The Middletown South football team fell to Manalapan, 35-31, in a divisional battle between two undefeated teams Friday night.
With two minutes left in regulation, Middletown South appeared poised to march down the field to win the game in thrilling fashion. With 48 seconds remaining, junior quarterback Kyle Brey connected with Eli Smith, who made a spectacular one-handed catch at around the 12-yard line, setting up a potential game-winning drive.
However, on a 3rd-and-10 play with 33 seconds left, Brey fumbled the snap and Manalapan recovered to seal the victory for the Braves.
“We had a chance to win the game. We had two shots at the end zone and it’s anybody’s game at that point” Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci said. “We just have to put this one behind us and keep moving on.”
Manalapan running back Tyler Leonetti proved to be the difference-maker, as the Eagles defense struggled stopping him all game. He rushed for two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 8:01 left to play in the game.
“This season’s the biggest one we got,” Leonetti said. “Everyone’s saying we’re going to roll over everyone. We need adversity sometimes and we need to step up for that.”
Manalapan had a 28-20 lead entering the second half, but on their first drive of the third quarter, Smith intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, tying the game at 28.
South then took the lead with 2:09 left in the third quarter as Connor Ryan nailed a 37-yard field goal.
“I’m proud of our effort, (Manalapan) is the number three team in the Shore,” Antonucci said. “We have to keep working hard. This is a good football team. We’re going to win a lot of football games.”
Middletown South scored three touchdowns in the first half, including am 85-yard run by Jake Ripnick and a 65-yard catch by Taylor Hendrickson.
But anytime Middletown South scored, Manalapan responded, which included Leonetti’s first touchdown run and two touchdowns from Saeed Blacknall
“We were excellent today,” Leonetti said. “We responded very well. We just need to keep working, keep moving and we’ll get to where we want to be.”