Gridiron Classic, Monmouth, Ocean, All-Shore
Pt. Pleasant Beach RB/LB Joe Beley (No. 0) and Raritan RB Kieran Falzon (No. 33). (Photo by Kevin Prefer - JSN)

Monmouth County Extends Win Streak Against Ocean County In Gridiron Classic

WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth County scored on its first possession of the game and never looked back to stretch its winning streak over Ocean County in the Gridiron Classic to five games with a 21-12 victory over Ocean County at Monmouth University’s Kessler Field.

Sunday’s all-star tilt was the 46th edition of the longest-running high school football all star game in New Jersey. With the win, Monmouth County upped its record 25-18-1 in the game to take a dominant lead in the series with Ocean County.

Former Philadelphia Eagles and Jest defensive lineman Vinny Curry’s Rush2Victory Foundation was the primary sponsor of the event along with the Shore Football Coaches Foundation. Curry’s involvement in the game added some spice to the event as Curry’s outgoing personality was definitely contagious.

Ocean County won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. On the first play of the game Ocean County starting quarterback Tai Mann (Jackson Memorial) was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Middletown North’s defensive lineman Peter Dempsey, who was a first team All-Shore selection this past season along with an NJSIAA All-Group 4 pick.

Dempsey, who is committed to Wagner University to play football there in the fall, wreaked havoc all game while adding an additional sack in the fourth quarter and was voted the Monmouth County Defensive Player of the Game. Dempsey, along with fellow defensive linemen Keisun Sanders (Wall), who had two TFL, Manalapan’s Artem Reinkov-Jouk, Raritan’s Jack Coleman, Wall’s Cris Mozeika, Freehold’s Malachi Cancel (sack) and Holmdel’s Marc Dietz were ferocious at the point of attack and spent a large part of the afternoon in the Ocean County backfield.

“Our defensive line was incredible,” said Monmouth County head coach Jeremy Schulte (Rumson-Fair Haven). I think we have eight defensive linemen and all of them were absolute animals the entire game, their motor was incredible. We were having trouble during the week running plays against them because they were so good. Dempsey had an amazing game and Keisun did a great job, he’s a go getter and Mozeika’s another one. All those guys could be on my team any day of the week because they’re great kids and great football players.”

Linebackers Christian Buchanan (SJV) and Red Bank Catholic’s Michael Palmieri also stood out. They were consistently around the ball while showing relentless pursuit. Matawan linebacker Joey Bodin added a tackle for loss.

"It's not only me, it's the whole defense 100 percent," said Dempsey. "The team came out here and we had one job to do -win the game and keep the streak going. It was a team effort 100 percent. It was good to play in front of my friends and family one more time in high school and now, the next step."

The defense held Ocean County to 84 total yards on their four possessions in the first half and 213 yards for the game. However, 98 of those yards came on Ocean County’s final possession of the game when the outcome was already determined. The defense also held Ocean County to 3.3 yards per rushing attempt.

Ocean County went three-and-out on its first possession unable to recover from Dempsey’s sack and Monmouth County took over at their own 40-yard line following a Shikeith Gordon punt out of the end zone.

Five plays later, Raritan’s first team All-Shore running back, Kiernan Falzon, sprinted around left end from 12-yards out to give Monmouth County an early 7-0 lead after Oli Lorraine’s point after kick. Falzon was responsible for all 40 yards on the scoring drive carrying the ball four times.

“He’s just tough, really tough,” said Schulte. “He’s a grinder and does everything you ask him to do. He’ll joke around with you, but the second the whistle blows he’s as serious as could be and has been a leader from the start. He’s one of those guys we lean on and believe me I know first-hand what he can do.”

Falzon, who was the recipient of the Sam Mills award – awarded to the player that best exemplifies the hard work habits at practice upon which Mills built his career – rushed for 1,667 yards and 21 touchdowns and had 2,300 plus all-purpose yards, including two kickoff returns for scores last season and is committed to Southern Connecticut State College to play football in the fall.

“I was just ready to play with my boys from Raritan, Matt (Agar), Coleman and Calicari one more time,” said Falzon. “We’ve been playing together since we were young and it was a good experience playing one more time with them. I really appreciate receiving this award and worked hard for it. That first score was big. Who knows what the score would’ve been if we didn’t score first.”

Monmouth County scored in three plays on its second possession of the game to go up 14-0.

On fourth-and-7 from their own 27-yard line, Ocean County attempted a fake punt which was snuffed out by a host of Monmouth County defenders at the 30-yard line.

Three plays later on third-and-15 from the 35-yard line, quarterback Jai’Sun Brown (Asbury Park) lofted a pass into the end zone that appeared to be anyone’s ball. However, Tahaj Wiggins (Monmouth Regional) made a spectacular catch on a 50/50 ball out-jumping Barnegat defensive back Gordan for the touchdown with 4:03 left in the first quarter.

Wiggins finished with two catches for 40 yards and was the Monmouth County Offensive Player of the Game.

Ocean County answered on their ensuing possession marching 73 yards in 15 plays to cut the lead to 14-6 after the PAT failed with 7:01 still remaining in the first half.

On fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line, quarterback Tai Mann (Jackson Memorial) rolled left and fired a strike to Manchester’s Tyrone Benjamin, who hauled it in right at the left pilon as he was going down. Benjamin had two receptions on the drive and Barnegat’s JoJo Bivins had a huge 18-yard catch on third down to keep the drive alive.

Mann was 3-for-4 for 37 yards on the drive and ran five times for 14 yards, including a 6-yard scamper on a crucial third-and-1 from the 13-yard line.

The first team All-Shore quarterback was injured on the first series of the second half when he was sacked by Cancel and did not return. He finished going 4-for-8 for 29 yards and a touchdown through the air and rushed for 25 yards on nine attempts. He was voted the Ocean County Offensive Player of the Game.

Monmouth County then answered Ocean County’s scoring drive with one of their own marching 89 yards in eight plays to take a 21-6 lead with 2:29 left in the first half after Lorraine’s third extra-point kick of the afternoon.

Manasquan’s third team All-Shore quarterback Brett Patten, a late addition to the roster, engineered the drive capping it off with a 32-yard bomb to Manalapan wideout Alex Dille. Dillie beat Ocean County defensive back Lamar Hicks on go route and Patten laid the ball in there right on target for Dillie to haul it in.

Patten, who was originally committed to play baseball at St. Johns but will instead play for Indian River State College, was a first team All-Shore pick in baseball after hitting .427 with six home runs and 19 RBI. Sunday he was 3-for-3 for 51 yards and a touchdown on the scoring drive and ran for 21 yards on two carries. He finished 4-of-6 for 56 yards passing and rushed for three times for 25 yards splitting time with Brown and was voted the Gridiron Classic’s Most Valuable Player.

“Our coaches made it a lot easier for us,” said Patten of his short preparation time. “They cut it down simple and drew it up on the board for us. I was so happy when I found out I could play in the game. I was supposed to leave June 24 for summer baseball league so when that changed and found out I could play I was so excited.  It was great being in the backfield one last time with Kieran, his touchdown was huge - nothing’s changed. I was hyped up I could play one more game.”

"He was a leader from day one," said Schulte. "We were very happy when they added him to our roster. Brett is cool, calm and collected and that's what you want in a quarterback. He worked well with our offensive coordinator John Corneliusen."

Ocean County had a chance to pull within a touchdown and two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter driving to the Monmouth County 6-yard line from their own 45 following a Monmouth County punt. However, on first-and-goal from the six, Pinelands quarterback Ryan Allen was intercepted on a great play by Freehold Township's Anthony Long III, who had great position for the pick right at the right pilon.

Allen was 2-for-7 for 17 yards and an interception but rushed for 45 yards on ten carries and engineered Ocean County’s second scoring drive of the game.

With a running clock for most of the second half, Monmouth County had just two possessions in the half. On the second one, they took over at the 20-yard line following the Long III interception and drove to the 47 where they were facing a third-and-3. Pinelands massive defensive lineman Mike Hall then exploded through the line to bring down Keyport’s Daijon Cross for a 3-yard loss forcing a punt.

Hall was named the Ocean County Defensive Player of the Game.

Ocean County took over at the 2-yard line and drove 98 yards for the score with Bivins finishing off the scoring drive with 3-yard burst up the middle with seconds remaining in the game. The attempted onside kick was recovered by Monmouth and they then took a knee to run out the clock.

Central running back Chase Gumbrecht, who was injured in the first game of the season and missed all but the final game of the season when he wasn’t near 100 percent rushed nine times for 36 yards Sunday and showed flashed of his old self. In 2021 he was the Shore Conference rushing champion with 1,825 yards and 25 touchdowns on an average of eight yards per carry. But Gumbrecht will hang up his cleats for good this time after enlisting in the Coast Guard.

For Monmouth County, Kean University commit Julian Jones (Monmouth Reg.) rushed five times for 27 yards and Jhamier Howard (Manasquan) added 21 yards on four carries.

Point Pleasant Beach's Joe Beley was the Ocean County recipient of the Sam Mills award.

“Amazing experience and a lot of fun,” said Schulte of his time as Monmouth County’s head coach. “But I’m exhausted and need about five showers. It was a lot of fun. I haven’t sweated this much in three days in a long time but we had a really good time. Vinny (Curry) was super helpful with everything so shout out to him.” 

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