minutes, 36.4 seconds without allowing a point.
Here’s where the points started to seem self-inflicted: Craig Russo fumbled a punt fair catch at the Colts Neck 12. St. John Vianney got as close as the two-yard line but Brown, who came on at quarterback after Billy DeMato left the game with an injury, fumbled on a sneak attempt and Gargiulo recovered.
But two plays later, Gargiulo fumbled, giving the Lancers a fresh set of downs at the one-yard line. They still couldn’t get in because of a pair of stops by Nick Volpe, a tackle by Nicholas Gargiulo and a pass knockdown on fourth down by Michael Ververka.
One last time, St. John Vianney received a chance when Julanee Prince returned a punt 20 yards to the Colts Neck 25. Brown connected with Steven Ruiz on a 17-yard pass to put the ball on the 13, setting up Bonavitacola’s touchdown.
LaCava said the end of the streak is just as well.
“Too much was being placed on the shutout streak. Not from us internally, but from people outside the program. Our thing is, it doesn’t matter what the score is at the end of a game, as long as you have one more point than the other team,” he said.