A strong running game has always been the focal point of the Carteret High School football team’s success, but on Friday night it was the play of senior quarterback Nelson Baez that stood out.
Baez completed 10-of-12 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown as his strong play behind center mixed with a complementary ground attack and lockdown defensive effort led to a 35-0 shutout of Nottingham in the Ramblers’ Central Group III first round game.
“It was obviously one of, I think, my best career performances,” said Baez, the Home News Tribune Player of the Week. “Just the playoff atmosphere, I think, made it that much more real to me.”
His presence and efficiency throwing the ball meant Nottingham couldn’t stack the box to stop the run – they had to also worry about Baez beating them with his arm, which he did.
“It really gave us the ability to run the ball better because they couldn’t just focus on putting eight or nine guys in the box,” Carteret coach Matt Yascko said. “We have a good group of wide receivers and we felt it was important to get the ball out in space and let them make plays. Nelson did a wonderful job of that – getting the ball in his receivers’ hands, letting them do things with it.”
In a passing attack that’s largely designed on making big plays down the field, Baez and his receivers certainly produced a number of big plays.
He hit Mike Nowak on a 55-yard slant pattern off an all-out blitz from his own 15 yard line. He connected with Justin Taylor on a 57-yard touchdown over the middle, displaying tremendous touch. He hit Brandon Gilder with ease on a 33-yard fly pattern down the left sideline.
In fact, of his only two incompletions, one came on a pass into the end zone in which the Nottingham defensive back made a terrific play on the ball. The other came on a 40-plus yard heave downfield on third-and-21 play from deep inside Carteret’s own territory that was intercepted, but had the same effect as a long punt.
“Usually our passing game is big plays down the field where it’s a 50-50 play for the receiver and the defensive back, but his completion percentage is below 50 percent for the year,” Yascko said. “He was able to get the ball to kids where they could make plays, but it wasn’t a matter of throwing the ball into traffic or into trouble, it was more of him getting the ball to the kids in open space.”
Carteret will next meet Long Branch in the Central Group III semifinals on Friday night, a team they have recent experience with.
The Ramblers edged them in the first round of the playoffs last year, 13-3, but suffered a 31-6 loss to the Green Wave in the second week of the season as they were forced to throw more than they would have liked in the second half being down.
They’ll need to be more balanced if they want to have a different result this time around.
“Just moving on from earlier in the year, you take what you learned,” Baez said. “We made the mistake of thinking we were going to see that same team we saw in the playoffs last year, and we didn’t, and we’re expecting them to think that they’re going to see the same team that they saw in week two. Moving on from last week, it was a great confidence boost for everybody and I think moving forward they’re going to have to worry about me maybe a little more now coming off that performance and maybe our run game is that much better.”
Staff writer Mike Becker: firstname.lastname@example.org