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Matawan gridders poised to take next step under Graber

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Matawan Regional High School running back David Onuoha runs up the middle for a 29-yard touchdown against Marlboro on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Onuoha had three rushing touchdowns in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Matawan Regional High School wide receiver Brian Charles Gagneron dives through two Marlboro defenders for a first down during a game played on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Marlboro defeated Matawan 35-20. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Matawan Regional High School quarterback Dennis Buonagura throws a pass for a first down during a game against Marlboro on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Matawan is 1-1 to start the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Matawan Regional High School wide receiver Joseph Bodin makes a catch for a first down during a game against Marlboro on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Matawan Regional High School running back David Onuoha runs up the middle for a 29-yard touchdown against Marlboro on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Onuoha had three rushing touchdowns in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
  2 / 4 
Matawan Regional High School wide receiver Brian Charles Gagneron dives through two Marlboro defenders for a first down during a game played on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Marlboro defeated Matawan 35-20. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Matawan Regional High School quarterback Dennis Buonagura throws a pass for a first down during a game against Marlboro on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. Matawan is 1-1 to start the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Matawan Regional High School wide receiver Joseph Bodin makes a catch for a first down during a game against Marlboro on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The 2021 season is year three for the Matawan Regional High School football program under the direction of coach Jay Graber and the Huskies are trying to post their second winning season in six years.

Three-year starters Dennis Buonagura (quarterback) and David Onuoha (running back/linebacker) have returned after a 2020 campaign that saw the Huskies finish 2-4 during a season that was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

During Graber’s first season (2019), Matawan won five games and finished with its first winning record (5-4) since 2015.

Graber believes his 2021 Huskies can compete for the top spot in the Shore Conference Liberty Division.

“We have a good group of kids. It’s the Shore Conference. Every game is tough. We have to keep improving and not look past any team we play,” he said.

In 2020, Buonagura completed better than 63% of his passes for 460 yards. As a sophomore, he threw for 824 yards and seven touchdowns.

In Matawan’s season opener against Ocean Township on Sept. 2, Buonagura threw for 420 yards and four touchdown to lead the Huskies to a 28-27 victory over the Spartans.

Buonagura is throwing to a young receiving corps in 2021. Through two games, junior Joseph Bodin and sophomores Brian Charles Gagneron and Dante Stevenson have stepped up to make big plays.

Gagneron leads the team with 10 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown. Bodin has nine catches for 121 yards.

Senior tight end Kyle Halliburton caught two touchdown passes against Ocean and has eight catches for 75 yards through two games.

Onuoha will lead the rushing attack and will be supported by sophomore Jayden Percodani and freshman Colin Palumbo.

Onuoha rushed for three touchdowns in 2020 as part of a one-two punch with Coleman Adams, who graduated in June.

On defense, Onuoha will lead the Huskies from his middle linebacker spot. He recorded 90 tackles a year ago. Bodin and junior Lance Santos will play at the outside linebacker positions.

In the trenches, juniors Zion Spence and Nick Winzer return as starters on the offensive and defensive lines. Spence is entering his third season as a starter on offense and will line up at right tackle. Winzer will protect Buonagura’s blind side at left tackle.

Senior Tim Murphy, junior A.J. Reamer and sophomore Jordan Reamer make up the interior of the offensive line.

Murphy is Matawan’s placekicker and Buonagura is the squad’s punter.

Senior Tim Ryf and sophomore Chris Burseth will see time alongside Spence, Winzer and Jordan Reamer on the defensive line.

Gagneron, Stevenson, Percodani and sophomore Frank Pico make up the secondary.

After defeating Ocean Township in the season opener, Matawan (1-1) lost to Marlboro on Sept. 11 in Marlboro. The Mustangs jumped out to a 28-7 in the first half and won 35-20. Onuoha scored all three of Matawan’s touchdowns.

After the game, Graber said the Huskies will need to clean up the mistakes they made against Marlboro as they prepare to host Colts Neck on Sept. 17.

“We will do the best we can to fix the mistakes and get ready for Colts Neck,” the coach said.

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