Redbirds fall short in pursuit of return to state football finals



Having two 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Jordan Winston and halfback Joe Mannino running behind a line of second-year starting linemen and a defense with the No. 2 tackler in the state sounds like ingredients for a championship season.

But Allentown High School’s football team fell one game shy of returning to an NJSIAA sectional championship when Brick Memorial High School (9-2) hammered out a 28-7 victory Nov. 20 in the Central Jersey, Group IV semifinals.

“They were tough. They ran their offense extremely well,” Allentown coach Jay Graber said of Brick Memorial’s team that ended Allentown’s season at 6-5. “Our line played OK against them — two or three mistakes that hurt us in the end. We did one or two things out of character. We lost our discipline on one play. When you go into a game like that, it comes down to two or three big plays.”

Allentown struck first, but the Mustangs got touchdowns from Tony Thorpe on consecutive plays and a 23-yard scoring pass as time expired in the first half to give the Mustangs a significant lead en route to securing a spot in the championship game against Jackson Memorial High School at High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers University Dec. 5.

Allentown reached the South Jersey, Group III finals last year, losing in overtime to Delsea Regional High School, 42-35.

This year, the Redbirds scored first against Brick Memorial on a 3-yard touchdown run by Ricky Mottram on his only carry of the game before Thorpe scored on a fumble recovery and a 33-yard run. A 23-yard touchdown pass from Tim Santiago to Elie Lavarin made it 21-7. Santiago added a 3- yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it 28-7.

Winston rushed for 108 yards, while Mottram had 18 tackles in the game against Brick Memorial’s triple option offense, positioning him for second place in the state in tackles. On the season, Mottram had 101 tackles and 42 assists for 143 total tackles — an average of 13 tackles a game. “I can’t say enough about him,” Graber said of Mottram, who returns for one more season along with Winston, Mannino and Aydon Chavis in the backfield.

Winston rushed for 1,676 yards and 17 touchdowns, and Mannino rushed for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns. Linemen Joe Pritchard, Matt Schreck, Ian Grant and Dan Whalen graduate along with wide receivers Shane Duffy, Matt Hahn, Brett Masci and Rob Mc- Clees and defensive secondary standout Samir Queen, who had a team-best four interceptions. Kicker Matt Fritsky also graduates.

“I thought our line did well. We ran for a lot of yards and controlled the line of scrimmage,” Graber said. “But I thought we had inconsistencies. We played a lot of good teams, and I thought we could play better against some of the tougher teams.”

Allentown was outscored, 342-302, as its defense struggled at times, but its offense broke loose for a wild 81-56 victory over West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North Sept. 18.

Graber said returning players need to remain committed in the weight room and in offseason conditioning as the first step to ironing out mistakes.

“I think our players were upset how the last game went. We played better than the score showed,” Graber said. “They have to be hungry to get into the weight room and do what they have to do to get to the point of doing well.”

Less than a week after the season ended, Graber, as boys basketball coach, was in the gym running tryouts for a large turnout of candidates for a team that lost only four players to graduation last spring.

“A large group of kids came really prepared. A lot of guys came in shape,” he said.

The team has its first scrimmage Dec. 9 at Trenton Catholic Academy.

Although many players return, Graber was noncommittal about where many of them stood for the season ahead until after tryouts were completed.

Dan Bascara, Austin Moy, Hal Shaw and Xavier Roldan graduated, but Hunter Gerling is back and a handful of other players are primed to return from last season, including seniors Bekim Nikovic, a 6-foot-2 swing player, and guard Matt Blazier, as well as junior guard Nahshon Taylor.