The lure of a college football playing career is naturally strong for many on an undefeated Ocean team, especially ahead of all the potential next week’s state playoffs brings. But the postseason will have a different meaning for standout two-way lineman Jack Morris, who’s already made up his mind that these final weeks of the season will mark the end of his playing days.
“I’ve been accepted into East Stroudsburg University’s athletic training program and I’m going to concentrate on that,” Morris said after the No. 4 Spartans beat Freehold 35-19 Saturday to wrap up the outright Shore Conference Class B North championship. “At the end of the season I’m going to be nothing but tears. This has been the greatest four years of my life.”
Morris on offense helped clear the way for sophomore tailback Tyler Thompson’s 181-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance for Ocean (8-0, 6-0) against Freehold (1-7, 1-5). Ocean, which last won a division title in 2006, is one of the four last teams in the conference still with perfect records.
Morris is not a victim of football burnout but rather leaving the game on his terms. The right tackle/defensive end didn’t play youth football and joined the Ocean program cold as a freshman.
“Jack is such a special kid. His work ethic is unparalleled,” said Ocean coach Don Klein. “A lot of our kids grew up playing football and grew up playing together. Jack came in without that experience. He’s a kid who dramatically improved from junior year to senior year and at 6-2, 210 pounds, he runs, is strong as an ox, and he really committed himself to the weight room.”
“I played college football and it’s different,” Klein added. “I told him there are some opportunities to play college football if he wants it. He said, ‘no, coach; I know what I want to do.’ He wants to go study athletic training and he’ll do a great job with that.”
Thompson ran 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game and had a 16-yard run later in the first quarter but was held to 10 yards on his other 9 carries in the half. He caused more damage with a 62-yard punt return in the second quarter but the Spartans couldn’t convert on the red-zone opportunity, giving up the ball on Thompson’s no-gain on fourth-and-short at the 20.
Freehold stayed within reach thanks to Ian Curry’s play-action throw to Tyrod Smith-Rush, who beat Thompson’s single coverage for a 33-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.
Ocean earned breathing room and a 14-6 lead in the final minute of the second quarter. A 72-yard, 8-play drive was finished by Royal Moore’s 13-yard pass to Zack Godfrey. Moore’s passes to Danny Loizos for 34 yards and Ryan McGuckin for 7 yards set up the TD.
Then the game was put out of reach on two more Thompson TDs in the third quarter, but Ocean’s defense had a starring role. Ocean kept Freehold’s offense off the field during the quarter in a pair of four-and-out possessions. Meanwhile the Spartans on offense ran off 17 plays during their scoring possessions.
Klein called the unit a “physical, fast defense” and well-prepared by defensive coordinator Marc Tomo.
“We have a lot of experienced players back, and these are kids that understand football and they can adapt in many different fronts and coverages,” Klein added.
Morris said the team is peaking at the right time.
“From the beginning of the season we’ve had our minds set on a state championship. We’re anxious to get started on that,” Morris said.
Moore completed 5 of 8 passes for 66 yards and caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett. Smith-Rush paced Freehold’s offense with four pass receptions for 90 yards.