Eagles improve to 4-0; Antonucci reaches win milestone on gridiron

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Middletown High School South head football coach Steve Antonucci runs out on the field with his team before a game against Manalapan on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Antonucci has 201 career victories as head coach of the Eagles. 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
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Middletown High School South linebacker #7 Tyler Carey celebrates making a tackle on Manalapan quarterback Michael Heckel with teammate #28 Colin Gallagher during a game played on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Middletown South won 13-7. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Manalapan High School quarterback Michael Heckel completes a pass down the field for a first down during a game against Middletown South on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Heckel threw for 172 yards and a touchdown in Manalapan's 13-7 overtime loss to Middletown South.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Manalapan High School wide receiver Alex Dille returns a punt during a game against Middletown South on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Manalapan is 2-1 to start the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South head football coach Steve Antonucci runs out on the field with his team before a game against Manalapan on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Antonucci has 201 career victories as head coach of the Eagles. 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
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Middletown High School South linebacker #7 Tyler Carey celebrates making a tackle on Manalapan quarterback Michael Heckel with teammate #28 Colin Gallagher during a game played on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Middletown South won 13-7. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Manalapan High School quarterback Michael Heckel completes a pass down the field for a first down during a game against Middletown South on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Heckel threw for 172 yards and a touchdown in Manalapan's 13-7 overtime loss to Middletown South.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Manalapan High School wide receiver Alex Dille returns a punt during a game against Middletown South on Sept. 24 in Manalapan. Manalapan is 2-1 to start the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

MIDDLETOWN – The legacy that Keyport native Steve Antonucci continues to build on Nut Swamp Road in Middletown South High School keeps growing each year.

It started on the baseball diamond in 1996 when Antonucci began a 13-year tenure as the manager of the Eagles and led the team to two state sectional championships and to the state Group IV title during his first season at the helm.

In the fall of 1998, Antonucci added the title of head football coach to his list of duties at the school. That began an historic and ongoing run for Antonucci and the Middletown South football team.

Entering the 2021 season, Antonucci had led the Eagles to six state titles and to 11 Shore Conference division titles on the gridiron.

His football teams from 2003-06 won four consecutive state championships and put together a 43-game winning streak that set a record in the Shore Conference.

Antonucci has led the Eagles to five undefeated seasons, with the most recent undefeated campaign coming in 2015 when Middletown South went 12-0 and won the NJSIAA North II, Group IV state title.

In the spring of 2016, Antonucci was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

This season, Antonucci has surpassed 200 career victories while leading Middletown South to a 4-0 start.

“It’s been amazing,” Antonucci said this week. “There’s no place like it. I love it here. I love the atmosphere here and the kids. It’s been a tremendous ride.”

The Eagles clinched Antonucci’s 200th career victory as the football team’s head coach on Sept. 17 with a 27-0 home victory over Jackson Memorial High School.

His 201st career victory was “even better” as Antonucci watched the Eagles improve to 4-0 on Sept. 24 with a 13-7 overtime victory in a road game at Manalapan High School.

Middletown South and Manalapan were tied 7-7 at the end of the fourth quarter and headed for overtime, during which each team would have a possession from their opponent’s 25-yard line.

In overtime, Manalapan’s Michael Calton missed 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. Off a well-executed play fake, senior quarterback Thomas Schork hit tight end Jack Latore on a pop pass for a 14-yard game-winning touchdown.

“It was a great program win,” Antonucci said. “Our kids really gutted it out. (Manalapan) is a really tough place to play. We talked about it all week to try to grasp the environment. We got everything we expected out of it. They played as hard as I knew they would. It came down to overtime and we are fortunate to be moving on.”

Antonucci’s record at Middletown South now stands at 201-59. He is the ninth Shore Conference coach to lead a football team to 200 or more victories.

The success Antonucci has had at Middletown South comes from the winning traditions he learned when he played football at Keyport High School for Mike Ciccotelli.

Antonucci played on Ciccotelli’s first state championship team at Keyport in 1987. Ciccotelli went on to win six state titles at Keyport, the same number of state titles Antonucci has won with the Eagles.

“I played in a program that had a lot of tradition, too,” Antonucci said. “Mike Ciccotelli did a tremendous job at Keyport. It’s about pride and it’s about your program, and I have instilled it here. The kids have grasped it and here we are.”

With the Eagles off to a 4-0 start in 2021, Antonucci has a chance to add more highlights to his coaching legacy. He believes that can be the case based on the way the Eagles have won close games, as they did against Manalapan.

“This is a gutty team,” Antonucci said. “They are gritty. They knew what our program is all about. We have had a ton of success here. If you are wearing the (Middletown South) uniform, you are carrying a lot of luggage.”

Against Manalapan, Schork threw for 116 yards. Latore had three receptions for 43 yards. Senior wideout Ryan St. Clair caught six passes for 54 yards.

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.

Neither team scored again until the Eagles won on their overtime possession.

Heckel threw for 172 yards and had passes intercepted by Jake Czwakiel and Matt Grab.

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