HomeAtl HubAtl Hub SportsMonmouth Regional defeats Keyport to clinch share of National Division title

Monmouth Regional defeats Keyport to clinch share of National Division title

The top spot in the Shore Conference National Division was up for grabs on Oct. 2 when the football teams from Monmouth Regional and Keyport high schools met on the gridiron in Keyport.

The Falcons were riding a three-game winning streak as they met the undefeated Red Raiders. On the strength of outstanding running from tailback Julian Jones and a sturdy defense, Monmouth Regional continued its winning ways.

Jones rushed for a career high 226 yards and scored three touchdowns, while the defense forced three turnovers and held Keyport to a season-low seven points in the Falcons’ 28-7 victory.

Two years after an 0-9 season, the Falcons are 4-1 and have clinched a share of the National Division title with their victory over Keyport.

“This is a huge win,” Coach Dan Wendel said. “This is the third time in program history we clinched a share of the division. This is a huge turnaround for us from where we were two years ago when we did not win a game and were getting blown out. Last year we competed and this year the kids have hit another level.”

Monmouth Regional (4-1) is off to its best start since 2017 when the Falcons went 7-4.

After a scoreless first quarter, Jones gave the Falcons the lead in the second quarter. The junior running back darted off the edge and stretched his left arm into the end zone on a three-yard scoring run to put the Falcons up 6-0 with 7:53 to play in the quarter.

On the ensuing Keyport possession, quarterback George Mitchell overthrew his intended target. Jeremiah Robles intercepted the pass and ran it back for a 30-yard touchdown. Jones scored on a two-point conversion and the Falcons led 14-0 with 6:46 left in the second quarter.

Monmouth Regional had a chance to add to its lead later in the second quarter after Loukas Plasteras recovered a fumble, but the Falcons came up empty in the red zone.

In the third quarter, both teams played tough defense, but Jones was finally able to extend the lead to 20-0 with :18 left in the quarter as he barrelled his way into the end zone from one yard out.

Keyport scored on the final play of the third quarter as Mitchell tossed a 48-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Thomson. The extra point cut the Monmouth Regional lead to 20-7.

The Falcons turned the ball over on their next possession as quarterback Anthony Jehn was intercepted by Zivon Crank inside the Monmouth Regional 25.

Just like that, the momentum had shifted in Keyport’s favor in the fourth quarter, but the Monmouth Regional defense responded once more.

Two plays after Jehn threw his interception, Monmouth Regional got the ball back as senior defensive end Nelson Harris-Thomas stripped the ball from Mitchell and Eric Crossley recovered the quarterback’s fumble.

Entering the game, Keyport was averaging just under 32 points per game and had not turned over the ball more than twice in a game.

“We put a challenge in front of them,” Wendel said of the young men on defense. “We said, ‘If you guys want to do great things, it starts today with a great defensive effort.’ They locked down an explosive team and it will help us going into the second half of the season.”

Monmouth Regional took advantage of Keyport’s turnover and put together a 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive to clinch the victory.

Jones capped the drive with his third touchdown as he followed pulling guard John Pannullo around the edge for a nine-yard scoring run with 2:21 to play. Robles ran in the two-point conversion attempt for a 28-7 lead.

Jones has scored eight touchdowns and has run for more than 100 yards in two straight games.

“It feels great to get this win,” Jones said. “We have been waiting for this game all year. We haven’t won a game like this or had a good record like this in a long time. It feels great.”

The defense stopped Keyport on downs after Jones’ third touchdown and the Falcons’ offense was able to kneel down for the victory on its final possession.

This is the first time since 2004 that Monmouth Regional has clinched a share of a Shore Conference division title. The Falcons can win the National Division crown with a victory over Point Pleasant Beach on Oct. 9.

Wendel said that at the end of the 2020 season, he believed the 2021 squad could be special. The coach was not certain what this season’s end result might look like, but he said he knew there was something different about these players.

He said he is enjoying watching his players show that with a great start to the 2021 campaign.

“We knew we had something special with this group,” Wendel said. “They worked hard in the gym from January all the way through the summer. They want to take that next step.”

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