PISCATAWAY, NJ – In a battle of two Central Jersey, Group 5 teams under gorgeous sunny skies and autumn chilly temperatures inside High Point Solutions Stadium, home of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Manalapan Braves improved to 8-0 with a 21-10 victory over the Piscataway Chiefs.
In this one, the final score didn’t indicate how close and how competitive the matchup was, but Manalapan made the plays in the second half to win it, and executed off Piscataway (5-2) mistakes.
“I thought it was a great game. It was competitive on both sides,” Piscataway head coach Dan Higgins told TAPinto Piscataway on the field after the game. “It came down to a couple plays. … We hurt ourselves with penalties. You know, when we stopped doing it, (Manalapan) played a cleaner game than us.”
After Piscataway running back Elijah Barnwell put the Chiefs up 10-0 with 8:30 left in the third quarter on a 13-yard screen pass from quarterback Danny Haus, Piscataway had all the energy and momentum. On Manalapan’s ensuing drive, the Braves faced a fourth-and-1 from their own 33-yard line. The Chiefs were called for an offsides penalty, and on the very next play, Manalapan running back Naim Mayfield posted a huge 40-yard run which brought the Braves down near the Piscataway 20-yard line. A couple plays later, quarterback Luke Corcione connected with Chris Maksimik for an 8-yard score to cut the deficit to 10-7.
After both teams traded possessions, Piscataway was facing a fourth-and-inches from the Braves 29-yard line. Barnwell received the carry on the ground, and coughed it up. Manalapan recovered the fumble, ate up more than five minutes of clock, and took the lead, 14-10, on a Mayfield 8-yard touchdown run with 4:35 left in the game.
Piscataway finished with three turnovers on the day, an interception on a fake field goal in the second quarter, Barnwell’s fumble, and Haus’ game-sealing interception with the Chiefs driving with time winding down in the fourth quarter. Sean Kinniburgh’s 61-yard pick-six preserved the victory and the top-seed in the aforementioned playoff bracket which starts in two weeks.
“Obviously turnovers one way or another do shape and form a game, and they had a couple that did change it,” Higgins said regarding his team’s miscues and Manalapan’s takeaways.
Barnwell finished with 148 yards rushing on 25 carries, and totaled 33 yards on two catches and the touchdown. But, his costly fumble proved to be a difference maker, much like it was against Old Bridge a few weeks ago in their only other loss.
His opposite, Mayfield, finished the game with 172 rushing yards on 22 carries and the score, with most of the damage coming after halftime.
Corcione, who came in with gaudy numbers (22 touchdown passes to only one interception and over 1,000 yards passing) was held to 24 yards on 6-of-17 passing. Piscataway did a great job deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage early on, and tackling screen passes in the backfield for a loss.
“Screens and boot(legs) are really big for them, so we really worked on trying to minimize them,” Higgins said. “Our defense played really well. For one stretch (we) kind of got pushed a little bit, but I thought we played well and I’m proud of our team.”
Piscataway outgained Manalapan 327-210, but the turnovers and penalties shot them in the foot. Down the line in the playoffs, Higgins and the Chiefs hope to get another shot.
“They’re a good team,” said Higgins, who’s coached many former players who have gone on to NFL careers like Malcolm Jenkins, Kyle Wilson, and Anthony Davis. “We knew they were going to be a good team. We watched them on film and they’re excellent. They are coached well, have good players, and we would sure like another crack at them in the playoffs. So hopefully if we keep working hard, we’ll see them later down the road.”
In their regular season finales, Manalapan hosts Freehold Township and Piscataway welcomes Edison next Friday night.
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