Middletown South defeats Manalapan in overtime to remain undefeated

Middletown High School South wide receiver Ryan St. Clair runs up the field for a first down during a game against Manalapan on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Middletown South won in overtime 13-7 to improve to 4-0 on the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South wide receiver Ryan St. Clair runs up the field for a first down during a game against Manalapan on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Middletown South won in overtime 13-7 to improve to 4-0 on the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

Regulation time was not enough to settle a Shore Conference Colonial Division showdown between the Middletown South and Manalapan high school football teams on the evening of Sept. 24 in Manalapan.

The two undefeated teams were tied 7-7 at the end of the fourth quarter and played overtime, during which each team would have a chance from their opponent’s 25 yard line.

In overtime, Manalapan’s Michael Calton missed on a 43-yard field goal attempt. That meant Middletown South could win the game with a field goal or a touchdown on its possession.

The Eagles took advantage of the opportunity and on a well executed play fake, quarterback Thomas Schork hit tight end Jack Latore on a pop pass for a 14-yard game-winning touchdown and a 13-7 victory.

“It felt great,” Latore said of his game-winning catch. “There’s nothing like an overtime win. It felt great to be the guy.”

Middletown South improved to 4-0 and Manalapan fell to 2-1 in the 2021 campaign.

Senior Austin Ruziecki gave Middletown South a 7-0 lead with a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Manalapan tied the score on its first possession of the third quarter. A six-play drive ended when quarterback Mike Heckel found wide receiver Michael Bimonte for an 18-yard touchdown pass.

The score was 7-7 and remained that way for the rest of regulation as each team’s defense held the other squad’s offense at bay.

 

On the final play of the fourth quarter, Manalapan had the ball at its 45, but Heckel’s last ditch pass was intercepted by Jake Czwakiel to send the teams into overtime.

Middletown South had two interceptions, with Matt Grab also coming up with a pick.

Before Manalapan took possession in overtime, Middletown South Coach Steve Antonucci told his players the “bottom line” was to get a stop on defense and then to score and win the game.

“We keep telling our guys to stay in the game,” Antonucci said. “When they give you an opportunity, go take advantage of it and we did that.”

The Eagles responded to Antonucci’s message. Middletown South won the coin toss before overtime and elected to play defense first. The Eagles stopped the Braves on three plays and then rushed Calton, who pushed his field goal attempt wide left.

The missed field goal put the game into the hands of Schork and the offense.

In the season opener against Manasquan, Schork led the Eagles on a game-winning touchdown drive and he did it again against Manalapan.

After the Eagles reached the Manalapan 14 on a run by Schork, he got the offense back to the line of scrimmage and called the play-action pop pass play he and Latore had been working on all week.

The play worked to perfection as Latore got open and caught Schork’s pass for the game-winning touchdown.

“We are a family and we always fight to the last play,” Schork said. “Jack (Latore) made a great play at the end. Our offensive line played well all game. Our wide receivers kept getting open. It was a great team win.”

After a week off, Middletown South will play Southern Regional High School on Oct. 8.

Manalapan will travel to Manahawkin in Ocean County to play Southern Regional on Oct. 1.