Colts Neck, N.J. - It’s been a great start to 2019 season for the Colts Neck High School football team, who were ready to showcase its talent, toughness and heart in front of its hometown crown during Saturday’s home opener against Toms River East.

A battle between two unbeaten teams that didn’t disappoint, unfortunately saw the Cougars come out on the losing end of a 24-20 defeat to Toms River East for their first loss of the season.

“Our kids don’t quit. They never quit. That’s a credit to them and how hard they always play on the field,” said Colts Neck head coach Matt Ahearn. “That’s all we can ask of them to do and to try to execute what we ask of them. We came up a little short, but it’s a long season.”

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Colts Neck showed how tough minded of a team they are by answering each hurdle thrown at them by Toms River East.

After the Raiders got on the board first, thanks to a 13-yard touchdown run by Frank Giannetti, Colts Neck responded on the very next drive with a score of its own.

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Fallon led the way for the Cougars, starting the drive with a 15-yard first down throw to wide receiver Matt Scully.

Fallon proceeded to pick up another Colts Neck first down with a 17-yard run and then followed that up with a six-yard dash to the one-yard line to set up Romeo Thomas’ touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game for the Cougars.

Thomas now has six rushing touchdowns on the season.

Toms River East built a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter, seeing Yusuf Ahmed take a jet sweep handoff for a 10-yard touchdown run and then adding a 43-yard field goal by Nick Costa on the following drive with 3:49 left in the half.

Fallon once again engineered the Cougars to another touchdown to finish out the half, putting together a great two minute drill drive.

The sophomore led Colts Neck on a 10-play 69-yard drive in just over two minutes, connecting with three different receivers for 35 yards, which included his third touchdown pass of the season to Scully.

Rolling to his right, Fallon throw a bullet to the end zone for a 11-yard touchdown pass to his junior wide out with 45 seconds left in the first half to cut the Tom River East lead to 17-13 going into halftime.

“Tommy (Fallon) is a playmaker,” Ahearn said. “That helps us out a lot. He just keeps getting better and better.”

Great special teams play helped Colts Neck take its first lead of the contest in the third quarter.

Colts Neck executed a perfect punt block after forcing Toms River East to go three and out on its first drive of the second half, resulting in John Manos recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown to put the Cougars up 20-17.

The Cougars were out in front, but Toms River East fought back to retake the lead going into the fourth quarter.

On the final play of the third quarter, Toms River East quarterback Mike Goodall faked the inside handoff and rushed up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown to put the Raiders up 24-20.

Colts Neck responded on its next possession with a long drive into Toms River East territory.

Thomas got the Colts Neck offense past midfield with a 14-yard run on first down and then Fallon extend the drive to the Toms River East 27-yard line with an 18-yard first down run.

A big 11-yard completion by Fallon to Scully on third down and eight brought Colts Neck inside the Toms River East 20-yard line, with Thomas rushing for four-yards on the next play to put the Cougars at the 11-yard line.

Just 11 yards from retaking the lead, a tough turn of events came upon the Cougars with a bobble on the exchange by Fallon to Scully on the jet sweep handoff that resulted in a fumble recovery by Toms River East’s Anthony Kontogiannis to end the Colts Neck drive.

Toms River East controlled the ball the rest of the game as a 19-yard run by Ahmed on 4th and 2 with 29 seconds remaining sealed the win for the Raiders, dropping Colts Neck to 3-1 on the season.

“Toms River East is a good team. They’re well coached and execute what they do,” Ahearn said. “We just had too many self inflicting wounds and you can’t do that against a good team.”

Fallon finished with 75 yards passing in the contest. Thomas rushed for 91 yards on 13 carries.

Scully had six catches for 53 yards. The junior also had the only turnover forced by Colts Neck in the contest with an interception in the first quarter.

The Cougars will look to bounce back on Friday night when they travel to play Toms River South.

Ahearn believes his group has the character it takes to bounce back and get their fourth win of the season

“We have to bounce back and see our character, and I know we have great character, so I think we will bounce back,” Ahearn said. “We have to do. We have no other option but to.”

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports