By Brian Deakyne
BRICK – It’s going to take a lot to stop the Middletown South Eagles these days.
After surrendering an eight-point lead mid-way through the fourth quarter, the Eagles (3-2) battled back to top Brick Memorial (3-3), 17-14 in overtime behind Connor Ryan’s 20-yard field goal in the extra session.
Brick Memorial’s Zack Santos returned Middletown South quarterback Howie Brey’s interception in the fourth quarter 52-yards, drawing Brick Memorial within two points. Ray Contrucci took the option-pitch from quarterback Ryan Cieplenski, tying the game at 14 with 7:20 remaining in the game.
Even after the Eagles’ punted the ball away, their defense was able to stop the Mustangs and force overtime.
Middletown South stopped Brick Memorial’s offense first, capped off by Tim Cody’s sack of Cieplenski on fourth down, putting themselves in position to win.
It didn’t take long for South to strike.
Tim McArdle took a toss on first down 17 yards to the Brick Memorial 8-yard line, and three plays later Ryan booted the game winning field goal.
“I’m proud of our kids, we’ve come a long way to be where we are right now,” Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci said, “We’re starting to play with a little confidence.”
Brey was 13-22 passing for 156 yards, tossing one touchdown and one interception, leading Middletown South to its third consecutive win.
The Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind consecutive touchdown drives in the second quarter.
McArdle capped off the 63-yard drive with a one-yard blast to put the Eagles on the board first with 8:59 left in the first half. Brey connected with Matt LaMattina for 26-yards, followed by a 23-yard pass to Trevor Hendrickson, placing South deep into Brick Memorial territory, setting up the touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, Cieplenski fumbled the snap at mid-field, and Middletown South recovered the ball at their own 47-yard line.
Three plays later, Brey hooked up with Jake Ripnick for a 42-yard touchdown pass on a screen, putting the Eagles up 14-0.
The Eagles’ defense yielded a touchdown to the Mustangs late in the second half, when Cieplenski hit Ray Contrucci for a 31-yard touchdown pass, but Anthony Miller missed the extra point,
The score stood at 14-6 until Santos’ interception in the fourth quarter.
South’s defense stopped Brick Memorial’s offense – which put up 42 points against Toms River South last week – time and time again, proving to be the difference.
“Both of these teams rely on their defense so much, and both of these defenses stepped up when they had to,” Antonucci said, “Our defense played the second half with their backs against the wall, they did just a great job all-around.”
The Eagles’ defense didn’t allow Brick Memorial to gain a yard in their offensive possession, opening the door for their offense to win the game.
“It’s huge [to come up with a stop],” Antonucci said. “I told the guys that with our kicker, all we needed was to come up with a stop, and we knew if we could get anywhere within field goal range, we could win this game.”
LaMattina was Brey’s top receiver on the night, hauling in nine catches for 81 yards. Ripnick lead the Eagles on the ground, carrying the ball 9 times for 59 yards.