MIDDLETOWN – It is nothing new this time of year to see Middletown South still playing meaningful football, stalking another trip to a sectional final.
However, this particular run is a little different. This one featured a run-in with crosstown rival Middletown North on Friday night in an NJSIAA North 2 Group IV semifinal. The two sides are longtime Thanksgiving rivals, but never before have the two played with the winner advancing to December.
Predictably, this matchup on a Friday night brought with it a charged up atmosphere at ‘The Swamp’ and when it ended, the Eagles found themselves exactly where they expect to be in late November.
Senior running back Cole Rogers rushed for 210 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries, senior quarterback Matt Mosquera passed for 176 yards and Middletown South turned the Lions over four times in registering a 41-14 win in front of an announced crowd of 4,469.
“What better environment could you possibly want than what we had here tonight?” said Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci, who will coach in his sixth sectional championship since Middletown South won its last crown in 2006. “Middletown should be very proud of both teams and obviously what that team (Middletown North) has done.
“I told the kids this was the first time these teams have met on a Friday night and that’s the stuff people write about for a long time.”
Behind Rogers, the Eagles (10-0) jumped out to a 27- 0 lead, but a one-yard Chad Freshnock touchdown run and a 55-yard touchdown pass from Donald Glenn to Brendan Kube were sandwiched around a successful onside kick to suddenly put the Lions (7-3) back in the game, down just 27-14 in the third quarter.
Needing to restore order, the Eagles did so with a five-play, 59-yard drive. The last four plays and 53 yards belonged to Rogers, capped by a 33-yard touchdown run on second-and-10. Mosquera’s extra point gave the Eagles a 34-14 lead late in the third.
“That was huge because they really had the momentum at that point,” Rogers said. “They felt like they were coming back in the game, but we had to let them know they weren’t going to do that. We had to put a stop to that and we made a statement there.”
“This is a team that has been here before,” Antonucci said. “People keep asking about the big games and the pressure, but this team has a lot of wins under its belt and they’ve been in state-championship games. The pressure is what it is, but the bottom line is, we need to execute, we’re going to our horse and he did a great job tonight.
“We don’t panic, and I think that’s a huge thing with these kids.”
After a slow start from both sides, Middletown South swiftly took control. A 28-yard touchdown run in which Rogers dragged three defenders with him to the end zone opened the scoring. After a strong defensive stand to give it the ball back, Mosquera got rid of the ball on third-and-9 from the Lions 15 just before getting hit hard from behind. The pass found wide receiver Spencer Pereless over the middle as he scooted through some traffic to give the Eagles a 13-0 lead after one.
Key play: The Rogers touchdown after Middletown North cut its deficit to 27-14 swung the momentum back to Middletown South for good. The Eagles followed that by getting a Maxx Imsho interception, followed by a five-play, 67-yard drive that was aided by a 15-yard penalty and capped by a Rogers three-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring.
Offensive game ball: As Antonucci said, Rogers is his horse and he acted like it on Friday with 210 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Defensive game ball:Tom Coffey’s first-quarter interception stands out as a big play. With the game scoreless, Middletown North used a flea flicker to move to Middletown South 30, but Coffey’s interception on the next play ended that threat. Two plays into the ensuing drive, Rogers scored on a 28-yard run to open the scoring.
Up next: Middletown South and Middletown North will meet for the second time inside a week on Thanksgiving back at The Swamp. The Eagles have won 14 consecutive Thanksgiving meetings with the Lions, and now 15 meetings overall after Friday’s win. An Eagles win will give them the Class A North title outright, while a Lions win will mean a co-division title as both teams will be 4-1. Regardless of the outcome, Middletown South will have one more game to play, the North 2 Group IV championship game against Phillipsburg the weekend of Dec. 4-6.
Josh Newman: firstname.lastname@example.org
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