Marlboro tops Matawan, 35-20, in 2021 football opener

  1 / 3 
Marlboro High School running back Zach Mendes rumbles in for a 15-yard touchdown during the team's season opener against Matawan on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Mendes tallied a career-high three touchdowns in Marlboro's 35-20 victory over Matawan.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 3 
Marlboro High School wide receiver Ryan Mendes runs past Matawan's David Onuoha for a first down during a game played on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Marlboro won 35-20.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 3 
Marlboro High School quarterback AJ Schwartz scrabbles for a first down during a game against Matawan on Sept. 11 in Matawan. Schwartz threw two touchdown passes in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
×
  1 / 3 
Marlboro High School running back Zach Mendes rumbles in for a 15-yard touchdown during the team's season opener against Matawan on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Mendes tallied a career-high three touchdowns in Marlboro's 35-20 victory over Matawan.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 3 
Marlboro High School wide receiver Ryan Mendes runs past Matawan's David Onuoha for a first down during a game played on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Marlboro won 35-20.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  3 / 3 
Marlboro High School quarterback AJ Schwartz scrabbles for a first down during a game against Matawan on Sept. 11 in Matawan. Schwartz threw two touchdown passes in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

Throughout the summer of 2021, the players on the Marlboro High School football team were preparing for and thinking about their season opener on Sept. 11 against Matawan Regional High School.

In the eyes of the Mustangs, the game would serve as the launching pad to a new chapter of Marlboro football following a 1-6 season in 2020.

In front of a packed house at Marlboro High School on Sept. 11, the Mustangs started the 2021 season exactly the way they wanted. Led by three touchdowns from senior running back Zach Mendes, the Mustangs defeated the Huskies, 35-20.

“Any time you win your season opener it feels good,” Marlboro coach Jason Dagato said. “These kids have worked their tails off. There is a lot of leadership on this team. We have a lot of hard-working kids with great attitudes. They all just want to win. It feels great.”

Marlboro took control on the game’s first possession. A botched handoff exchange by Matawan led to a fumble recovery by Alex Frank and the Mustangs were off and rolling.

All of Mendes’ three rushing touchdowns came in the first quarter to give the Mustangs a 21-7 lead.

Following Frank’s fumble recovery, Mendes ran 25 yards for a score and Max Foley kicked the first of his five extra points to give Marlboro a 7-0 lead.

After the defense stopped Matawan in three plays, the Mustangs rolled down the field to another score. Mendes ran in from the 15 and Foley’s extra point gave Marlboro a 14-0 lead after five minutes.

Matawan responded with a touchdown on its next possession to make the score 14-7, but the Huskies could not stop Mendes, who scored from 12 yards out with 2:19 left in the first quarter. Foley’s third extra point gave the Mustangs a 21-7 lead.

Mendes finished the game with 77 rushing yards and said, “My guys in the trenches were moving kids and opening up big holes for me and I just finished it. It feels great. This (win) defines the start of our season and the rest of it, too.”

The Mustangs executed four straight touchdown drives to begin the game.

At the start of the second quarter, junior quarterback A.J. Schwartz threw a perfect 12-yard fade to wide receiver Ryan Mendes in the back of the Matawan end zone. The touchdown and Foley’s successful extra point gave Marlboro a 28-7 lead.

On defense, Schwartz made a key play at the end of the second quarter. With Marlboro leading 28-13, Matawan drove inside the Mustangs’ 30. With :09 left, Schwartz stepped up from his free safety position and intercepted a pass to close down the threat.

“I read the play well and just jumped the route,” Schwartz said of his interception. “We needed a takeaway with (Matawan) driving and not a lot of time left in the half. It feels amazing.”

At the start of the third quarter, Schwartz led the Mustangs on an eight-play, 76-yard drive that ended with his 23-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Matt Cassidy. Foley’s fifth successful extra point of the afternoon gave Marlboro a 35-13 lead.

Marlboro scored five touchdowns on its first six possessions.

Dagato credited Marlboro’s offensive success to an up-tempo offense the team has installed this season.

“I think it gives us an advantage,” the coach said. “We don’t overthink things. We just go out and play football. We have been very successful offensively throughout the preseason and I am happy it carried over.”

Matawan senior running back David Onuoha scored his third rushing touchdown of the afternoon with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter to cut Marlboro’s lead to 35-20, but the Mustangs’ defense stiffened and did not surrender another score.

Cassidy intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1:40 to play to seal the win for Marlboro.

 

The victory over Matawan was Marlboro’s first win in a season opener since 2010. Dagato hopes it is a sign of more wins to come as the Mustangs seek to contend for the Shore Conference Liberty Division crown.

“We are looking to blast this thing off and see where it goes,” he said.

Marlboro (1-0) will play at Neptune on Sept. 17.