On the same night Howell High School honored the 10-year anniversary of its 2007 Central Jersey, Group 4 state playoff champion football team, the 2017 Rebels showed off their high-powered offense in defeating Middletown High School North, 28-26, on Sept. 23.
The Rebels were led by quarterback Eddie Morales, who threw four touchdowns and completed 16 of his 18 passes for 230 yards. Howell had many drives extended by Morales’ legs, as the quarterback also led the Rebels’ rushing attack with 55 yards on 10 runs.
The Rebels’ captain said this was a huge victory for Howell, which lost its third game of the season last year to Middletown North after a 2-0 start. The Rebels also started 2-0 in 2015 before falling to Freehold Township High School.
“To get over that hump and be the great team we want to be, we had to beat this team. We came here and did what we have to do, and now we are 3-0,” Morales said.
Howell’s quarterback said the Rebels are in a great spot after beating what he called one of the hardest teams on their schedule.
Morales threw three of his four touchdown passes to wide receiver Naseim Brantley, who caught eight receptions for 101 yards. Morales called Brantley “more than a brother.”
“We work out together. We do everything together. So when I am scrambling, he knows where he has to be. We work on that. When I am scrambling one way, he knows where to cut. He knows how to find the space,” Morales said.
“[The win] feels really great. We have been working hard all offseason just for this game and just for the whole season,” Brantley said.
Brantley didn’t take any extra satisfaction from his personal hat trick against Middletown North.
“It is a team effort,” he said.
Howell head coach Luke Sinkhorn noted that Morales and Brantley have had that connection for a couple of years.
“I feel great about them in general. They are two great cats. They are awesome players and awesome guys off the field. I feel confident in anything that we are doing with them,” Sinkhorn said.
The Rebels’ coach said the team wants to put the ball in their hands, but it also wants to spread the ball.
“Each one of our games has kind of been a different guy responding and a different guy showing up for us, so we are happy with what we got,” Sinkhorn said.
Sinkhorn said his team has been working on a couple of different things.
“Offensively, we got to try and grind out some drives and get seven- and eight-play drives,” Sinkhorn said. “Defensively, we are working on some things as well. Each game is different; each game is a different game.”
Howell led Middletown North, 21-12, at halftime.
“We were happy with what we did in the first half,” Sinkhorn said. “We were happy coming out [in the second half]. Even if we do not score on some of those drives, we grind out a couple of first downs, and that last drive was phenomenal. To take all the time off the clock was awesome.”
Middletown North head coach Steve Bush acknowledged Howell’s talent on the offensive side of the ball but felt like his team beat itself down the stretch.
“We scored almost every time we had the ball [in the second half],” Bush said. “We got stopped on that one series where I felt like we stopped ourselves in the first half. They are a high-powered offensive team, and we needed to score a little more. We came up short on three extra points that we had a chance on.”
Even though the Lions fall to 1-2 on the season, Bush believes that his defense grew a little bit during the game.
“[There are] a lot of little things we got to get better [at] on our defense,” the coach said. “I thought [we] grew up a little bit in the second half. We still got some things we have to fix, but they are a good offensive team. They have some very talented players.”
Connor Robbins supplied the offense for Middletown North, as he led the rushing attack with three touchdowns and gained just under 60 yards.
Middletown North will look to get back to a .500 record on Oct. 6 when the Lions face off against New Brunswick High School at home at 7 p.m.
Howell plays at home against Toms River High School North on Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m.