Colts Neck, N.J. - Colts Neck senior running back Romeo Thomas understood what was at stake for him and his team on Saturday afternoon in their regular season finale against Jackson Liberty.
The Cougars needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive and their star tailback did all he could and more to help his team comeback in the fourth quarter, while down by four points.
Rushing for a game-high 233 yards and two touchdowns, Thomas saved his best heroics for last to keep Colts Neck’s playoff hopes alive. Thomas capped off an 18-play touchdown drive by rushing in for his 17th rushing touchdown of the season from 2 yards out to help lead the Cougars to a 13-10 victory over Jackson Liberty.
“It feels good to send the seniors out in a good way,” Thomas said. “The offensive line got a good push in the second half. Hopefully will make the playoffs after this.”
Thomas gave Colts Neck a huge jolt to start the contest, taking the first play from scrimmage 90 yards for his first touchdown run of the day to give the Cougars an early 6-0 lead.
“It was a new play we installed this week and the offensive line got a good push and helped get us going,” Thomas said.
His 233 yards on the ground gives Thomas 1,221 yards rushing on the season. The senior rushed for 960 yards last season.
Thomas has 18 total touchdowns this fall.
Colts Neck forced two Jackson Liberty turnovers with fumble recoveries by Mike Spinelli and Joe Barsky, but couldn’t take advantage, allowing Jackson Liberty to stay within striking distance.
A 46 yard run by Jimmy Celentano helped set-up Cooper Yorke’s 21-yard field goal for Jackson Liberty to cut the Colts Neck lead to 6-3 with 4:27 to go in the first half.
On the pursuing kickoff, Jackson Liberty executed a perfect pooch kick that Cameron Jones was able to beat out Thomas for and set up Jackson Liberty at the Colts Neck 17-yard line.
Jackson Liberty capitalized on its golden opportunity with under a minute left till halftime.
Out of the wildcat on 4th and 1 from the one-yard line, Celentano burst through the line and into the end zone for a Lions touchdown with 44 seconds left to put Jackson Liberty ahead 10-6 going into halftime.
Both teams traded turnovers in a scoreless third quarter of action. Colts Neck got the ball back with a minute to go in the quarter to begin what would be its 18-play go-ahead scoring drive
Starting the fourth quarter with a 3rd and 6 situation at its own 40-yard line, the Cougars found themselves with a big decision to make moments later on 4th and inches.
The Cougars decided to go for it and put the ball in the hands of Thomas, who rumbled forward for two yards to keep the drive alive.
Thomas continued to anchor the Colts Neck drive, converting another 4th and short situation minutes later, helping march the Cougars down to the Jackson Liberty 18-yard line.
The senior tailback rushed for 62 yards on 13 carries during the Colts Neck go-ahead scoring drive.
After a defensive pass interference penalty helped set Colts Neck up at the Jackson Liberty 8-yard line, the Cougars continued to feed Thomas, who reached pay dirt two plays later.
His offensive line helping clear a path for him, Thomas plugged into the end zone from two yards out for his second touchdown of the day to give Colts Neck a 13-10 lead with 4:38 left to play.
“It was old school football,” said Colts Neck head coach Matt Ahearn. “Get two to three yards a pop. Grind it out and covert on fourth downs. That’s what we had to do to win and were able to do that.”
A huge sack on 3rd and 7 by Colts Neck’s Delano Marcelus on the following possession made Jackson Liberty decide to punt the ball back to Colts Neck with 2:37 left to play.
Needing a first down to run out the clock and clinch its seventh victory of the season, Colts Neck took full advantage of the opportunity, leaning on its offensive line and Thomas to seal the win.
Facing a 3rd and 1, Thomas powered his way through the middle of the line for the yard Colts Neck needed to keep the chains moving and improve to 7-2 on the season.
“I kept in my mind that this could be the last game we play if we don’t make the playoffs, so we need to try to get going,” Thomas said. “All of us seniors have never won like this before, so we want to keep doing it. Feels good.”
Colts Neck now awaits its playoff destiny. The Cougars were positioned 16th in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 4 power rankings going into their regular season finale.
The Top-16 teams make the playoffs in each section.
No matter what Colts Neck’s postseason fate is, this was a great program building season for the Cougars, said Ahearn.
“It’s a program win and a good way to send the seniors out on senior day,” Ahearn said. “It’s a good way for them to give back to the juniors, sophomores and freshmen and send them out with a win in our last home game of the season. We relied on our seniors on senior day, and that’s what it should be.”
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