Freehold holds off Manalapan to win 2020 grid season opener

Freehold High School quarterback Sha'Kim Shuler runs for a first down during the team's game against Manalapan High School on Oct. 3 in Freehold. Shuler had two rushing touchdowns in the team's 14-12 victory over Manalapan.

FREEHOLD – Control the controllables. That is the message Freehold High School football coach Dave Ellis gave to his players the first time he was able to meet with them during the off-season prior to the start of the 2020 campaign.

After going through a preseason that was unlike any other because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ellis continues to tell his players every day that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed and that the only thing they can control is what goes on that day.

“We can’t control when we can practice or what happened in March, April or May. All we can focus on is the day,” Ellis said. “We don’t know with everything going on if this (Oct. 3) was going to be our last game. We are trying to focus on one day at a time and the guys have grasped that and have been able to move forward every day.”

Ellis watched his players take his message to heart during the Colonials’ season opener  against Manalapan High School on Oct. 3 in Freehold Borough.

A sack on the final play of the game by junior Cameron Crooms stopped a late comeback attempt by Manalapan (0-1) and helped Freehold (1-0) hang for a 14-12 victory to start the 2020 season.

“Whenever you win your first game, I feel it gives you some nice momentum for the season,” Ellis said. “We made a lot of mistakes, but we kept going out there and found a way to win.”

Senior quarterback Sha’Kim Shuler had a stellar game as he rushed for 215 yards and scored twice on four-yard touchdown runs.

Special teams play was a significant part of the victory as the Colonials blocked an extra point attempt and a field goal attempt.

Junior Kamore Gill ran for 106 yards for the Colonials, while seniors Yah-Sin Calhoun and Jason Lee each recorded an interception.

Getting the opportunity to be on the field and to defeat a successful program like Manalapan meant a lot to Shuler, who said the victory was a special one for the Freehold seniors.

“We played together as a family,” Shuler said. “We are happy to have the chance to play on this field. We play every game like it’s our last.”

Despite the loss, the biggest take-away for Manalapan Coach Dom Lepore was seeing his players get the opportunity to play and have a season.

“Playing and having a season is obviously the positive in all of this,” Lepore said. “We tell the kids to take things day by day. We will learn from this game and move on.”

Manalapan forced three fumbles and saw senior Anthony Matrone snare a one-handed interception during the contest.

Junior quarterback Mike DeMayo and Matrone hooked up on a 67-yard touchdown pass  with 7:40 to play to bring Manalapan within a two-point conversion of tying the game.

Shuler did a great job covering Manalapan tight end Dante Barone on the two-point conversion attempt to deny the Braves and keep Freehold in the lead.

DeMayo came off off the bench in the second quarter and ended up throwing for 155 yards and two touchdowns, including a seven-yard strike to Paul Wojciechowski just before halftime.

The Braves got the ball back at their own 10 with :45 to play after Ethan Rodriguez recovered a fumble by Shuler. They moved to midfield, but Crooms sacked DeMayo on the final play to end the contest.

Lepore hopes his squad can learn from the loss and rebound with a victory on Oct. 9 at Howell. The game will kick off at 7 p.m.

“Every game is important in the situation we are in right now because of what is going on with the pandemic,” he said. “If we get this next one, that would be great.”

Freehold will return to the field at noon on Oct. 10 when the Colonials host Colts Neck.