The first thing a lot of high school football fans probably think about when it comes to Brick Memorial is the triple option offense it runs out of the flexbone set.
However, what perhaps sometimes get overlooked with this Brick Memorial team is how good it is on the offensive and defensive lines.
Linemen Mike Nobile, Anthony Nobile, Chris Hayes, Jimmy Tango and Justin Szuba make up one of the best lines in the Shore Conference on both sides of the ball.
“This is as good an offensive and defensive line that I’ve ever coached,” said Currie, who was also the offensive coordinator at Point Boro for six seasons from 2001-2006 and is a former assistant coach at both Toms River South and his scholastic alma mater Toms River East. “They work well together, come off the football very well, are relentless, have a high motor and get after it. They play with tenacity and leverage, and they are all very strong and athletic.”
The play of the linemen and their ability to open holes for the running game on offense and create havoc for opposing offense on defense has made Brick Memorial one of the most physical teams in the Shore Conference.
Except for perhaps the season-opening 36-6 loss at Brick, the Mustangs have held their own physically with every team they have played, including Middletown South (11-0) — the No. 1-ranked team in the Asbury Park Press Top 10 — in a 21-3 loss on Oct. 23.
Brick Memorial (9-2) has defeated NJSIAA sectional finalists Toms River North (10-1), Old Bridge (8-3) and Jackson Memorial (7-4) by a combined 67 points, with the 52-20 win over Toms River North in Week 2 sending shock waves around the Shore.
“The boys have done a great job putting themselves in position to win a state (sectional) championship,” Currie said. “Now they’ve got to finish the job.”
Brick Memorial’s final hurdle to its first sectional championship since 2008 and third overall is defending Central Group IV champion Jackson Memorial, which they’ll face Saturday at 4 p.m. at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in the Central Group IV championship game.
The Mustangs will be looking to ride the line play and the 1-2 punch out of the flexbone set of senior quarterback Tony Thrope (1,566 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns) and sophomore running back Tony Thorpe (1,205 yards and 17 TDs).
The combination of Santiago and Thorpe forces defenses to make a choice as to what they want to take away.
“I think overall it’s the best combination we’ve had,” said Currie, who also mentioned the combination of quarterback Brian Staub and running back Vinny Sabba in 2008 and quarterback Rob Orrok and running back Brian Friedman at Point Boro in 2004 as among the outstanding 1-2 quarterback-running back combinations he has coached.
“What’s great about Tony (Thorpe) is he is a great, physical inside runner who, when he gets to the second level, can go the distance, and Timmy (Santiago) can run both inside and outside. Those two guys as a combination are very explosive.”
Brick Memorial will need its linemen and Santiago and Thorpe to be at their best, because Jackson Memorial is not the same team that Brick Memorial defeated 28-7 at Jackson Memorial’s Jack Munley Field on Oct. 16 with three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“They are 100 percent different,” Currie said. “This is a team that is the healthiest it has been on both sides of the ball, and they are playing better up front on both sides.”
Jackson Memorial has also undergone some major changes on offense in recent weeks. Kyle Johnson was moved from wide receiver to quarterback, running back Vinny Lee was moved to receiver, and junior Mike Gawlik became the every-down tailback. The Jaguars’ coaching staff has also implemented more of a read option look.
“You throw the knuckle ball of Kyle Johnson — a hell of an athlete — running it and reading it, Vinny Lee as a full-time receiver and Gawlik, and you have their three best athletes on the field all the time. They present a lot of interesting problems. It’s the best team, other than Middletown South, we’ve played this year.”
And Brick Memorial may have the best offensive and defensive lines Jackson Memorial has played this year.
Staff Writer Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; firstname.lastname@example.org