Middletown, N.J. - A rough first half in its season opening matchup against Manalapan ended up putting the Middletown South football team in a bigger hole than they could’ve climbed out of.

Down 23-0 going into halftime, the Eagles fought back in the second half with a couple of touchdown passes from senior quarterback Vincent Bonavita to wide receiver Matt Krellin, but it wasn’t enough as Manalapan hung on to defeat Middletown South 23-13.

Middletown South’s play in the second half was encouraging to see for head coach Steve Antonucci, who even though his team came out on the losing end was happy about the fight his team showed after being down 23 points.

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“I thought we played really well in the second half,” Antonucci said. “We didn’t quit. We came out with a purpose. We should some guts. We played hard to the very end. We just have to play better.”

In his first career start under center, Bonavita had some shining moments for the Eagles, showing his abilities to make plays with his legs on the ground and with his arm through the air.

Bonavita rushed for a team-high 89 yards, including a 52-yard run that set up Middletown South in Manalapan territory during the first half.

The senior put his arm on display in the second half for the Eagles.

After completing a crucial eight-yard pass to Krellin to keep the chains moving on fourth down, Bonavita hooked up again with the senior wide-out on the very next play for a 17-yard touchdown pass to put Middletown South on the board in the third quarter.

On the next Middletown South offensive possession, Bonavita connected with Krellin again for another Eagles’ score, this time with a 36-yard touchdown pass down the seam to make it 23-13 with 6:53 left to play.

Antonucci was pleased with the play of his quarterback and the connection he made with Krellin. 

“I think (Vincent) did a really nice job,” Antonucci said. “The game slowed down a bit for him, which is huge for us. 

Krellin had a total of six catches for 124 yards. Bonavita completed 13 of 21 passes for 145 yards.

Bonavita came up just short of the goal-line on the Middletown South two-point conversion try following his second touchdown pass of the night to Krellin.

The Middletown South defense played lights out in the second half after giving up three rushing touchdowns to Manalapan running back Andre Johnson in the first half.

Middletown South forced two turnovers in the second half. A fumble recovery by Jack Prancl led to Middletown South’s first touchdown of the evening in the third quarter.

Senior defensive back Chris Loitio made a great play to strip the ball from the Manalapan full back on a pass play that would’ve resulted in a first down and recovered the ball to keep the Middletown South comeback alive late in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what Chris Loitio does,” Antonucci said. “He’s our leader. He’s a three-year starter, so he understands the urgency that we were in at that moment.”

Ian Rahill added in a sack for the Eagles in the contest.

As the Eagles know moving forward, they’re going to have to do a better job executing out on the field for a full game to come out with a win.

The next task for Middletown South will be another tough challenge, going on the road to face St. John Vianney in the Lancers’ season opener on Friday night.

“We have to execute better. We talk about it in practice all the time,” Antonucci said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do individually and execute better as a team, we’ll be fine.” 

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports