By Jim Hintelmann
MIDDLETOWN – For the first time in years, Middletown South failed to win its opening round game in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III playoffs, but the Eagles still finished their season on a high note with a convincing 21-0 win over rival Middletown North in their annual Thanksgiving Day game.
“We played well and did a nice job all around,” said South coach Steve Antonucci. “We tackled well and were aggressive today. It was tough losing (in the opening round of the playoffs) and we had a lot of time between the playoffs and today.
“We were a little stale early,” he noted, “but once the kids got into this game, they began playing well. We have a good nucleus coming back and a lot of our younger guys got game experience. I’m looking forward to next year.”
The big play of the game came in the second quarter after the two teams had fought to a scoreless deadlock in the opening quarter.
A sack and a holding penalty had put South back on its 12-yard line with a third and 22 when quarterback Howie Brey and wide receiver Matt LaMattina teamed up for the play of the game.
Brey appeared trapped in the backfield, but he slipped way from several North tacklers and found LaMattina open at midfield and hit him with a perfect pass. LaMattina went the rest of the way untouched for the touchdown. Conner Ryan kicked the first of three extra points.
“I was thinking about running the ball,” said Brey, “but saw Matt wide open so I just got him the ball.”
“When he (Brey) gets under pressure he knows that I’ll be there for him,” said LaMattina, who caught six passes for 137 yards. “It was a great feeling and was a good way to go out.”
“Brey is a tremendous athlete,” said North coach Joe Trezza. “We put good pressure on him but he made a good play. We lost our focus for a second and left him open, but he’s been Howie’s number one target and he looks for him. They have a great connection.”
Despite giving up the big play, North still had something left and moved 61 yards to the South 11 following the kickoff, but three plays and a penalty put the ball back at the 16 and a fourth down pass went incomplete.
In the third quarter, South went 51 yards in nine plays for its second touchdown, a 4-yard run up the middle by Tim McArdle. Brey threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ripnick in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.
It was the 11th straight win for South (8-3) over North with the last North win coming in 2001.
Brey was voted the Offensive Player of the Game while LaMattina received the Defensive Player honors.
The loss was the end of an up and down season for the Lions (4-6). They lost their first three games, but then went on a four-game winning streak before dropping their final thee games.
Nevertheless, Trezza believes that North will be competitive again next year.
“We had a good mix this season,” said Trezza. “Our quarterback (Cody Thompson) is in his second varsity year and will be a lot better. We should do well.”