Ryan, Rebels click in win over Braves

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Jimmy Ryan was not anxious to leave the football field on the campus of Howell High School on the night of Oct. 9.

“I’m enjoying this,” Ryan said after leading Howell (5-0) to a 48-21 win over ManalapanHigh School on the Rebels’ home turf.

Ryan was as sharp as he has been all season in completing 23-30 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Games like that certainly make football enjoyable for a quarterback.

As if that wasn’t enough, Howell’s third running back, Eli Blue, who was starting because of injuries to the two players ahead of him on the depth chart, ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Blue’s running almost made it unfair for the Braves’ defense to try and deal with Howell’s spread offense.

“We didn’t think they would run that well on us,” Manalapan coach Tom Gallahue said. “They are rolling.”

The Rebels’ offense, which was held to one touchdown in a 7-3 win at Toms River North the week before, wasted little time on Oct. 9 in announcing it was back in business.

The Rebels marched 66 yards for a touchdown the first time they touched the football. It took just six plays to reach the Manalapan end zone. Blue capped the drive by scoring on an eight-yard run on a draw play.

Manalapan answered with a drive of its own, culminating in a 25-yard touchdown run by Josh Firkser. The Braves went 64 yards on nine plays, eight of them runs.

Back came Howell, going 72 yards and scoring on Ryan’s keeper from the 3. Manalapan blocked the PAT, and Howell led 13-7.

The next time Howell had the ball, the Rebels went 74 yards on five plays. Ryan found Blue in the flat and the result was a 23- yard scoring pass. Ryan Handy added the PAT for a 20-7 lead.

But Manalapan refused to fold. The Braves drove 80 yards to close within 20-14 with 4:00 left in the half. A 45-yard pass from quarterback Mike Bimonte to Kevin Cruz and a 15-yard run by Firkser were the key plays on the drive. Firkser scored from the 3, and Manalapan cut the Howell lead to 20-14.

The last four minutes of the half provided fireworks. First, Manalapan intercepted Ryan with 2:16 left, giving the Braves the ball on the Howell 37 with a chance to score and take the lead. Charlie Addessi made the pick for Manalapan.

One play later, Howell’s Rob Handy intercepted Bimonte in the end zone, and Howell had the ball back on its 20 with 2:07 remaining. That proved to be enough time for Howell to tack on another score.

The Rebels resorted to some trickery on a double lateral. Phil Adamo caught a pass from Ryan, and as the Manalapan defenders closed in on him he lateraled the ball to Rob Handy, who then tossed it to Blue.

The play picked up 28 yards and put the Rebels on the Manalapan 35 with only a few seconds remaining in the half. It was enough for Ryan to find Rob Handy in the end zone for another touchdown.

“We needed a play and he [Handy] read the defense,” said Ryan.

The late touchdown swung all of the momentum Howell’s way, but Manalapan was unfazed. Cruz returned the second-half kick 30 yards to the Manalapan 33. Firkser busted though the line to gain 47 yards, and the Braves were in business. The 67-yard drive was completed as Bimonte hooked up with Firkser on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Howell’s lead was trimmed to 27-21.

It took the Howell offense just 2:29 to respond to Manalapan’s touchdown. A 35-yard pass from Ryan to Rob Handy was the big play, and Blue capped the drive by scoring on a 17-yard run.

Ryan later teamed up with Ryan Handy on a 40-yard touchdown pass for a 41-21 lead.

Backup quarterback Ryan Davies completed the Howell scoring by tossing a 21- yard touchdown pass to Mike Clark.

What has the Rebels’ offense clicking so well this year?

“It’s experience and timing,” said Ryan, who has helmed the offensive show. “It’s all about our receivers.”

As for what it takes to be the quarterback for the spread offense, Ryan said, “It’s all about confidence. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

The senior-laden Rebels are quickly putting 2008 behind them.

“Last year we were 3-7 and we thought we were better than that,” Ryan said. “In the offseason we got together and always talked football. All the seniors know that after this there’s no more high school football. We want to leave our footprint on Howell football.”

The Rebels have started the 2009 season 5-0 and are reviving memories of 2007 when Howell won the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state title.

Howell coach Cory Davies was not surprised that his club was tested by Manalapan.

“It was a hard-fought win,” he said. “We knew they were a good football team. It’s games like this we want to win.”

Blue’s effectiveness in his first start wasn’t all that unexpected, according to Davies.

“He sees things real well,” he said. “He did a great job.”

The Rebels are off this week and will have two weeks to prepare for Brick Memorial (3- 2) in an important Shore Conference AmericanDivision game on Oct. 23. The Rebels are 4-0 in the division and in first place. Kickoff at Brick Memorial is set for 6 p.m.

Gallahue saw things to like in the loss at Howell.

“We’re definitely getting better,” he said. “No one who saw us tonight would think that Manalapan was 0-3.”

What Gallahue was pleased the most about was the way his team reacted following Howell’s score at the end of the first half.

“That showed the character of this team,” he said of the Braves’ third-quarter drive. “They came back and scored right away.”

Firkser rushed for 141 yards on 23 carries and Bimonte passed for 220 yards.