ISELIN -- Austin Holman does not hesitate when saying that Shawn Martin is one of, if not the, fastest running backs he has ever coached.
Sure, Holman is a first year head coach, but he has guided numerous Division I and NFL-level players during the over a decade he spent as an assistant at powerhouses such as Elizabeth, South Brunswick, New Brunswick, Union, and Colonia. That list includes, to name a few, Jahad Thomas (Temple/Cowboys), Andre Dixon (UConn/Giants), and Jevon Tyree (Rutgers). But according to Holman, Martin is as fast as any of them.
Martin backed up his coach's praise and continued his breakout season with another tremendous performance to lead Scotch Plains-Fanwood to its third win of the season, 21-20, over Iselin Kennedy on the road Friday night. The junior rushed for all three of the Raiders' touchdowns, accumulating a total of 204 yards on 25 carries.
Martin actually could have had five touchdowns, but two were negated on questionable foul calls back on the field. Regardless, Friday was a single game career-high in both yards and touchdowns for Martin, who now owns 944 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns this season.
"He’s got Division I speed, and he’s only a junior," Holman told TAPintoSPF late Friday. "He’s got speed that a lot of people don’t have. I’ve coached fast guys, and he’s up there in speed with any of them. He can run with any of those guys. I wouldn’t say he is slower than any of them. He’s going to be a college player."
Junior Kenny Yeager went off for two sacks and 7 1/2 tackles to lead the Raiders' defense, which came up with a huge stop on a JFK two-point conversion attempt late in the third quarter. If successful, that conversion would've given the Mustangs the lead, but instead kept the Raiders ahead, 21-20. The Raiders then came up with two stops in the fourth quarter to preserve the lead.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood is now a perfect 3-0 on Friday night and road games this season. The bad news for the Raiders is that this was their final Friday night lights game of the regular season -- but the good news is that they have one more road game remaining, and will have a chance to get to .500 (4-4) next Saturday at Plainfield's Hub-Stein Field.
Holman, though happy with the outcome Friday night, will be looking for improvement against that Plainfield team come next Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
"We’re not doing things well where we were doing them at the beginning of the season," the coach said. "We were really showing some good signs with tackling and what not. We’re not doing that as well right now. We’ve really gotta get back to it. We’ve gotta keep practicing hard, because if you don’t take care of the little things in the week, they come back to haunt you."
Martin's third touchdown of the night proved to be the game winner. It capped off the Raiders' second drive of the second half, severing a 14-14 halftime deadlock and giving Scotch Plains-Fanwood a 21-14 lead.
JFK would respond on its ensuing drive, which was given life when a questionable facemask penalty was called on the Raiders on a 3rd-and-long situation. Now with a new set of downs, the Mustangs struck back for a large touchdown run to make it 21-20. They attempted a two-point conversion, but the Raiders stopped it to keep their lead in tact late in the third quarter.
The Raiders would then record a pair of huge defensive stops in the fourth quarter to preserve the lead, and were able to run out the clock offensively to seal the deal. On the Raiders' second-to-last drive of the game, a Martin touchdown was called back on a hold and ultimately led to a stalled drive. Martin also had a huge 40-yard TD run called back on hold during the Raiders' first drive of the second half, immediately following a Raider fumble recovery on the Mustangs' opening series.
JFK jumped ahead, 8-0, on its first drive of the game -- a drive that was kept alive twice on a pair of miraculous plays. First, a fumbled punt turned into a first down when the Mustangs punter recovered the ball and was able to run it past the chains. Then, JFK converted on another fourth down play later in the drive before it ended up scoring and converting on the two-point attempt.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood answered right away, needing just five plays on its ensuing drive to score. Martin took a 35-yard carry into the end zone, and the Raiders found themselves down by just a point after the PAT.
JFK then responded with a 10-minute scoring drive, bridging the middle of the first quarter to the waning part of the second, to regain the lead, 14-7, though the Raiders stopped the two-point attempt.
After getting the ball back on an onside kick attempt following that TD, the Raiders again responded, this time getting even. A Martin counter run capped off another short drive, as he made it 14-14 entering the half with his second TD of the night.
"He used to be a 'Pop Warner runner', running outside the tackles, but now he’s running inside and seeing things," Holman said of Martin. "He’s stopping and going. Every week he gets better. This week, he made a nice cut-back and he’s getting better. He’s not just beating people with speed; he’s beating people with being a true running back. That’s exactly what we’re looking for."
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