Jaguars defeat Lions, 27-0, to retain Connor Cup

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Jackson Memorial High School senior football captain Kyle Laverty celebrates winning the Connor Cup with his teammates after playing Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Jackson Memorial defeated Jackson Liberty by the score of 27-0. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School defensive back Rob Paneque celebrates making a tackle on fourth down during a game against Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Jackson Memorial won 27-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School football coach Vin Mistretta speaks to his team after defeating rival Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Jackson Memorial is 1-6 on the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School running back Aidan Sweeney catches a screen pass and then turns up field to pick up a first down during a game against Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Sweeney rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School senior football captain Kyle Laverty celebrates winning the Connor Cup with his teammates after playing Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Jackson Memorial defeated Jackson Liberty by the score of 27-0. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School defensive back Rob Paneque celebrates making a tackle on fourth down during a game against Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Jackson Memorial won 27-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School football coach Vin Mistretta speaks to his team after defeating rival Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Jackson Memorial is 1-6 on the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Memorial High School running back Aidan Sweeney catches a screen pass and then turns up field to pick up a first down during a game against Jackson Liberty on Oct. 15 in Jackson. Sweeney rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown in the contest. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The Connor Cup is staying at Jackson Memorial High School on Don Connor Boulevard in Jackson. The Jaguars (1-6) notched their third consecutive victory over crosstown football rival Jackson Liberty High School, 27-0, on Oct. 15.

The game was played at Jack Munley Field on the Jackson Memorial campus. The Connor Cup is named for the late Don Connor, who was the longtime athletic director at Jackson Memorial.

Jackson Memorial Coach Vin Mistretta said the Jaguars were not dwelling on six straight losses to open the 2021 season. He said the players were “laser focused” about securing their first win.

“It’s a testament to the kids,” Mistretta said after the game. “They came every single day ready to work. They are great kids. It’s so important that they get a little bit of success. I’m happy they got to experience that. They have earned it.”

Jackson Memorial quarterback Tai Mann capped a seven-play, 67-yard opening drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Shaun Hubbard Jr. Junior Alexey Tselichtchev kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead. Both of Mann’s TD passes this season have been to Hubbard.

“We started out passing the ball and it really helped open up the offense,” Mann said of the team’s opening touchdown drive. “We knew we were going to be rolling from there.”

The game proved to be a showcase for the Jackson Memorial defense, which forced two turnovers in the second quarter, starting with an interception by Jaiden Hernandez.

The Lions’ second turnover led to points for the Jaguars. Following a 20-minute stoppage of play due to a power outage, the Jaguars punted from the Lions’ 42 with 6:20 to play in the second quarter.

Angelo Nicosia’s punt was mishandled by Cole Malinowski and the Jaguars recovered the ball at the Lions’ 10. Two plays later, Mann ran in from the 6 for a 13-0 lead with 5:01 to play in the second quarter.

With under 3:00 to play in the third quarter, the Jaguars’ defense stood tall. Senior defensive back Rob Paneque made a tackle in the Lions’ backfield on fourth and short and the Jaguars took possession at midfield.

“We haven’t been creating turnovers this year,” Mistretta said. “It’s been something we have talked about. It’s a skill you have to work on and we did a good job of it tonight.”

When Jackson Memorial took possession, Mann hit sophomore wideout Albert D’Alessandro with a pass play that ended inside the Lions’ 10. Two plays into the fourth quarter, Mann bulled his way into the end zone on a QB sneak. Tselichtchev kicked the PAT for a 20-0 lead.

Mann finished the game with 74 yards rushing and 104 yards passing. He also threw for more than 100 yards against Freehold High School. He has eight total touchdowns in 2021.

“It feels awesome,” Mann said of his performance. “It feels great to get that first win. Everybody in the fieldhouse knows we are not an 0-6 team. We have had some tough games against some good teams. It feels great to get a win.”

Junior running back Aidan Sweeney scored on the Jaguars’ next possession as he ran in from the 1. Tselichtchev kicked the PAT for a 27-0 lead. Sweeney rushed for 92 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries in the victory.

In 2020, Jackson Memorial shut out Jackson Liberty, 33-0. The Jaguars have shut out the Lions six times in the series that began in 2008. The Jaguars lead the series 13-1.

The win “feels great,” defensive lineman Eric Ibe said. “The team has been fighting every day through adversity this season. We never gave up. We kept punching and showed our will to win tonight.”

Regardless of the team’s record, the Jaguars are a group of “brothers,” as their captain, Kyle Laverty, said, and will always come together as a team to play hard every time they take the field.

“No matter what, we can come together through anything thick and thin,” Laverty said. “We really did tonight. We rallied together and it showed.”

Both teams will be in action on Oct. 22. Jackson Memorial will host Brick Township High School and Jackson Liberty (1-6) will host Monmouth Regional High School of Tinton Falls.