KEY PORT – When Dan Wendel took over as head coach of the Monmouth Regional three seasons ago, he envisioned the process his program had to go through to become contenders. His message to his players was to stay the course and trust the technical staff to guide them in the right direction.
Their faith and confidence paid off, as in the third year the Falcons were division champions.
On Saturday afternoon at Mike Ciccotelli Field, Monmouth used a powerful offense and physical defense to defeat the previously undefeated Keyport 28-7 and win at least a share of the Shore Conference National Division Championship. The Falcons can clinch the title with a victory over Point Beach next week. The division crown is only the third in program history and the first since 2006.
Junior running back Julian Jones ran for a career-high 244 yards and three touchdowns in 30 carries and also ran for a 2-point conversion and the defense forced three turnovers including a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior linebacker Jeremiah Robles. Three years after a winless season, the Falcons are 4-1 and one of the most successful teams in program history.
“I take it back to two years ago, we always told the kids to trust the process and in two or three years we will be in a situation where we will do the same (like the other teams on their schedule)” , says Wendel. “It’s a very special group. They took their pieces in sophomore two years ago, going from 0 to 9, and then battled everything we faced last year. There is an expectation and a standard on how we want to play and that’s what they experience. “
Monmouth’s defense maintained a high-scoring Keyport offense that averaged 31.8 points per game featuring one of the Shore’s most dynamic players, senior wide receiver DJ Thomson. The Red Raiders didn’t blow up the scoreboard until the final play of the third quarter when Thomson got behind the Falcon defense for a 47-yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback George Mitchell, but out of that game, Monmouth’s defense was formidable. Keyport only managed 117 yards of attack and five first downs.
Senior Nelson Harris-Thomas was a force during the 48 minutes, finishing with three tackles for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles among his eight total tackles. Senior defensive end Loukas Plasteras recorded three tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery, junior linebacker Eric Crossley had seven tackles, one loss tackle and one fumble recovery, and junior Lucas Bomtempo had also saved a bag.
“Our defense played light, they’ve been amazing this year,” said Wendel. “They feel comfortable playing in the system – they’ve been living it for three years now – and they just steal. And they gradually got better. That first game (a 20-14 loss to Manchester) left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths and since then they’ve been locked in and ready to prove they’re here to play this year.
After a scoreless first quarter, Monmouth struck first as Jones extended the ball over the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown with 7:53 left in the first half. The two-point conversion attempt was stopped by a Keyport sack, leaving the score 6-0. It was the Falcons defense that provided huge help on the strike, forcing Keyport out of his own 7-yard line, which gave Monmouth the ball over the 39-yard line. A 10-yard run by Jones coupled with a personal foul on Keyport quickly pushed the ball inside the 15-yard line.
Three games in the next series, Robles knocked out Mitchell and sent him back for 30 yards for a touchdown to extend Monmouth’s lead. Jones ran in the 2-point conversion to bring the score to 14-0 with 6:46 left to go before half-time.
Halfway through the third quarter, Monmouth began practice on his own 20-yard line and moved onto the field in 10 games to take a three-goal lead. Jones broke free for a 35-yard rush on the first down and another personal foul penalty on Keyport put the ball on the Red Raiders’ 26-yard line. Jones finished the race with a one-yard touchdown stroke. The two-point conversion failed and Monmouth led 20-0 with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the first play of possession that followed, Thomson finally broke free and Mitchell hit him in stride for a 47-yard touchdown pass. Mitchell added the extra point to reduce Monmouth’s lead to 20-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
Keyport then recovered the ball when senior cornerback Zivon Crank intercepted a pass. The momentum seemed to be shifting to the Raiders, but Monmouth responded two plays later when Nelson-Harris chased Mitchell for a strip-sack and Crossley pounced on the fumble at the Monmouth 29-yard line.
“When they got the INT, we just had to dump it,” Harris-Thomas said. “We had to forget that and move on to the next room. “
“Every day we work to face adversity in practice,” Plasteras said. “We’re going to run a drill where we throw an interception and we have to come back to defense immediately. We are preparing to be ready at all times.
From there, Monmouth put in a 12-play, 71-yard practice to put the game out of reach. Jones and Robles combined for 12 straight running games before Jones bounced off the left side for a 9-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 2:21 remaining.
The Falcons’ regular season has two games to play with Point Beach and Point Boro coming up over the next two weeks. A victory over Beach will give Monmouth the outright National Division title. A Week 7 clash with a Point Boro side who currently hold the No.1 offense in the Shore and who are ranked No.1 in United Power’s Group 2 South standings will certainly be a major test. Then there are two games left in the Shore Conference playoffs before the start of the NJSIAA playoffs.
Significant games are coming for Monmouth Regional. The ability to participate in high-stakes matches late in the season is a welcome departure from the program’s past struggles.
“It means so much to win with my brothers,” Plasteras said. “We go out every day and work and we have built a special bond. We think others are surprised, but we are not. We worked the whole offseason and we knew we had a chance to be great. “
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Monmouth vs. Keyport Football
The score of the box
Monmouth 28, Keyport 7
|Monmouth (4-1, 4-0)||0||14||6||8||28|
|Key chain (4-1, 3-1)||0||0||7||0||7|
M- Julian Jones 3-yard run (missed pass)
M- Jeremiah Robles 30-yard interception return (Julian Jones run)
M- Julian Jones 1 yard run (missed pass)
K- George Mitchell’s 47-yard DJ Thomson pass (George Mitchell kick)
M- Julian Jones 9-yard run (Jeremiah Robles run)
BREAKAGE – M: Julian Jones 30-244, Jeremiah Robles 10-45, Brandon Ligon 1 – (- 3), Anthony Jehn 7 – (- 11); K: Nazir Treadwell 6-26, George Mitchell 4 – (- 3), DJ Thomson 1 – (- 10).
PASSAGE – M: Anthony Jehn 8-14-2 42; K: George Mitchell 9-24-1 104.
RECEPTION – M: Ta’Haj Wiggins 2-23, Griffin Hicks 1-14, Julian Jones 3-4, Nelson Harris-Thomas 1-2, Gerald Wiggins 1 – (- 1); K: DJ Thomson 5-68, Nashirr Hart 1-19, Christyan Azevedo 1-13, Ali Elayan 1-7, Mason Eldrigde 1-0, Nazir Treadwell 1 – (- 3).
INTERCEPTIONS – M: Jeremiah Robles 1-31; K: George Mitchell 1-0, Zivon Crank 1-8.
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