Toms River South needed something to take the sting out of its difficult loss to Shawnee in the NJSIAA playoffs.
A Thanksgiving Day win over longtime rival Lakewood provided just the tonic for the Indians.
Running backs Otis Kearney and Khaleel Greene ran for two touchdowns apiece and quarterback Darrius Hart threw for two touchdowns to lead Toms River South to a 53-26 victory over Lakewood at Russell E. Wright Field.
This was the 94th meeting between the two schools in the Shore Conference’s longest continuous rivalry. The Indians lead the series 53-37-4.
Toms River South (8-3) completed its first winning season since 2003 and finished with its most wins since going 8-2 in 2002.
The Indians, though, missed an opportunity to reach the NJSIAA South Group IV final. Toms River South held a 24-0 halftime lead over Shawnee in the semifinals last Saturday, but the Renegades rallied in the second half for a 28-24 victory.
“We knew we were disappointed letting up a 24-0 lead, so we wanted to go out with a bang,” Kearney said.
“That was a hard loss for us,” Hart said. “We just got over it maybe yesterday or the day before. It’s been a tough week, but we came out, we wanted to get this W and end it right.”
Hart made his first start at quarterback this season in place of Tymere Berry, who was out with an ankle injury. He threw a pair of 3-yard touchdown passes to receiver Russell Messler, the second a fade to the left side of the end zone as time expired in the first half to give the Indians a 13-6 lead.
“That’s usually me, so I said (to Messler), ‘I’ll get you some touchdowns, too,’ ” said Hart, who also plays receiver.
Toms River South then dominated the third quarter, scoring 30 points on four touchdowns and a safety to break the game open at 43-6.
“We talked at halftime about last week,” Toms River South coach Ron Signorino Jr. said. “Shawnee dominated us in the second half. We just wanted to reverse that trend and get that taste of defeat out of our mouths and just say, ‘We can do what Shawnee did to us, we can go out there and do that to these guys.’ “
Kearney, who finished with 177 yards on 16 carries, opened the third quarter with a 51-yard touchdown run to make it 20-6. After Lakewood was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone for an Indians’ safety, Toms River South made it 29-6 when Greene ran for a 13-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1.
The Indians next scored when Quentin DeCarlo caught a fumble by Messler off a fake punt and ran 15 yards for a touchdown and a 36-6 lead. Hart followed with an interception on defense, and Kearney added an 11-yard touchdown run to make it 43-6 late in the third quarter.
Lakewood (6-5) scored three times in the fourth quarter as quarterback Naquese Joshua ran for a 1-yard touchdown and threw a pair of 12-yard touchdown passes to Joey Keraitis and Mike Randolph. Joshua went 11-of-16 for 120 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Randolph.