Southern Football Team Routs Toms River East for First Win of the Season
After scoring just seven points during its two previous games, the Southern Regional football team sought to turn things around offensively in its Homecoming contest against Toms River East on Sept. 24. Junior Matt Barnett led the charge, rushing for 83 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns while adding four point-after kicks, as the Rams trounced the Raiders, 41-0, for their first win of the season. Barnett also was a force on defense, tallying a team-leading seven tackles, as well as special teams, making several big punt returns to help set up the Southern offense.
“The last two weeks, we played two of the top teams in the Shore Conference (Toms River North and Manalapan), and it was hard to really play our game against them,” said Barnett, who was presented with the Larry Dunfee MVP Award following the bruising victory. “Today, we had the opportunity to play the way we’re capable of playing, and we just had to turn things around. We had to get the offense moving and have a big game defensively.”
The Raiders managed 134 yards, but much of that came after most of the Rams’ starters were off the field during the final 15 minutes of the game, with Southern up, 34-0, heading into the fourth quarter. In contrast, the Rams’ offense completely dominated East, accumulating 400 yards on offense.
“We played a clean game today,” said head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. “We were able to get a lot of players onto the field and do a lot of things we hadn’t been able to do during our first three games. With the way we were able to move the ball today, I’m hoping this will benefit our kids and get them moving in the right direction.”
Since implementing a new offensive set – the wing-T – for this season, Donohue’s squad has been trying to get adjusted while taking on a powerful schedule right off the bat. And on Saturday, it seemed to finally pay dividends.
After Barnett ran a punt back 20 yards to set up their second possession of the game, the Rams started on East’s 35-yard line and needed only four plays following an illegal shift penalty on first down to reach the end zone, which was culminated by Barnett’s 7-yard touchdown run and his PAT with 4:50 left in the first quarter.
Southern held the Raiders inside their half of the field during their next possession, and Barnett again came up with a big return to put the Rams on the 50 to start its next possession. They completed their second scoring drive in nine plays, as Joe Miele busted through the line and into the end zone for a 4-yard score. Barnett’s PAT made it 14-0 with 9:37 to go in the half.
But the Rams really dropped the hammer on their next possession, which started at their own 10-yard line. They went 90 yards in 10 plays during a span of 5:09 to make it 21-0. The big plays occurred on third-and-4 from the Rams’ 41, when Barnett picked up the first down with a 14-yard run, and quarterback Sam Cammarata hit Miele with a pass that went for 32 yards on the next play to put Southern on East’s 13. Dane Walker ran the ball in from a yard out a few plays later.
Starting the second half on its 35-yard line, Southern accented their dominance by scoring their fourth TD in six plays. Barnett capped the brief drive with a 41-yard touchdown run down the left side line.
After forcing the Raiders to a three-and-out, Barnett returned the punt 47 yards to East’s 13-yard line, and two plays later Walker ran through the line from 4 yards out to make it 34-0. Barnett missed the ensuing PAT.
“I was a bit winded at that point,” he said with a smile. “But it felt really good to see that all the hard work we’ve putting in at practice was finally starting to pay off. Most of us on the team try to be a leader in some way, and I just wanted to step up and play my role.”
Still, the Raiders didn’t go down without a fight. Starting from their own 26-yard line, they managed to get down the field in seven plays and had first-and-goal at Southern’s 2 before the Rams made a huge stop to preserve the shutout.
After Zack Hem made a tackle for a 2-yard loss, Vin Miele followed with a tackle for a 4-yard loss, and a personal foul on the Raiders put the ball on the 17. East ran the ball back to the 11 and attempted a pass into the end zone on fourth-and-goal, but Hem delivered a big hit on East tight end Jordan Lewis to jar the ball free for the incompletion.
On Southern’s next possession, the Rams utilized runs of 34 and 39 yards by Mitch Yostpile and Will Gallagher, respectively, before backup quarterback Sean Distelcamp handed off to Chris Scucci for an 8-yard TD run with 4:22 left and Cade Johnson added the PAT to cap the scoring.
“That defensive stop before our last touchdown was big,” Donohue said. “And that’s going to matter down the road. Today, it protected a shutout. Later in the season, that stop is going to protect a win. So it was good for them to get that stop. That’s a confidence builder.”
With a bye this week, Southern gets to rest and build on such positives.
“Let’s be honest. We have a long way to go to being what we’re capable of being as a team,” Donohue said. “But nobody’s hurt, and now we have a bye week. So we need to take this time to get better, and we need to come out of the bye week a stronger team. And if we do that, I think we can be a very competitive football team the rest of the way.”
— David Biggy