SOUTH BRUNSWICK Before the haze had cleared from an unexpected halftime firework shoot-off, the Middletown South High School football team was on top and in control of its season opener.
James McCarthy raced home from 47 yards out on the third play of the second half and added a 60-yard rushing touchdown four minutes later to send Middletown South, No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press’ Top-10, to a 41-21 victory over South Brunswick, No. 1 in the Home News Tribune Top-10 on Friday night.
McCarthy finished with 152 yards on just 11 carries, picking up some slack from last year’s leading rusher, Cole Rogers, who was held to just 47 yards by a stingy South Brunswick defense.
“We had to work hard all summer and when we came out in the second half, we put that work on the field and we did it,” McCarthy said.
Rogers, who posted 1,867 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns last season for the Eagles, dealt with cramps on a muggy night, and played sparingly in the second half, opening the door for McCarthy’s big night.
“We help each other every way we can, and we push each other in practice,” McCarthy said, speaking of Rogers. “Tonight, he was definitely helping me out when I was running.”
McCarthy’s first touchdown gave Middletown South the lead just 1:06 into the second half, erasing an early 21-3 lead that was built by South Brunswick. The Vikings used a down-field aerial attack to blitz the Eagles, with junior quarterback Josh Liao delivering three touchdown passes in the first quarter and a half.
Liao hit Justin Shorter for a 33-yard score to cap the game’s opening drive and found Jaier Garrett for a 72-yard catch-and-run later in the stanza. After a Matt Mosquera 45-yard field goal, Liao hit Mohamed Jabbie for a 47-yard strike to put the Vikings up 18.
“Did I think we’d be up 21-3 in the first quarter? Never. I expected this to be a dogfight and it was exciting,” South Brunswick head coach Joe Goerge said. “They started to take over in the second quarter and we gave up a couple of big plays that hurt. That’s a damn good team. They wore us down.”
Mosquera added his second field goal of the game midway through the second quarter, a 32-yarder, before starting to put up numbers of his own. The Eagles’ quarterback hit Samson Dube with a 72-yard scoring pass with 3:07 left in the first half and raced home with an 8-yard run with just 33 seconds to play before halftime. The senior finished with 174 all-purpose yards, including 61 on the ground, to spearhead the Middletown South comeback.
“Our guys have motiviaton and we have a lot of skilled players that can do some things and we showed a little bit of that tonight and at the end it came down to the offensive line doing its job,” Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci said.
The Eagles earned a bit of redemption, after losing to South Brunswick 36-24 a year ago, but Antonucci said that this season is about one simple thing.
“I don’t look at it as revenge or redemption or any of that stuff we just want to win,” he said.
Liao finished 15-26 for 252 yards and the three touchdowns, but was intercepted at the end of a 12-play drive that ended with no points in the third quarter.
Tom Marron iced the game with a 52-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter for Middletown South.
MIDDLETOWN SOUTH (1-0) 3-17-14-7-41
SOUTH BRUNSWICK (0-1) 14-7-0-0-21
SB – Shorter 33 pass from Liao (Fehte kick)
SB – Garrett 72 pass from Liao (Fehte kick)
MS – Mosquera 45 kick
SB – Jabbie 47 pass from Liao (Fehte kick)
MS – Mosquera 32 kick
MS – Dube 72 pass from Mosquera (Mosquera kick)
MS – Mosquera 8 run (Mosquera kick)
MS – McCarthy 47 run (Mosquera kick)
MS – McCarthy 60 run (Mosquera kick)
MS – Marron 52 punt return (Mosquera kick)
Passing – MS: Mosquera 4-10-113-1; SB: Liao 15-26-252-3-1.
Rushing – MS: McCarthy 11-152, Mosquera 7-61, C. Rogers 17-47, Pinto 3-12, Alessi 2-7, Pignataro 3-3, Team 1-0; SB: Cerminaro 4-10, Campbell 6-8, Summers 4-7, Allen 6-4, Hiil 1-1, Jabbie 1-0, Liao 7-minus 4.
Receiving – MS: Dube 2-76, Joyce 1-6, Team 2-36; SB: Jabbie 6-91, Garrett 1-72, Shorter 4-58, Allen 3-21.