Team still winless entering holiday finale
By: Shawn Tyrrell
HIGHLAND PARK Something had to give in last Friday night’s Central Jersey Group 1 consolation football game between Manville and Highland Park.
Both schools were winless coming into the contest. For the Mustangs, it was a game that enabled them to play against an opponent that was somewhat comparable. But when the final whistle sounded it was the Owls that gained that first win of the year defeating MHS 28-0 in front of a sparse crowd at Gus Cohen Field in Highland Park.
The loss was Manville’s ninth of the season and easily one of the toughest. The Mustangs had some chances but when they needed a big play or a stop on defense they couldn’t come through. It seemed whenever the Highland Park offense was faced with a third or fourth down conversion they would pick up the first down with just enough or a yard to spare.
Neither team was particularly sharp as Highland Park fumbled the ball five times losing four and also committed 11 penalties for 100 yards, while the Mustangs had three turnovers with two coming on interceptions.
In the game two plays stand out that truly were difference makers in determining who was going to win. Highland Park won the toss and got going right a way as Owl return-man Anthony Bey took the ball and raced 75 yards up the left sideline (the extra point after was good) and with just 21 seconds gone in the contest Manville trailed 7-0.
The Mustangs offense struggled to move the ball and punted on the team’s first two possessions. The Owls struck again with just 2:28 to go in the first quarter when running back Willie Roman went right up the heart of the Manville defense for a 16-yard score. What was frustrating for the Mustang defense was that they stopped the Highland Park offense on a third down and four from the 22-yard line when linebacker Nathan Bott tackled the ball carrier for no gain. The Owls went for it on fourth down and got six yards for the first down, which kept the drive going resulting in the Roman run.
Now with a 14-0 lead, Highland Park received a major break when the Mustangs made the biggest mental error of the game. On the ensuing kickoff Manville allowed the ball to drop. At this point, the ball is live and can be recovered by either team.
The Owls recovered the ball and needed just four plays before Roman scored his second touchdown of the night. The senior running back went 18 yards, breaking two tackles on his way to the end zone. He finished the evening with 52 yards on just five carries and the two scores.
Mustang head coach Steve Gordon was obviously not happy with the final results of the opening kickoff and the game.
"It is very frustrating to see some of the mistakes we are making," Gordon said. "At times we can play well (especially in the JV games) but when we get to the varsity games we go blank. It is very hard to understand"
The first half came to a close with MHS down only 21-0 and still very much in the ballgame. But the Mustangs never got on track offensively.
The Owl completed the scoring when with 9:23 to go in the third quarter as Bey went 48 yards reversing fields in the process for the final points of the night.
Manville had an opportunity in the closing minute when tackle Nick Denesevich recovered his second fumble of the evening putting the ball at the Highland Park 33-yard line. All the Mustangs could gain was five yards and after two incomplete passes the game ended.
It was that type of evening for Manville. The Mustangs got close but couldn’t get things right when they needed to. Running back Alex Cubero led MHS with 19 yards on nine carries. He knows the team is still struggling.
"We have gotten better offensively," Cubero said. "The offensive line is staying on their blocks better and opening up some holes. Defensively, we still are struggling and have to cut down on allowing the big play."
Highland Park was the better team and deserved the win. The Mustangs one game left on Thanksgiving Day vs. Bound Brook to prove they are the better team than their opponent on game day.