A lot of programs probably would not have pulled a game out of the fire the way Manalapan did this past Friday night when it recorded a semi-miraculous 21-20 win over Freehold Township.
“We know it’s a 48-minute game and we kept fighting,” Manalapan coach Ed Gurrieri said.
The Braves won the game when a L.J. Holder hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Cody Wiener that was deflected in flight by a Freehold Township player with six tenths of a second left and Weiner then kicked the tie-breaking extra point.
“They (his players) know how to win,” Gurrieri said. “They fought to the very end, kept fighting, kept working hard and we broke through.”
It was not the first time in the past six seasons Manalapan pulled a game out of the fire. It defeated Toms River North, 28-24, in 2010 on an 80-yard TD pass in the final seconds and defeated Brick Memorial 14-13 in a NJSIAA Central Group V first-round playoff game in 2013 on a TD and extra point in the final seconds.
This time, Manalapan took over on its own 23 with a little more than three minutes to play and proceeded to drive downfield by running the ball out of the I-formation with senior tailback Marcus Salinas and its veteran offensive line. Salinas ran for a career-high 233 yards and two touchdowns.
“We felt confident. We had run the ball pretty well the whole game. We felt that was going to be our best option,” Gurrieri said.
The only passing plays on the drive were the final two, Gurrieri said. The first one was a spike to stop the clock with eight seconds left. The second one was the game-winning play.
“I told them (his team) how proud I was of them,” Gurrieri said. “Nobody was getting down on themselves or pointing fingers and everybody was into the game.”
Freehold Township, which has not defeated Manalapan since a 22-20 win in 2004, was in position to win because of the success it had throwing the ball out of the Texas Tech-type spread offense.
The spread set is one Patriots’ head coach Cory Davies, in his first season at Freehold Township, used with great success the last seven seasons of his 21-season tenure at Howell from 2005-2011. It is also the offense Davies utilized when he was the offensive coordinator at Lacey the past three seasons.
The alignment utilizes a lot of four and five receiver sets and spreads defenses out.
Freehold Township senior quarterback Jack O’Brien threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
“They were very efficient at what they did,” Gurrieri said. “Cory (Davies) does an outstanding job with that offense. O’Brien is a three-year starter and a good player and they have good receivers and good size up front. They have everything you need to be successful.”
But, right now, Manalapan showed, once again, it knows how to close a game.
The Braves, who had major graduation losses from the team that won the Central Group V championship, the first sectional championship in their history, are playing without several key players.
Senior receiver/defensive back Anthony Bassani is sidelined for the season with a broken foot,” Gurrieri said. Junior fullback Sal Casazza is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and senior inside linebacker Lee Maksimik will be out another three-four weeks, Gurrieri said.
Red Bank Catholic senior quarterback Eddie Hahn returned from a torn meniscus that had sidelined him since Aug. 18 with a flourish as he went 14-for-18 for 301 yards and three TDs in the Caseys’ 32-18 win over St. Joseph (Metuchen).
“We’re happy he’s healthy,” Red Bank Catholic coach Jim Portela said. “It makes us better on both sides of the ball.”
Hahn’s returned enabled the Caseys’ coaching staff to play Colin Shaughnessy, who had been the quarterback in Hahn’s absence some at safety on defense. He had not been doing that while he was the quarterback. Hahn, who normally plays defense and punts, did not play defense or punt in the St. Joseph game.
Hahn, who had undergone surgery on Aug. 20, practiced all last week and played the St. Joseph game right from the start.
“We decided he was feeling good during the week and he was confident in how he felt,” Portela said.
Portela said on the third play of the game, Hahn completed a pass on a third and long for a first down Hahn was able to scramble away from the pass rush the first time he was pressured, Portela said.
“Listen, kids like Eddie don’t grow on trees,” said Portela, about the University of Connecticut recruit. “He’s one of our senior leaders in terms of character. It was important to have him throw very well the other day.”
WEEK 2 GAME BALLS:
Asbury Park: Senior quarterback Davon Thompson.
Brick: Junior receiver/running back Ja’Sir Taylor.
Brick Memorial: Senior quarterback Tim Santiago; Senior defensive lineman Chris Hayes.
Freehold Township: Senior quarterback Jack O’Brien
Lakewood: Sophomore quarterback Zyhier Jones; Sophomore defensive lineman Josh Lezin.
Long Branch: Junior running back Keith Cooper.
Middletown South: Senior running back Cole Rogers. The defensive line.
Shore: Running back/linebacker Doug Goldsmith.