Blowout Rival Middletown North 43-6 In Thanksgiving Day Classic
By Mike Ready
Middletown Township – Facing their first losing season since going 3-6 in 1984 and having just suffered through two heartbreaking defeats, including a last second loss to Burlington Township in the first round of the state playoffs, many thought the Eagles (5-5, 4-2) may have a tough time getting up for their Thanksgiving Day game against the resurgent Middletown North Lions.
However, the Eagles showed the Lions (3-7, 3-3) who’s still the boss when it comes to high school football in Middletown, with a convincing 43-6 thrashing of the Lions in the annual Thanksgiving Day game, played in front of a standing room only crowd on a brisk, wind wept day at The Swamp.
“We put it all on the field for our last game, we didn’t want to be the class to break the streak; there’s always pressure to win this game,” senior running back Jeremy Concepcion said. “This is my fourth year and there’s always been the same talk the week before the game. This year was a little more hyped, but I never doubted we would win this game.”
Since taking over the starting role mid-season, Concepcion, the games offensive Most Valuable Player, grabbed the ball and never looked back. His 174 yards rushing on 29 carries in Thursday’s game gives him 925 yards for the season with a 5.7 yards/carry average.
“Once I got the start I just used the mentality that this is my job, “Concepcion added. “I knew I deserved it and I wasn’t going to give it up.”
“Jeremy really became a workhorse for us this season,” Eagle head coach Steve Antonucci said. “The more we asked of him, the more he gave. I’m proud of the way he stepped up.”
The Eagles racked up 460 yards of total offense, including 295 yards on the ground. Sophomore Cole Rogers added 45 yards rushing on three carries, while senior Drew O’Connell carried the ball six times for 37 yards. Senior quarterback Kyle Brey scored on a 15-yard keeper and threw for 168 yards on 9-13 passing, including a 63-yard scoring strike to senior wideout Andrew Wisialko.
The Eagles dominated the game from start-to-finish and finally gave the jammed-packed Swamp something to cheer about with a 12-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Concepcion for a 7-0 lead with five seconds remaining in the first quarter. On the drive, Concepcion carried seven times for 40 yards.
Two Illegal procedure penalties and a stout Eagle defense pinned the Lions at their own 8-yard line on their ensuing possession, forcing them to punt from their own end zone. The Eagles were then handed excellent field possession at the Lion 34-yard line on the exchange, and seven plays later Brey made it 14-0 with his 15-yard scamper.
The Eagle defense then forced its fourth three-and-out of the first half to set up their third scoring drive. Brey found junior tight end Patrick Crowe for 31-yard completion down the left sideline for the big play of the drive and Concepcion finished it off with his second touchdown of the game, going untouched up the middle for a 14-yard score. Brey then ran in a two-point conversion for a 22-0 lead at intermission.
Middletown South’s defense held the Lions to only two first downs and 61 total yards in first half, while forcing the Lions to punt six times. On the Lions seventh possession of the half, after a Brey interception at the Eagle 43-yard line, junior Nolan Peerless picked off Lion freshman quarterback Daonald Glenn in the end zone to end the half. Peerless was named the game’s defensive Most Valuable Player with two interceptions and pass breakup.
The Eagle interior defensive line made it virtually impossible to run inside and the Eagle defensive ends and outside linebackers cut off the running lanes to the outside, limiting the Lions sophomore 1000-yard rusher Chad Freshnock to 29 yards on 12 carries. Senior defensive tackle Connor Spreen was a force all day playing in his final game as an Eagle.
“We wanted to move around a lot to create confusion and get in the freshman quarterbacks head,” Spreen said. “This was my last game, I wanted to play my heart out and it’s a great win. But at the same time it’s a little disappointing, a state championship would’ve been the way to go out; but this works.”
On South’s second possession of the second half, they drove to the Lion 6-yard line in seven plays. On third on goal from the six, Lion outside linebacker Anthony Fabiono sacked Brey causing him to fumble with the Lions recovering the ball at the 9-yard line.
Peerless’ second interception and a Lion personal foul on the play then handed the Eagles a first down at the Lion 19-yard line. On fourth-and-12 from the 21-yard line, Lion middle linebacker Dan Napoltano stopped Brey for a 5-yard loss and the Lions took over on their own 26. Facing second-and-10 from their own 37-yard line, junior tight Troy Thompson grabbed a pass Eagle’s Corey Casini deflected right into his hands and raced 63 yards for the Lions only score of the game to cut the deficit to 22-6 with 1:07 left in the period.
The Eagles answered swiftly, going 66 yards in three plays with Concepcion going the final 30 yards for his third rushing touchdown of the game and 29-6 lead with 11:50 left in the game.
Wisialko intercepted Glenn on North’s ensuing possession to set up his own touchdown when Brey found him streaking down the right sideline three plays later for a 63-yard touchdown reception to pad the lead for the Eagles.
Crowe, who played a tremendous game from his defensive end position, then read Glenn all the way on a screen pass, intercepting the ball and racing 50-yards for the exclamation-point touchdown and a 43-6 final margin of victory. Earlier in the game, Crowe batted down a ball that had touchdown written all over it.
“I wish I got the first one too, I had an open field in front of me,” Crowe said. “This win is for all our seniors, for most of them this is their last football game ever. I’m just glad they got to go out winners; I’m already looking forward to next season.”
“I’m very proud of my team, this was a good win,” Eagle head coach Steve Antonucci said. “This game means a lot to the players and we had a little extra time to heal our wounds, both physically and mentally. This is a really solid group of kids and I’m just happy they got to go out with a win.”
“We played so many young kids this year,” Antonucci added. “The program is definitely heading in the right direction. We took the young kids off to the side in practice yesterday and told them it’s time to take the next step. They’ve played in 10 or more games, so now’s the time; we’ve got the pieces to win.
Besides playing a large number of sophomores and juniors, including three sophomore starting linebackers, the Eagles freshman team was undefeated and outscored its opponents 293-0, so you can expect some contributions from a number of those players next season. Freshman James McCarthy already saw playing time this season and showed a lot of promise at the wide receiver spot.