Ocean wins by slowing Monmouth’s offense

Field position key to 11-10 Shore 44 victory

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

ERIC SUCAR staff Monmouth quarterback Tom D'Ambrisi, of Monmouth Regional, gets rid of the ball while taking a hit during Friday night's Shore 44 football game at Brick Township High School.ERIC SUCAR staff Monmouth quarterback Tom D’Ambrisi, of Monmouth Regional, gets rid of the ball while taking a hit during Friday night’s Shore 44 football game at Brick Township High School. Shore 44 may not have produced the expected fireworks, but it managed to provide drama.

On paper, the Shore Conference Football Coaches Association’s Shore 44 Football Classic, played Friday night at Brick Township High School, had all the makings of a high-scoring affair.

Monmouth County’s all-star team had the two best quarterbacks in the Shore Conference – Howell’s Sean O’Reilly and Monmouth’s Tom D’Ambrisi – and a group of play-making receivers who could stretch the field, to work with. Add to that Howell head coach Corey Davies’ spread offense, which can be fastbreak basketball on grass, and all the elements for a high-scoring game were there.

But Ocean County countered with the best running backs in the conference, led by Brick Memorial’s Vinnie Falkiewicz and Lacey’s Chris DiMicco. The goal of Ocean County head coach Lou Vircillo was to control the ball and the clock and keep Monmouth County from making the big strike.

Ocean County got everything it needed to slow down the high-octane Monmouth County squad. Its ground game was solid, the punting of Lacey’s Sean McAndrew let them play field position, the defense kept everything in front of it, and with a couple of breaks, Ocean pulled out an 11-10 victory in the 30th edition of the game that pits the best graduating seniors from Monmouth and Ocean counties against each other.

The final score certainly mattered, but what may have been more important was the camaraderie shared by the area’s best football players.

“It was awesome playing with those guys,” said D’Ambrisi, who was named Monmouth’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player. “I learned a lot from Sean about the way he reads his progression. I was staying in the pocket a lot more.”

The game started as if 21 points would be scored in the first quarter alone. Monmouth looked like a football team in midseason form rather than an all-star team, as O’Reilly engineered a 17-play drive that went from Monmouth’s own 33 to the Ocean six-yard line. O’Reilly used his feet as well as his array of wide receivers to methodically move Monmouth down the field. The drive reached the six-yard line before a sack of O’Reilly by Jarrett Pidgeon of Southern Regional on third-and-goal forced a field goal attempt.

Raritan’s Carmen Falco split the uprights with 5:08 left in the quarter, and Monmouth had a 3-0 lead.

It was three-and-out for Ocean, but McAndrew uncorked a 48-yard punt that put Monmouth back on its own 12-yard line. On a third down and eight, D’Ambrisi, who alternated with O’Reilly by series, hit Long Branch’s Terry Paul in traffic for a first down and more. Paul won the jump ball for possession and when he came down with the ball, he broke a tackle and was off to the races. Monmouth’s big-play ability had struck on an 86-yard scoring play.

But it was all for naught. An inadvertent whistle blew the play dead after Haynes got the ball for a first down. Monmouth was given the first down, but not the six points. In the brooha over the call, Monmouth was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty, which would loom large in the game on the next play from scrimmage. The snap from center was over the head of D’Ambrisi, who was in the shotgun formation, resulting in a two-point safety for Ocean.

Ocean would then get great field position on the ensuing kickoff, starting at the Monmouth 37.

The safety and ensuing return had Ocean back in the game.

Arin West of Toms River North hooked up with Dave Newman (Toms River North) on a big second-and-long at the 13-yard line. DiMicco picked up the first down on third down, and Ocean was on the move. The drive would stall on the 10, forcing a 27-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Casey (Manchester). Like Monmouth’s Falco, he would split the uprights, and Ocean was in the lead by the baseball score of 5-3 with 8:26 left in the half.

A holding penalty thwarted Monmouth on its next possession, and a 20-yard punt return by West had Ocean set up again in Monmouth territory on the 46. On fourth down, Ocean faked a punt, with Jaren Edwards (Monmouth Regional) coming up to make the stop two yards short of a first down.

Monmouth’s offense was stuck in neutral facing a third-and-10 when D’Ambrisi connected with his teammate Haynes on a big 13-yard play that picked up the first down.

Needing a spark, the Monmouth offense turned to some trickery, with O’Reilly entering the game as a wide out. D’Ambrisi found Chris Lewnes (St. John Vianney) downfield for a 10-yard gain, but he lateraled the ball to O’Reilly coming across the field from the other side. O’Reilly added 16 yards to the play and Monmouth was knocking on the door. A 12-yard burst through the middle by Carmen Dente (Raritan) put the ball on the five, and D’Ambrisi went the final five yards for the game’s first touchdown. With the extra point, Monmouth led 10-5 and would take that lead into the locker room.

The second half went just as Ocean would have wanted it. McAndrew let them play field position again. His 45-yard punt put Monmouth on its own five-yard line. Monmouth managed one first down but had to punt the ball back to Ocean, which won the field position battle, taking it on the Monmouth 36.

Throwing DiMicco, Falkiewicz and Brady Doyle (Toms River East) into the Monmouth line, Ocean grounded out a pair of first downs that set them up inside the 10. A pair of encroachment penalties against Monmouth on fourth down extended the drive. Quarterback Jarred Morris (Toms River East) finished the drive off with a six-yard scamper.

The two-point conversion run by Morris was stopped, and Ocean was clinging to an 11-10 lead with 11:51 left in the game.

Sensing that Monmouth might be running out of opportunities to score, Davies gambled on the team’s next possession, going for it on fourth down in his own territory. On a fourth and short two, Joe Falco (Ocean Township) was stopped at the line of scrimmage and Ocean took over on its own 36.

After the Monmouth gamble had failed, Ocean was poised to go in for the kill. A late hit on a third-down incomplete pass set Ocean up on the Monmouth 26. Four straight plunges into the line by the combination of DiMicco, Doyle, West and DiMicco took the ball inside the two. Here, Monmouth, which had been snake-bitten all night, got its big break. As he was fighting to get into the end zone, DiMicco fumbled the ball and an alert Edwards recovered the ball in the end zone for Monmouth.

Monmouth got the ball on the 20 with 5:52 left in the game – plenty of time to mount a go-ahead drive. That’s just what appeared to be going on as O’Reilly found Lewnes for a first down and then picked up eight yards on a keeper.

All of the momentum was now with Monmouth. O’Reilly found Louis Haynes (Monmouth Regional) on the sideline beyond the chains for another first down, but as he was tucking the ball away, he was sandwiched between a pair of Ocean defenders. The ball popped into the air and the opportunistic West pulled it in on the Monmouth 46.

A holding penalty would take away any chance that Ocean had of running out the clock. McAndrew, though, came up with another great 40-plus-yard punt that had Monmouth starting on its own 12 with just 1:56 to go. They would turn the ball over on downs when D’Ambrisi was tackled just inches short of a first down.

Ocean was able to run out the clock and cut its deficit in the series to 16-13-1.

“I thought we played as good as we could,” noted D’Ambrisi. “We moved the ball. A couple of plays didn’t go our way.”

D’Ambrisi was 6-for-9 passing in the game for 68 yards while O’Reilly was 6-for-12 for 42. O’Reilly was Monmouth’s leading rusher with 32 yards.

Falkiewicz was the game’s top rusher, grinding out 54 yards, most coming in the second half. DiMicco added 35 on the ground for Ocean.