HOWELL – Don’t let the record fool you. Manalapan High School’s football team is heading into the playoffs with all cylinders firing.
After the Braves improved to 5-4 with a 42-0 romp of Howell on Friday night, the only question was how the heck this group lost four games.
“Deep down we knew we could do this,” said senior running back Marcus Salinas, who rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. “We’re getting guys back for the playoffs; we had six kids injured in the beginning of the season. We should be fully loaded again to make a run.”
That’s a scary prospect for foes in the Central Group V bracket, of which Manalapan is the defending champ. The Braves looked every bit the part as they rolled up nearly 300 first-half yards to take a 35-0 lead into halftime.
“We had a great week of practice this week, probably the best week we’ve had since at least Sayreville (a 47-27 road win Sept. 25),” quarterback Cody Wiener said. “It really translated to the field today.”
The tone was set on Manalapan’s first offensive play, when Salinas burst through a huge hole up the middle for 45 yards. On the next play, fullback Chris Maksimik piled into the end zone from 6 yards out.
“It’s great to start fast,” Wiener said. “The guys up front did a great job. It’s pretty easy for us to do what we have to do when the guys up front do what they have to do.”
For Howell (3-6), the ensuing drive ended in an interception by Manalapan’s Sal Tardogno, who returned it 45 yards. The very next play was a 15-yard touchdown run by Salinas, making it 14-0 with 8:48 left in the first quarter.
After the teams traded possessions, Manalapan marched 55 yards on nine plays, with Wiener hitting Maksimik on a 12-yard touchdown pass off of play action. After another Braves interception — this one in the end zone by David Blumenberg — Wiener put the icing on the cake with a 51-yard touchdown bomb to junior L’jeron Holder.
The razor-sharp quarterback finished with 121 yards and two touchdowns on 5-of-8 passing.
“There’s nothing better than going into the playoffs with a great win,” he said.
Key play: Down 14-0 and in Manalapan territory, Howell faked a punt on fourth and 10. The pass attempt was incomplete, and the Braves marched the other way for a game-breaking touchdown.
Offensive game ball: Manalapan running back Marcus Salinas rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Defensive game ball: Linebacker Sal Tardogno’s 45-yard interception return set up Manalapan’s second touchdown.
Up next: Manalapan will play in a Central Group V quarterfinal and Howell will play in a consolation game next weekend. Details on both contests will be finalized in the coming days.
Staff writer Jerry Carino: firstname.lastname@example.org
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