By Brian Deakyne
LITTLE SILVER — At the opening kickoff of Saturday’s game against Neptune, Red Bank Regional head coach Nick Giglio was relaxed, wearing a black pullover donning the Bucs logo, hoping his team could calmly continue to make progress in a rebuilding season.
That appearance lasted three plays.
After the Bucs (1-4) third play from scrimmage — when senior running back Tajhi Tomaino took a run 71 yards for a touchdown — the pullover was off for Giglio, who finished the rest of the game rather emotionally, letting his voice be heard while wearing a grey Red Bank Regional t-shirt on a brisk October afternoon.
Red Bank, heavy underdogs, eventually beat the Scarlet Fliers (4-2), 21-19, in a wild finish to get its first win of the season.
“It’s huge. The fact that it’s Neptune, a ranked team, a team like that after being 0-4, it is huge,” an exhausted Giglio said after the game. “It’s the fact that we were 0-4, it could have been a bad week of practice, we could have thought ‘why me’, but it’s just the opposite. I really give it to our players.”
Red Bank was led by its stout defense, which, despite being 0-4, had looked strong heading into last weekend’s game against Neptune.
The Bucs forced six turnovers — including three in the second half — to stop one of the most lethal offenses in the Shore Conference on a number of occasions.
“We came in here and we were hungry. We have nothing to lose, they have all the expectations,” senior linebacker Dillon Stambaugh said. “We just said, you know what, let’s throw everything we have at them.
“Our scout team did a great job of replicating their offense all week. We break down, eat, and kill every time. We’re predators, we’re not even human on defense.”
Stambaugh was one of the several playmakers on the Red Bank’s defense, doing a good job of shutting down Neptune’s dual-threat senior quarterback Ajee Patterson.
The Bucs jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, but the Scarlet Fliers came flying back. Patterson hit wide receiver Keith Kirkwood on an 8-yard touchdown pass on fourth down, but Red Bank denied Patterson on the potential game-tying two-point conversion with 8:43 remaining in the game.
Neptune, driving late in the game, was gunning to take the lead, but Penn State recruit Garrett Sickels intercepted Patterson at Red Bank’s 12-yard line, and Red Bank was able to close out its first win of the season, and first since Nov. 5 last season, snapping a six-game losing streak.
“We put things together. Nobody missed practice, and I think the guys are starting to understand why we lost those six-point games,” Giglio said. “Now we win the close one. It’s not about today, but the six days before it.”
Red Bank took a 14-7 lead when Tomaino returned a fumble 33 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Junior linebacker Gary Johnson forced the fumble — one of two forced fumbles from him on the day — to begin an impressive day on the defensive side of the football.
Junior defensive end Dylan DeVita stripped Patterson and recovered a fumble on the opening play of the second half. Senior running back Jahimere Hinton finished off Red Bank’s short drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to go up, 21-7.
Despite his two-touchdown day, Tomaino left the game in the fourth quarter on an ambulance, after a collision in the secondary with one of his teammates. The move to have Tomaino carted off the field was precautionary, Giglio said after the game.
Junior linebacker Ryan Seely also intercepted Patterson, in the second quarter, and Red Bank forced a turnover on downs mid-way through the third quarter.
“We knew it all week during practice. We were the best 0-4 team in the state,” Stambaugh said. “We wanted to take out all of our aggression on them, we knew we could hang with them. We saw them come out flat, so we just turned it up.”
This Saturday, the Bucs will look to continue their momentum, when they host Matawan (4-1). The Huskies fell to Neptune, 46-10, on Sept. 28.