NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On a windy night with temperatures in the mid-40’s, the New Brunswick Zebras (9-1) battled the visiting Freehold Township Patriots (4-6) in the first round of the New Jersey Central Group V state tournament.
The wind proved to be a factor as it picked up in the second half, making it near impossible for either team to complete passes.
In their meeting earlier in the regular season, the Zebras won 38-28 in a high-scoring game.
“It’s tough beating teams twice,” said Zebras head coach Don Sofilkanich. “ I just knew it would be one of those type of games.”
Curtis Revan and Kadas Reams also commented how the Patriots played more intensely than they had done in their first meeting.
On their second drive, the Patriots went to work, firing on all cylinders with both their run and pass game.
Quarterback Jack O’Brian connected with Anthony Lotti on a 20-yard pass, picking up a first down after facing a tough third and 14.
O’Brian then scampered 15-yards to set up Lotti for a 5-yard touchdown up the middle.
Only needing five plays to travel 38 yards the Patriots were up 7-0.
The Zebras responded with a long third down conversion of their own. After a snap went over his head, Seawright-Jeffery recovered the ball on their own 7-yard line.
But with great protection, Seawright-Jeffrey unleashed a 46-yard pass to CJ Hernandez, picking up the first down after facing a third and 23 situation.
Two plays later, Samad Davila took a sweep to the right side, and followed his blockers down field, hitting the jets going untouched for a 46-yard touchdown.
On their third drive of the game, German Pimental snarled in a 48-yard pass, which put the Zebras on the 1-yard line.
Earlier, Pimental had miraculously grasped a 36-yard pass in between two defenders, but the play was called back due to a holding call.
Seawright-Jeffery threw it on the run heading toward the sideline against his body’s momentum.
While the Patriots were confused, having 12 men on the field, the Zebras took a quick snap and pushed Jeffrey into the endzone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak putting the Zebras up 14-7.
In the second half, Maurice Ffrench traveled the length of the football field, going 90 yards down the left sideline after breaking two tackles to score the game-winning touchdown.
This would be his only return of the night, but he certainly making it count.
Ffrench deceived the defense by first letting the ball bounce in front of him before he snatched it in front of a Patriot player.
After ripping through the first tackle, he next spun out of a defenders grasp before blazing down the sideline and putting the Zebras up 21-7.
This is the reason teams do not put the ball in his hands.
“I think our kids thought he was never going to pick it up. It bounced twice and then he picked it up and ran with it. I think our guys just kind of slowed up and thought there was no way he was going to take it. But that’s why he’s going to the University of Pittsburgh,” said Patriots head coach Davies on Ffrench’s play.
Ffrench also impressed with a line-drive 58-yard punt in the first half.
Despite a great performance, Ffrench would also fumble twice during the game.
The first fumble came on a fourth and 1 at the Patriot 47-yard line.
Drawing defenders towards the middle attempting to convert on a fake punt, Ffrench lateraled the ball over Frankely Rosario’s head and it was picked up by the Patriots at the Zebras 44-yard line.
On a third and 11, O’Brian found Lotti over the middle for a needed 29-yard pickup.
Just when the Patriots were confident to find another pass, Kadas Reams dove for an interception off an incomplete pass, stopping the Patriots’ promising run.
The Patriots stepped up their defense and forced the Zebras to punt deep in their own territory.
On the punt return, Galanti sped past multiple defenders and had perfect blocking, scoring on a 40-yard return. However, the return was negated due to a block in the back.
The Patriots struggled mightily to operate in the second half, as the wind picked up, making it difficult to throw an accurate pass.
Passes were either slightly too weak or too strong, as players seemed to be a step behind.
The Zebra’s defense was relentless, as Pimental and Mohammed Bangura were pests, picking up two sacks each.
Jovan Mercado, Curtis Revan, Frankely Rosario and Jordan Harris clogged holes and made the run game a failure for the Patriots.
Along with Josimar Contreras and Steven Reece constantly blitzing O’Brian hardly had any breathing room.
The Zebras would later get the ball back with 10:46 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Up by two scores, the Zebras looked to kill the clock with their ground and pound offense.
Starting from their own 26-yard line, the Zebras picked up five consecutive first downs, all of them on the ground with Davila and Ffrench.
With Pimental joining in at times to set up a double tight end set the Zebras could run the ball wherever they wanted.
The offensive line of Arturo Omedo, Tah-jier Montgomery, Alon and Curtis Revan, Bangura and Mercado impressed as they continued to open holes with the defense expecting the run, advancing 67-yards to reach the Patriot 7-yard line.
Looking to find room inside, Ffrench was gang tackled by a swarm of defenders, losing the ball with 4:12 left to play.
The Zebras had eaten up 5:34 of the clock, forcing the Patriots to operate in a two-minute offense.
Starting from their own 5-yard line, the Patriots were determined to score.
O’Brian scampered for runs of 21-yards and 26-yards, and completed a 24-yard pass to Galanti, then finally finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Adrian Rybaltowski.
Galanti and Garcia were phenomenal with their PAT’s, as both hammered in every single one on a ridiculously windy night.
Garcia talked about how he had to remain focused and kick harder than usual in order to not let the wind be a factor.
The onside kick was from the Patriots was recovered on the first bounce by left tackle and defensive end, Bangura.
After forcing the Zebras to punt, the Patriots had only 1:06 to put together a scoring drive from their own 24-yard line.
On third and 12, Galanti caught a 19-yard pass, then caught a 22-yard pass on a third and 10 to keep their hopes alive, as he had the heart of a champion.
With 8 seconds left, O’Brian looked to his targets before corralling the snap and fumbling it.
Curtis Revan pounced on it to secure the Zebra’s victory, sending them into the playoff semifinals.
“We grew up a little tonight. We played some tough defense,” said coach Sofilkanich.
“That’s a sign of character and championships.”
The Zebras will take on the No. 3 seed Old Bridge (6-3) on Friday, November 20 at Memorial Stadium.