FREEHOLD – Middletown South made coming back from a second quarter deficit look easy Saturday, tapping into a defense that became unyielding and getting three touchdowns from running back Cole Rogers in a 38-7 victory over Freehold that gave the program its 17th Shore Conference divisional championship, all since 1986.
Middletown South, No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press rankings and widely regarded as the best team in New Jersey, clinched a share of the Class A North title and can take the outright championship by winning the annual Thanksgiving game against Middletown North.
But the focus for the coming week will be the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs, where the expectations are high for the Eagles (8-0).
“We’ll enjoy what we did today until Monday and then we’re back at it,’’ said Rogers, who rushed for 212 yards on 18 carries.
Middletown South has won nine sectional titles, second to only Manasquan in the Shore Conference, but have come up empty in the state tournament since 2006, a drought the current team is intent on ending.
But getting past Freehold (6-3) was by no means a sure shot, Middletown South coach Steve Antonucci said.
The Eagles had a bye week after beating a top 10 team, Brick Memorial, two weeks ago, setting up what Antonucci called a potential “trap game’’ against another quality opponent.
“Bye weeks are great, but also they’re not great. We were playing with momentum for seven straight weeks and then there’s a hole, so you’re trying to recapture what you had,’’ Antonucci said. “We were somewhat flat starting. But this is the kind of group that you can trust to come out and play. Once they start playing, we know what they’re capable of.’’
Senior quarterback Matt Mosquera, who completed 11 of 15 passes for 134 yards with a 28-yard touchdown throw to Jeff Lewandowski in the third quarter, put the Eagles on the scoreboard first with a 35-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.
Freehold took a 7-3 lead three minutes later on Jake Curry’s 15-yard pass to Markee Gill but the home team’s offense was not allowed to achieve much after that, registering four more first downs, none in the third quarter. Curry completed 15 of 29 passes for 115 yards.
Meanwhile, Rogers ran wild. He’s missed two games this season because of a shoulder injury but has now topped 900 rushing yards.
His 36-yard touchdown run with 7:58 left in the second quarter put Middletown South in the lead for good at 10-7.
“Cole is a tremendous runner. His stats are weren’t they should be right now because he missed the two games but the kid is as good a back as we’ve ever had here, and that’s saying a lot,’’ Antonucci said.
Key play: Freehold trailing 10-7 in the second quarter drove to the Middletown South 24 but was turned away by Middletown South junior linebacker James McCarthy’s stop of quarterback Jake Curry on a third-and-dix dive, and McCarthy assisted the tackle of Curry again on a read-run on fourth down.
Offensive game ball: Middletown South’s Cole Rogers ran for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensive game ball: McCarthy sparked the Eagles throughout the game in making stops on Freehold’s bids to make yardage on third downs and fourth downs.
Up next: Both teams will play next week in the NJSIAA playoffs. Opponents and dates to be determined.