HOWELL First year Freehold Township coach Cory Davies was still looking for his first win with the Patriots as they headed to Howell, where he had been head coach for 21 years. Making matters more difficult, the Patriots were coming off a heart breaking, last second loss to Manalapan last week.
“I never thought I would leave Howell,” said Davies. “I love Howell and the people of Howell, and I saw plenty of friendly familiar faces tonight. But once the game started I was like any other game and fortunately we picked up the win.”
Freehold Township was indeed able to hold on for a 21-14 Class A North victory over the Rebels, dropping Howell to 2-1 on the season.
It wasn’t easy and the Patriots got off to a rough start. On just the second play from scrimmage, Patriots quarterback Jack O’Brien threw towards the left flat, but Howell’s Conor Devine cut in front of the intended receiver, juggled the ball, and intercepted before returning it 6 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead just 40 seconds into the game.
“Coach Davies always says a quarterback has to have a short memory and put interceptions behind him,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien and his teammates did put it behind them quickly as they put together a scoring drive on their next possession. Starting at their own 30, Freehold Township went 47 yards in seven plays. Then on the next play they evened the score when O’Brien completed a pass in the left flat to Adrian Rybaltowski who was able to turn up field and race into the end zone for a 23 yard touchdown.
Tying the score gave the Patriots momentum as they were able to take the lead on their next possession. O’Brien scrambled and then threw a short pass to Max Nowak. Nowak broke free for a 52 yard gain to the Howell 25. Four plays later, facing a 4th and 10, O’Brien threw a deep post to Anthony Lotti who hauled it in to make it 14-7 in the first quarter.
The score remained 14-7 until late in the third quarter. On the final play of the third, O’Brien threw downfield to his right and Nick Galanti caught it for a 22 yard touchdown to make it 21-7.
“It was a corner route and the defender bit on my inside move,” said Galanti. “Then Jack just threw a perfect pass.”
Howell made it a close game again on their next possession. They drove 31 yards on 8 straight running plays by running backs Mekai Gandy and Mike Reilly. But on the ninth play, Howell quarterback Mark Iacobino went to the air. Iacobino escaped a heavy pass rush, rolled right, and then threw across his body for an 18 yard touchdown to Nic Rossi to cut it to 21-14, but Freehold Township was able to hold on.
“It was a big win for us, not just because of the tough loss last week,” said Davies. “But also to reward our guys for their hard work and to get them to buy into what we are trying to build here.”
Key play: Trying to run out the clock late in the game, O’Brien threw a pass to Rybaltowski on third and five. Rybaltowski broke a tackle and got the first down to keep Howell from getting the ball again.
Offensive game ball: Jack O’Brien bounced back from the early pick six to throw three touchdowns.
Defensive game ball: Galanti had two sacks to go along with his difference making touchdown catch.
Next up: The Patriots host #1 Middletown South on Oct 2. Howell hosts Southern, also on Oct 2.
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