By Brian Deakyne
WEST LONG BRANCH — After his third-quarter interception that gave the Blue Devils the ball at their own three-yard line, Brendan Dula was visibly upset, knowing that had he knocked the ball down, Shore Regional would have taken over at their own 12-yard line instead.
The 6’2” defensive back had no complaints about his second interception.
With Shore Regional (6-2) holding onto a slim six-point lead, and the Metuchen (5-3) Bulldogs driving, Dula picked off a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown, giving the Blue Devils the two-score advantage with just under seven minutes remaining in the game, finalizing the score, 35-21, ensuring Shore Regional a place in the Central Jersey Group I state playoffs.
“I’m very happy about the second interception,” Dula said, “I got help from my outside linebacker who tipped the ball and I knew the bubble [screen] was coming so I was able to jump it and take it all the way.”
The Blue Devils rallied for 28 un-answered points after falling down 21-7 early in the second quarter. Tailback Stefanos Koursaris lead the way for Shore Regional, carrying the ball 19 times for 151 yards. He also punched in the two-point conversion after Dula’s interception return for a touchdown, giving the Blue Devils a 14-point lead.
“We’ve been coming out in the second half all year playing good football,” Shore Regional head coach Mark Costantino said, “We made a few adjustments, I got on them a little bit, let me tell you. I wasn’t happy with some of the things that went on in the first half.”
After Metuchen’s impressive eight-play, 73-yard drive, which was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by halfback Errol Lindo, the Blue Devils answered back with a six-play, 57-yard drive, finished off on a three-yard touchdown run by Mark Costantino.
Later, the Blue Devils articulated another 57-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter, finishing it when Dula connected with wide-out Nick Mahoney for an eight-yard score on third and goal. Dula kept the drive alive by converting a fourth-and-six from the Metuchen 17-yard line by hitting Mahoney for a 12-yard gain.
Shore Regional tied the game on their second drive of the second half, on a quick two plays, after getting great field position, taking over at the Bulldogs’ 16-yard line.
Nick Grigos carried the ball on both plays of the drive, finishing it off with a 12-yard touchdown scamper, tying the teams at 21.
Later, Dula capped off a 97-yard drive with a quarterback sneak on the goal line, giving the Blue Devils the six-point lead after Luis Bernardes pulled the extra point wide left. The touchdown was set up following Dula’s first interception on Shore Regional’s three-yard line.
The Blue Devils kept the drive alive when Dula connected with Rob Carracino for a 20-yard gain on third-and-eight, down to the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line, and on Koursaris’ seven-yard gain on fourth-and-four, down to the goal line, setting up the touchdown score, which came with 9:37 remaining in the game.
Dula made his second interception on the ensuing possession, sealing the win for Shore Regional.
Lindo carried the ball 34 times for 203 yards and all three touchdowns for Metuchen, although the Blue Devils made the appropriate adjustments, allowing Lindo to run for 21 yards in the second half.
“I don’t know why, but we’ve done that all season. We can’t seem to play a good first half, I guess we came out flat, but we came out ready to play in the second half. I’m so proud of my team,” Dula said.
Dula was 5 of 11 passing for 58 yards and one touchdown. Mahoney hurled in four catches for 38 yards, leading all Blue Devils receivers.
Grigos had 14 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown for Shore Regional.
“Our running game is always pretty good,” Dula said. “Of course we pick it up as the game goes along, we were able to control the second half with our line and running backs.”
“I’m very proud of our boys. We’re in the playoffs now to defend our title,” Costantino said.
Shore Regional will be on the road at Florence for the first game of the Central Jersey Group I state playoffs this Saturday at 1 pm.