Manasquan star outruns Jackson Liberty defense


The Jackson Liberty High School football team lost its bid for the Shore Conference C Central Division championship on Oct. 23, and with it a chance to claim a berth in the upcoming state playoffs, when the Lions fell to Manasquan High School, 34-13.

However, there is still one goal ahead for the Lions (3-4) this fall — posting the first winning season for the 5-year-old program.

“Four wins will not get us into the [state] playoffs in our bracket,” said Jackson Liberty coach Tim Osborn, whose Lions will host Pinelands Regional (4-2) on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. “That’s certain.”

Manasquan can clinch the C Central title with victories over a winless Lakewood team and a Thanksgiving Day victory over Wall Township.

In addition to its game this week against Pinelands, Jackson Liberty will play another school that does not qualify for the state playoffs (opponent, location, date and time to be determined) and a season-ending contest against Jackson Memorial High School (3-4).

If the Lions can run the table, they will finish the season at 6-4.

“This [Manasquan] loss was very disappointing,” said Kristian Ruiz after Jackson Liberty’s second straight setback. “We came in there expecting to win. The first half was all them. In the second half, we came out and every time we would do something, we would take a step forward and then two steps back. We can’t slow down any like we did the last couple of games … but I 100 percent believe we can bounce back.”

Ruiz not only ran the ball, but was part of a defense that was hurt by the long touchdown runs of Manasquan’s Tariq Turner that frustrated attempted comebacks by Jackson Liberty.

Ron Brown intercepted a Manasquan pass and moments later he caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Wright with 1:16 left in the third quarter as Jackson Liberty pulled to within 13-7.

Moments later, Turner broke off a 65- yard touchdown run for the Big Blue Warriors that pushed the lead to 20-7.

Jackson Liberty’s Justin Billups responded a short while later with a 21-yard touchdown burst that pulled his team to within 20-13, before Ryan Casey caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Saito with just over 10 minutes left to put Manasquan back in a comfortable lead, 27-13.

Jackson Liberty again responded before its drive stalled at the Manasquan six-yard line.

Turner broke an 83-yard touchdown run shortly after that to add the final score for the Big Blue Warriors. He also had a 72- yard scoring scamper early in the game and finished with 290 yards rushing.

“Our defense didn’t play well. We were outplayed by Manasquan’s offense,” said Osborn. “They executed and we still made a lot of mistakes. We dropped two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. But they [Manasquan] know how to win. They have 11 state championships in the last 15 years.”

“The whole week before the game, we were executing everything, but once we got to the game, we couldn’t capitalize on stuff,” said Ruiz.

“Once we left Turner with a full head of steam, it was pretty hard to catch up to him. It was difficult to watch. They took it to us. Our pass defense has been pretty good, but our run defense has been killing us,” he added.

Through it all, Greg O’Connor had another solid game for the Lions on offense and on defense.

“He has had an excellent season running and catching the ball,” said Osborn.

“He [O’Connor] inspires me whether it’s in practice or doing drills, just his will to win that drives him to work hard. I know I have to try my best when I see that,” said Ruiz.

That is the type of inspiration the Lions will need over their final three games of the 2010 campaign as they continue to work toward their goal of finishing with a winning record.