By Ryan Fennell
Little Silver – Ending the season with a loss to finish with a .500 record makes it difficult for a senior class of football players, who just played their last high school game, to look back on the year and believe the season was a success.
But in the eyes of their coach, it was.
Red Bank Regional lost to Long Branch, 19-7, in the 89th annual Thanksgiving Day matchup between the two teams, but Buccaneer head coach Nick Giglio believes the seniors on his team should be proud of the way their senior year ended.
“There were the good things that went on this year,” said Giglio. “The senior group did a great job of leadership and we’re going to miss them. They should be proud of how their senior year ended. We didn’t end it with a win but the season cumulatively; they should be happy.”
The Bucs reached the NJSIAA playoffs for the first time in seven years and defeated good football teams along the way. Although they lost in the first round to Manasquan, Giglio believes his team got better through the experience.
“It was a great experience, but it was also a new experience for a lot of guys,” Giglio said. “I tried to tell them, win or lose, we got better that week. We got better because of being in that experience.”
However, the team’s performance against Long Branch on Thanksgiving Day was characteristic of games earlier in the season in which it faltered.
“If you look at every loss of our season, the big thing that sticks out is turnovers and taking care of the football,” Giglio said. “Obviously, that killed drives today.”
After a slow start that saw only one first down by either team in the first quarter, the Bucs caught a break in the second when Long Branch muffed a punt return and Red Bank recovered at the Long Branch 47. The Bucs picked up a first down on an 11-yard carry by Ajhan Wilson but three plays later Red Bank was facing a 4th and 4 from the Long Branch 28. Red Bank elected to go for it on fourth down and when the play broke down, quarterback Terrance Scanlon found a seam and scampered 28-yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead after the PAT with 4:06 remaining in the half.
On its ensuing possession Long Branch methodically marched down field to the Red Bank 7-yard line behind running back Dwight Clark. But, as the Red Bank defense tightened and time ticked off the clock, the Long Branch quarterback accidentally spiked the ball on fourth down to end the half.
Long Branch got on the board early in the fourth quarter on a touchdown run by Clark but the PAT was no good and RBR held onto a slim 7-6 lead.
On their next possession the Bucs managed a first down at the Long Branch 37 on rushes by Wilson and Jahimere Hinton, but Wilson fumbled on the next play and Long Branch recovered at their own 35.
The Green Waves’ drive was initially stopped at their own 44 by the RBR defense but Long Branch faked the punt and a subsequent facemask penalty gave them a first down at the RBR 41. Five plays later Clark charged into the endzone with 3:33 remaining in the game to put the Green Waves up 12-7. A dead ball personal foul on RBR put Long Branch half the distance to the goal on the PAT, but an attempt at a 2-point conversion came up empty.
Red Bank had a shot to take the lead and put the game out of reach for Long Branch on its next drive as time was running out, but Scanlon’s third interception of the game ended the threat and Clark found the endzone for Long Branch again three plays later. Clark finished the game with 177 yards in 23 carries and three touchdowns.
“We had our opportunity, we lost it, and they took advantage of it,” Giglio said.
Giglio said despite the loss of key senior players, he expects his team to have a good chance of competing next year.
“In our division we need the freshman and sophomore groups to really step up to give us a great opportunity next year,” Giglio said.