Two games into 2019, the Metuchen High School football team has already won more games than it did all of last fall.
In 2018, with a decimated roster that fell to 16 players at one point, the Bulldogs finished 0-9 and even forfeited one game. This year, with a healthier roster of about 30 players, the Bulldogs are 2-0 after two games.
On Sept. 7 at home, Metuchen beat Keyport High School, 20-12. Then on Sept. 14 at home, Metuchen topped Highland Park High School, 34-8.
The Bulldogs are off to a stunning start under new coach Guy Jensen.
“I was happy for our players and coaches,” Jensen said. “It feels good to get this reward for our hard work.”
Jensen’s team is winning first and foremost with great and basic defense. The Bulldogs are tackling well. Plain and simple.
Metuchen’s senior linebacking trio of Andrew Sullivan, Elijah Ervin and Colyn Quals is swarming to the ball and making gang tackles, often for a loss. Sophomore nose tackle Christian Shao shifted from middle linebacker in the offseason and is thriving in his new spot, stuffing the middle and forcing ball carriers to stall or bounce outside, often into the teeth of those linebackers.
All four players made eight tackles in Metuchen’s season opening victory over Keyport. Sullivan and Quals combined for 11 tackles in the Highland Park triumph, while Ervin recovered a fumble.
“Those four guys have been the nucleus,” Jensen said.
But the Bulldogs’ defense has gotten plenty of contributions from other players, too.
In week one, sophomore defensive end Andrew Antiporda set the edge despite going against Keyport tackle Devon Meza, a 6-4, 265-pound Division 1 prospect. Antiporda’s effort won him Metuchen’s weekly Hammer Award for toughness.
“If one kid occupies their best interior person, it leaves the opportunity for other kids to have positive days,” Jensen said.
But Metuchen’s week two victory featured even more defensive standouts.
Junior Jacob Lepinski registered five tackles and an interception. Senior Freddy Krebs also picked off a pass. And sophomore Aiden Ahmed made five tackles.
“We’ve played well defensively,” Jensen said.
But Metuchen’s hot start is not just about one unit playing over its head. The Bulldogs look like a pretty complete team so far.
Sophomore quarterback Steve Michaliszyn is studying film like a senior, and it’s paying off on the field. Late in the Keyport game, with Metuchen up by one, Michaliszyn zipped the ball through a tiny window between two defenders, hitting Quals for a 16-yard touchdown that put the game away.
The sophomore has 335 passing yards and five touchdowns through two games. Ahmed, an emerging young receiver, has caught three of those touchdowns.
“Stephen has grown faster than I thought,” Jensen said. “He’s a kid who puts in the time and wants to be good.”
“And Aiden plays basketball for me too, and I don’t even know if he realizes how athletic he is yet,” Jensen said.
Metuchen is playing like a seasoned contender, and it is on track to make the NJSIAA playoffs. But Jensen is still not focused on victories as much as progress.
“It’s really about us being competitive,” he said.