Allentown High School’s Ricky Mottram tries to ward off a tackle attempt by Freehold High School’s Xaviere Madera during the Nov. 14 NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV playoff game in Freehold. The Redbirds edged the host Colonials, 10-7. SCOTT FRIEDMAN Allentown High School’s football team stepped out of character and into the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV playoffs with a 10- 7 opening-round victory over Freehold High School.
Usually a high-powered offensive machine with two 1,000-yard rushers, the Redbirds relied on their defense to make the plays when it mattered most.
Next up for the Redbirds (6-4), who have won their last three games, is a semifinals showdown at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at topseeded Brick Memorial High School (8-2). The Mustangs run the triple option with clockwork precision behind quarterback Tim Santiago, a 1,000-yard rusher who ran 32 yards for a touchdown in Brick Memorial’s opening-round 38-8 victory over Jackson Liberty High School (4-6).
Jackson Memorial High School (6-4) plays Steinert High School (7-2) in the other bracket.
Freehold’s season ended at 6-4. “Brick Memorial is big, physical and tough, and they play a great schedule,” said Allentown coach Jay Graber, whose team played only one other option team this fall when it scrimmaged South Brunswick High School. “We’ve started to play well at the right time. We just have to play disciplined, read our keys and keep our eyes on the right spot all the time. They’re hard to track — a lot of reads.”
But Allentown advanced in a way different from its normal strategy during the season of simply outscoring teams off its high-powered offense, which twice had three 100-yard rushers from its backfield in the same game.
This time, the defense set the tone.
“I think it was [our best defensive game],” Graber said. “We bent but didn’t break and made a lot of big plays.”
While Allentown quarterback Jordan
Winston had 100 yards rushing and 124 yards passing, including a 43-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the third quarter, and Matt Fritsky connected on a
24-yard field goal in the second quarter,
Allentown’s defense withstood three Freehold threats in the red zone.
“It took a team effort, different guys coming up big at different times,” Graber said of the defense that included Ryan
Huth, Sean Beckett, Makeli Quinones and Joe Pritchard up front with Taylor Campbell rotating in; linebackers Ricky Motttram, Shane Duffy and Drew Whalen; and defensive backs Samir Queen, Ryan Locke, Aydon Chavis, Brett Masci and Winston sharing time in the secondary.
“Over the course of the season, our defense has gotten better,” Pritchard said. “With the triple option they run, we have more specific responsibilities than usual. It’s a lot of reading and each player doing his job. If not, [opposing teams] will get a touchdown.”
Huth at tackle and Pritchard at guard have been integral on a cohesive, solid blocking front line that includes center Matt Schreck, tackle Ian Grant and guard Whalen.
“It starts with us opening the holes for them to make the big plays,” Pritchard said. “Our offense has been playing pretty well all year long and our offensive line has been able to get the push to open the holes.”
Allentown’s offense was its best defense at the end. It ran off the last 6:30, as Winston completed a key third-down pass to Masci and ran 18 yards on another play, while Joe Mannino also picked up some good rushing yardage on the closing drive.
Mannino finished with 132 yards to put him at 1,075 for the season. Winston has 1,549 yards rushing on the season.
Allentown has been outscored, 295-314, but outscored its last three opponents, 80- 51. Brick Memorial High School has outscored its opponents, 335-126, including 103-20 the last three games.
Some lucky bounces also figured in Allentown’s victory over Freehold, including a mishandled snap from center that Winston picked up on a bounce and threw to Mottram for the go-ahead touchdown after Freehold went into halftime ahead, 7-3.
“That happens when you work hard and are in the right position,” Graber said. “When you have a chance to make a big play, you have to make it whether it comes off a lucky bounce.”
Graber said his team is ready to do whatever it takes to get back into the sectional finals for a second straight year after reaching the Central Jersey, Group III finals a year ago, an overtime loss to Delsea Regional High School.
“When you get into this part of the season, it’s hard to win games and to score points,” Graber said.
“I feel we have what it takes to win it all if we play like we can play and play hard. We were right there last year when we played Delsea,” Pritchard said.
Graber said no injuries will keep any starter out of the lineup against Brick Memorial.
Sophomore Devon Hoernlein led Allentown’s girls cross-country team at the Group III championships with a time of 20:14 for 22nd place at Holmdel Park, short of advancing to the Meet of Champions. Juniors Jesse Bragger finished 69th in 21:28 and Sara Gutter finished 88th in 21:59, as the Redbirds placed 18th in the team standings.
“It was not the way we had hoped to end the season,” coach Brian Harshman said. “We were hoping for a stronger performance but overall had a very successful season. For this team to make the groups meet two years in a row is quite an accomplishment.”
Hoernlein was among the top 15 runners after the first mile and faded back a little before picking up her stride in the latter stages of the race. It was not enough to move into one of the top 10 qualifying spots, though.
Hoernlein had finished fifth in the Central Jersey sectional meet. Only one runner in the lineup — Sami Tendler — graduates.
“They should be excited about next year,” Harshman said. “We have nearly the whole team back. They could be amazing for next year.”