Colts Neck, N.J. - Three straight victories and playing outstanding football had the Colts Neck High School football team feeling great going into Saturday’s Freedom Division matchup against Neptune.
Standing at a then 6-1 record on the season and leading Neptune 17-7 going into the half, Colts Neck had a golden opportunity to put themselves in a great position for a playoff berth with a win over the Scarlet Fliers.
Things, however, didn’t go the way Colts Neck would have hoped for in the second half as Neptune kept the Cougars scoreless and rallied to a 21-17 victory.
Down 7-0 from the start after Neptune scored on the first possession of the contest on a 59-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nino Bua to wide receiver Willie Gross, Colts Neck responded right back on its first offensive possession of the game.
Completing an 18-yard pass to Ibrahim Dallio on third down to keep the drive going, quarterback Tommy Fallon found Dallio again to finish the drive off in the end zone.
Off the play fake, Fallon rolled to his right and threw a bullet to Diallo in the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown to help Colts Neck tie the game at 7-7 with 3:56 to play in the first quarter.
Senior running back Romeo Thomas helped shoot the Cougars into the lead in the second quarter.
Running to his right, Thomas stopped on a dime and pivoted to his left to spin around and ran across the other side of the field for a 46-yard touchdown to put Colts Neck up 14-7.
“I saw a cut back lane, so I knew I needed to spin around to get there,” Thomas said.
Thomas rushed for 96 of his game-high 157 yards rushing in the first half. The senior tailback now has 15 rushing touchdowns on the season and is 15 yards shy of being a 1,000 yard rusher.
“My teammates have been helping me out all season,” Thomas said. “The offensive line has gotten a good push up front. “
After the Colts Neck defense forced its second turnover on downs in the second quarter, Thomas and the Cougars went on an 11-play scoring drive from its own 44-yard line with over 5:30 to go in the second quarter to extend their lead going into the half.
Thanks to a Neptune offside penalty with nine seconds to play, Colts Neck kicker Christian Monteforte went from trying to hit a 36-yard field goal to a 31-yard attempt.
The sophomore took advantage of the shorter distance, drilling a 31-yard field goal to give Colts Neck a 17-7 halftime lead.
A fourth-straight win looked to be on the horizon for the Cougars, however Neptune had a rally up its sleeve in the second half.
Neptune went on an 11-play 65-yard drive that led to Bua scoring on a quarterback sneak from three yards out to cut the Colts Neck lead to 17-14 with 42 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Colts Neck responded by driving down to the Neptune 30-yard line, set up with a 4th and 2 situation.
Going for it, a false start penalty pushed the Cougars back to the Neptune 35-yard line and led to the turning point of the game.
Rolling to his right, Fallon boomed a throw to the end zone where Gross jumped in front of Diallo to make a spectacular one-handed catch for the interception to give the ball back to Neptune.
Both Gross and Diallo were hurt on the play. Gross had to be carted off due to a shoulder injury.
Playing for their fallen teammate, Neptune went on a 10-play 80-yard drive to retake the lead.
Bua threw a perfect 24-yard fade pass to Khail Garrett-Dogan in the end zone for his second touchdown pass of the day to put Neptune up 21-17 with 3:30 left to play.
Now trailing, Colts Neck had one last drive to respond and win the game.
Hit with a 4th and 3 at its own 31-yard line with 2:31 to go, Fallon extended the Colts Neck drive by hitting Thomas on a swing pass for six yards to move the chains. An eight-yard first down pass by Fallon to wide receiver Matt Scully got the Cougars to midfield.
Fallon finished with 61 yards passing in the contest.
Midfield was, unfortunately, the closest Colts Neck would get to the end zone. Three straight incompletions and a false start, pushed Colts Neck to a 4th and 15 from its own 45-yard line with 2:03 to play.
Trying to make something happen as he rolled to his right, Fallon threw a prayer that was intercepted by Neptune’s Malik Fields to end the Colts Neck drive. Neptune would then run out the clock, dropping the Cougars to 6-2 on the season.
Diallo had three catches for 40 yards in the contest for Colts Neck.
The Cougars now face a pivotal “must-win” game against Jackson Liberty in their regular season finale next Saturday to give themselves a chance at a playoff berth.
Thomas believes his team has the leadership and strength to bounce back and give themselves a chance at making the playoffs.
“We want to do something that this program hasn’t done in a while,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of senior leaders that lead our team and help us win games. We have to have a great week of practice and get ourselves ready to play Jackson Liberty.”
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports