By Brian Deakyne
FLORENCE — It was only a matter of time before the clock ran out on the Blue Devils.
After a season filled with second-half comebacks, sixth-seeded Shore Regional (6-3) couldn’t work their second half magic in a 23-0 loss to third-seeded Florence (8-1) in Saturday’s Central Jersey Group I first-round game.
Shore Regional opened the second half trailing 7-0, but was unable to find any kind of offensive rhythm to form another rally.
The Blue Devils defense struggled to contain a multitude of running backs for the Flashes, allowing 287 yards of offense on the ground, adding three rushing touchdowns.
“They’re good. They are a very good team and they’re big up front, much bigger than us,” Shore Regional head coach Mark Costantino said, “We’ve had trouble all year at times of stopping teams, and we’ve made a few adjustments, but we just didn’t make plays.”
The Blue Devils had an impressive opening drive taking the ball inside the Florence 30-yard line, but failed to convert from there, with quarterback Brendan Dula throwing an interception on 4th and 13 from the Flashes’ 27-yard line.
Shore Regional had Florence contained on their first offensive possession, but the Flashes kept the drive alive after a bad snap on the punt turned into a first down, as the Flashes punter Kenyari Moore hit Michael Muchowski for an eight-yard gain. The 80-yard, 18-play drive was capped off with a three-yard touchdown run by Curtis Thompson.
Shore Regional tied the game later in the second quarter, when Dula scrambled for a 27-yard run on 3rd and 7, but the play was called back on a holding penalty. The Blue Devils punted two plays later and wouldn’t get that close to scoring for the rest of the game.
“We missed two or three wide-open guys throughout the game. You can’t do that against a good football team,” Costantino said, “We had our opportunities, didn’t take advantage of them, and we made it easy for them. They’re a good team, but this shouldn’t have been a 23-point game.”
The Flashes took the running game to Shore Regional in the second half, scoring 16 unanswered points to add to their halftime advantage.
Quarterback D’Andre Davis took the third play from scrimmage 52 yards for the score, and later, Dakota Benish booted a 30-yard field goal through the uprights, improving the lead to 17-0.
Jordan Stockton added a 25-yard score in the fourth quarter, finalizing the score at 23-0.
Dula was 3-11 passing for 29 yards and threw one interception.
Running backs Nick Grigos, Stefanos Koursaris, and Jack Kelly combined for just 67 yards on the ground, forcing Dula and the Blue Devils to go to the air, which resulted in four scoreless second half possessions — three of those finishing in three-and-outs.
“We’ve had problems running the ball and we adjusted to things, but we just didn’t get it done,” Costantino said. “They out-played us. It’s tough to come down here and beat a team.”
The Blue Devils won four consecutive games to reach the Central Jersey Group I playoffs, in an effort to repeat as sectional champions.
“They’re a good bunch of kids, they really work hard. We have a game against Point Boro on Thanksgiving, so we’ll see. We had to win four games to get into the playoffs, the kids showed a lot of resiliency. Great group of kids. Can’t ask for a better group of kids than this senior class.”