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D’Alessandro, Mann lead Jaguars to 34-0 victory over Lions in rivalry game

The Jackson Memorial High School senior football players celebrate winning the Connor Cup with a 34-0 victory over rival Jackson Liberty on Sept. 30 in Jackson. Jackson Memorial is 4-1 to start the season.

JACKSON — Once again, the Connor Cup is headed back to Don Connor Boulevard to be showcased in the hallways of Jackson Memorial High School.

On the evening of Sept. 30, the Jaguars (4-1) claimed victory for the 14th time in the 15-year history of the Connor Cup against their rival, the Jackson Liberty High School Lions, rolling to a 34-0 victory.

The Connor Cup is named for the late Don Connor, who was the longtime athletic director at Jackson Memorial. This year’s football game was played at Jackson Liberty.

The 2022 edition of the rivalry saw junior Ryan Jagodzinski return the opening kickoff 60 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring as the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead.

The contest then featured an impressive showing by the Jaguars’ defense and junior wide receiver/defensive back Albert D’Alessandro and senior quarterback Tai Mann each recording three touchdowns to help Jackson Memorial defeat the Lions for the fourth straight year.

“It’s a nice little cherry on top for my career,” Mann said. “It’s a nice win. It feels great.”

D’Alessandro said his performance against the Lions was the best of his high school career. He scored all three of his touchdowns in the second half and intercepted two passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

“It feels great to score three touchdowns and beat Jackson Liberty. That’s what it’s all about,” D’Alessandro said.

D’Alessandro recorded his first touchdown midway through the first quarter after the Jaguars’ defense recovered a Lions fumble. On the first play following the recovery, Mann connected with D’Alessandro on a 57-yard touchdown pass that gave Jackson Memorial a 14-0 lead.

In the second quarter, D’Alessandro tallied his second touchdown of the night to stop the Lions from scoring inside the Jaguars’ 20. D’Alessandro read the eyes of sophomore quarterback Dennis Caswell as Caswell rolled out of the pocket and threw a pass toward Corzeek Palms. D’Alessandro undercut Palms and intercepted the pass and returned it 90 yards for a 21-0 lead.

“As soon as I picked it off, I saw no one there and just ran up the sideline” to score, D’Alessandro said. “It was a crazy feeling and the team really got hyped after that.”

With under 1:00 to play in the second quarter, the Jaguars faced fourth and goal from the Lions’ 19 and trusted Mann to find a way to make a play.

Mann rolled to his right and threw the ball toward the end zone, where D’Alessandro made the catch to give Jackson Memorial a 28-0 lead at halftime.

“I know I got my guy (D’Alessandro) out there and I know that no matter what defense they run, he’s got a shot of catching it if I throw it,” Mann said. “I rolled out and pointed at him to run to the end zone and he did the rest.”

D’Alessandro finished with three receptions for 84 yards. He intercepted his second pass of the night in the third quarter.

“He’s a special kid. I tell him that all the time,” Mann said of D’Alessandro. “We have very high expectations of ourselves and push each other every day in practice to help each other get better.”

Following D’Alessandro’s second interception, the Jaguars drove 80 yards and scored on Mann’s one-yard run to go up 34-0 with 8:21 to play.

Mann has accounted for 10 touchdowns in 2022.

“We are a serious team and have big goals,” Mann said. “Everybody is on the same page on this team and that’s a great feeling.”

The Jaguars forced four turnovers and stopped the Lions once on downs. The shutout is the seventh posted by Jackson Memorial in the rivalry that began in 2008, when Jackson Liberty opened as the second high school in the township.

Senior placekicker Alexey Tselichtev connected on four of five extra point attempts in the victory.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” Jackson Memorial Coach Vin Mistretta said. “(The defense) is doing a great job. They don’t put their heads down when the other team gets first downs. They just buckle down and make a play.”

Jackson Memorial (4-1) will face Marlboro High School on Oct. 8.

Jackson Liberty (2-3) will face Pinelands Regional High School on Oct. 7.

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