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Middletown football teams shift focus to state playoff action

By Wayne Witkowski

Standout running back Connor Welsh returned to the Middletown High School North football lineup, and it couldn’t come at a better time with the state playoffs beginning this weekend.

Welsh made an immediate impact in his return not just in running the ball a bit, but also by catching a screen pass from quarterback Donald Glenn that, with the help of solid blocking downfield, turned into a 26-yard touchdown play amid a 32-8 victory at Ocean Township High School Nov. 4. Middletown North’s record went to 6-2 with the victory.

“It felt good seeing that. It’s the first time he’s been in the end zone in a while,” said Glenn, a fourth-year starter who threw three touchdown passes and a career-high 357 yards on 17-of-23 passing. “He’s a great running back, and [his return] will help us out a lot.”

Glenn verbally committed to Wagner College before the season.

“I think this is a good time for us to be in the playoffs because we’ve gotten a little healthier from missing some key players,” said coach Steve Bush, whose team also saw the return of wide receiver and defensive standout Dwight Wilkerson and linebacker Nick Kish, who have been out for the past two games.

Wilkerson has been the leading rusher in Welsh’s absence with 571 yards and seven touchdowns despite his down time. Brandon Kube is Glenn’s leading receiver with 35 catches for 654 yards and six touchdowns.

“Having Connor back gives us a little more depth,” Bush said. “I think we’ll keep getting better and better. This win give us momentum going into the playoffs.”

Middletown North has been in the playoffs all four years Bush has been the coach and has the best seed since Bush has been there at No. 2 in North Jersey, Section II, Group IV this season. On Nov. 11, the Lions will host No. 7-seed Woodbridge High School (5-4), which has won its last three games, allowing only two touchdowns in that stretch. The winner plays the winner of No. 6-seed Colonia High School (5-4), winner of its last four games, at No. 3-seed Summit High School (7-2), which comes off a 42-7 loss to Somerville High School Nov. 11.

“They have good playmakers who can make big plays out of little plays, and they have good speed on defense,” Bush said of Woodbridge. “We have to take care of the ball and to play good on defense. Our defense has stepped up and played better — a big improvement. We can’t give them anything easy and must make them execute.”

Middletown High School South (6-2), which is the defending sectional champion ranked No. 1 in state polls earlier in the season, is in the opposite bracket. The Eagles come off a 22-3 victory over Wall High School to uphold their No. 1 seed for the playoffs. On Nov. 11, they will host No. 8-seed John F. Kennedy Memorial High School (4-5), which has lost its last three games but dropped the last two by three points each.

Both Middletown teams could play in back-to-back games this fall as they did late last season. For that to happen, both teams must fulfill their seeds and win their opening-round and semifinals games to meet in the championship next month — a week after their traditional Thanksgiving matchup at 10 a.m. Nov. 24 in a Shore Conference B North Division game.

Middletown South beat Middletown North in the semifinals and in their Thanksgiving matchup on back-to-back weeks last fall.

Middletown South is 5-0 in the Shore Conference B North Division behind the hard running of Anthony Summey, who scored two touchdowns against Wall. Middletown North and Wall each have two division losses behind once-beaten Manasquan High School. Summey and quarterback Aneesh Agrawal, who are both transfers, have been solid additions for the Eagles this season.

Summey has scored 10 touchdowns with nearly 700 yards rushing.

“He’s had some growing pains, but he has been a great asset for us moving forward and our quarterback has done a good job,” Middletown South coach Steve Antonucci said. “We’re where we want to be right now. We won a share of the conference beating Wall. We could be better because we’re banged up a little, especially on the offensive line, but we’re almost back to full strength, and I feel good about where we are and what we’re doing.”

Antonucci said John F. Kennedy Memorial’s athleticism heightens the challenge for his defense that has to cover an offense that is similar to what the Eagles run while the defense tends to stack it tight.

Antonucci said he has gotten some great individual efforts on his defense, particularly from linebacker Maxx Imsho, who he feels is a leading candidate for the Shore Defensive Player of the Year. Antonucci said that inside linebacker Kevin Higgins and defensive end Jake Krellin also have excelled throughout the season, particularly down the stretch.

Middletown South has outscored its opponents, 219-131. Middletown North has a 242-157 edge.

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