From the moment I stepped on to Gernerd Field in the month of August, I knew the Mariners would be a special team. You could see a sense of focus, renewed energy, and determination to make an impact in the Shore. Even though it was early on in training camp, the kids made a point to pay attention to detail. It was never going to be about just getting by, or being good, this group was going to strive for excellence.
Two years ago Dave Oiserowitz took over the Toms River North program after spending time as an assistant under Chip LaBarca Jr. After losing some key players from the 2014 season, Oiserowitz was left with a very young group. The majority of skill position players consisted of freshmen and sophomores. The coach knew it was going to be tough, but was able to see the potential ahead.
While his young team was going to be overmatched, he stressed the point of fighting hard on every play and never giving up no matter what. The Mariners finished that year 1-9 with their only victory being a 28-0 decision over Egg Harbor Twp. Toms River North gave up 28 or more points in their first eight games.
In 2014, Toms River North got a little bit stronger. Mike Husni had his first break out season at the QB position. He really burst on to the scene with over 2,500 all purpose yards. We really saw Husni step into the stoplight during a victory on the road against Toms River South. As a sophomore, Mike went toe to toe with Monmouth recruit Tymere Berry in an outstanding 44-34 shootout win. Asante Moorer made a name for himself on the ground with what has always been a signature Mariners running game.
Defensively, they started to resemble some of the great Mariners teams of the past. Ultimately, the Mariners would finish with a 6-5 record and a trip to the South Jersey Group V semifinals. TRN opened the postseason by pulling off the upset over No 1 seed Lenape. The season ended with a second round loss on the road against a very good Cherokee team, but the team left no doubt that they had a great future ahead.
In 2015, there was only one goal in mind for this Mariners squad, and that was to be the final team standing in December. After coming so far over the past two years, it was time to finally put everything together and fulfill that potential. The team opened up with a bang, rolling to a 29-7 victory over Lacey.
However, the first sign of adversity would come early. In Week 2, the triple option of Brick Memorial gave the Mariners plenty of trouble with Tim Santiago and Tony Thorpe. After being shocked 52-20 on the road, Dave Oiserowitz knew it was time for a change. It was going to be now or never for this Mariners team.
The game that would really be the turning point in the Mariners season was on 10/10 against Jackson Memorial. It was nothing less than personal for the Mariners, coming into the meeting after losing to the Jaguars 35-7 last year. Jackson Memorial took an early 10-7 lead after a 44 yard run by Mike Gawlik, but this time the Jaguars would not hang on to the lead.
The Mariners rallied by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Mike Husni gave TRN the lead with a 3 yard run and they would never look back. Asante Moorer rushed for four touchdowns to cap off a 33-23 win. You could feel the momentum really begin to shift in Toms River North’s direction. An emotional Asante Moorer talked about how big it was for the Mariners to finally beat a program like Jackson. To give you an idea, the Jaguars just won their second straight Central Jersey Group IV title yesterday!
From there, the determination of this team would take over for the rest of the season. Toms River North went on the road to beat a very strong Brick Twp team who came into the game with the best defense in the Shore Conference. This gave the Mariners a share of the Class A South Championship. They opened the playoffs with a 35-7 rout over Kingsway. The Kingsway Dragons have been one of the stronger programs in the West Jersey Football League with several playoff appearences.
Many times we talk about the Mariners offense because of how many points they have scored, but one of the biggest stories of the postseason has been the defense. In the first round game against Kingsway, Toms River North held Running Back Anthony Seas to just 35 yards on the ground. Seas came into the game with nearly 1,000 yards rushing.
In a 14-0 victory over Lenape, the Indians were held to just three first downs and 95 total yards. Christian Lynch and Pete LaQuaglia have been making life miserable for several backs around the state. Da’Shon Copes has put up double digit sacks for the second year in a row.
Fast forward to December 5th, and it was only the Williamstown Braves that stood between Toms River North and their first state sectional championship since 2007. The Braves are an outstanding program led by longtime Head Coach Frank Fucetola. They have been a powerhouse in the West Jersey Football League for several years, winning a title in 2012, and have been in the playoffs for twelve consecutive years. The Braves are a hard hitting and physical type of football team that relies on size and strength to overwhelm opponents. This was definitely a different type of challenge for the Mariners.
Williamstown knew they would have to dominate the time of possession to have a chance against the big play Mariners. Tough physical play up front and hard running would give the Braves their best chance. This is exactly how they would start the game by putting together an 11 play, 55 yard drive. Coach Fucetola was going to put the game on the backs of Joe Early and Tyrick Glenn. A 16 yard run by Early, and a 13 yard scramble by quarterback Rich Stanzione brought the Braves all the way down inside the 5.
With Williamstown threatening to get an early advantage, it was the Mariners defense who would step up to rob them from getting an early score. Facing a 4th and goal from the 6 yard line, Fucetola put the ball in the hands of his quarterback. Stanzione once again. The senior tried to make a huge play by getting to the outside, but this time both Christian Lynch and Pete LaQuaglia were there to shut him down. Lynch has been on fire throughout the playoffs and read the concept all the way. After taking nearly five minutes of the clock, the Braves walked away with no points.
The Mariners picked up a lot of momentum after the tremendous red zone performance by the defense. Dave Oiserowitz had his team play some smash mouth football of their own, putting together a 16 play, 98 yard drive all the way up the field. Toms River North leaned on the big offensive line led by Luke Butera and Tim Petersen to pave the way for Mike Husni and Asante Moorer.
Husni and Moorer used a combination of inside and outside zone plays to work their way up the field. Husni also found Wide Receiver Darian Carrington for a 12 yard completion that brought the Mariners into Braves territory. After holding the ball for nearly eight minutes, Husni pushed his way into the end zone from the 6 to give Toms River North a 7-0 lead. Moorer carried 8 times for 47 yards on the scoring drive.
“We knew it was time to put our big boy pants on. We knew we had to help out our defense if we were going to come out with the victory. It all started with that first drive. We had to take whatever the defense would give us, added Mike Husni.
The second quarter turned into a defensive chess match until Williamstown finally got a break. Senior Joe Early broke free on a lateral play around the left side. Early used his speed and athleticism to go off to the races for a 61 yard touchdown. The big play got the Williamstown crowd back into the game. Both teams would go into the locker room deadlocked in a 7-7 tie to close the half.
The Williamstown struggles continued to haunt them in the second half as they went three and out on their first three possessions. Toms River North came out and attacked Glenn and Early. Da’Shon Copes was getting a lot of penetration off the line. Lynch and LaQuaglia continued to shoot through the gaps and cause disruption. The Braves were hit with five false start penalties, and 12 overall for the game which did not allow them to get into a rhythm.
The Braves defense did find some success with a huge play to deny Toms River North late in the third quarter. Eric Smith came up with a big interception in the red zone to stop a potential scoring opportunity, but the Williamstown offense once again stalled out and couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Williamstown punted away and the Mariners got a big punt return from Darian Carrington which gave them the ball inside the 48.
This gave Mike Husni the chance to put the Mariners ahead for good. Husni converted a 3rd and 9 with an 11 yard run. The Junior ripped off one of the best of the night, using his athleticism to scramble to the left side. After getting a bit of a lead on the defender, Husni dove into the air to push the ball forward beyond the marker. Asante Moorer capped off his great performance by punching the ball in from the 1 to put the Mariners ahead. Kyle Bayha was perfect on the extra point, and Toms River North took a 14-7 lead.
Watch Mike Husni pick up a key first down
Watch Asante Moorer give TRN the lead for good!
Defensively, Toms River North stopped the Braves final two possessions to ultimately seal the deal. The Mariners defensive line shut down Tyrick Glenn on a 4th and 3. On the last possession, it was Darian Carrington who came down with the interception with 17 seconds left to end the game. Players started to celebrate on the field as the dream season was complete!
Two years removed from being 1-9, the Toms River North Mariners are the South Jersey Group V state sectional champions. For seniors captains like Luke Butera and Tim Petersen, there is no better way to go out! Mike Husni and Asante Moorer have made play after play throughout the season to get to this point. It was an emotional night as the team had finally accomplished their goal!
“We went 12-0 in 2007 and beat a great Mainland team. This one was right there with it and possibly better. Two years ago we were 1-9, and we’ve come so far. We got to the semifinals last year and played a great Cherokee team. Our kids had that scoreboard up in that weight room all season with the goal to get back to the semifinal and get to the final. I knew we were not going to lose this game. The kids never had any doubt. Belief is a strong thing when you have a group of kids that believe in one common cause”, added Dave Oiserowitz.
You have to give this team a lot of credit for this playoff run. South Jersey Group V is one of the hardest brackets to win in New Jersey. The Mariners had to go through Kingsway, Lenape, and Williamstown who are three of the best programs in the West Jersey Football League. They did it tonight in front of a packed hostile crowd at Rowan University.
“We have the ultimate respect from the Shore Conference when it comes to the West Jersey Football League. One thing you can say about the WJFL is that when they’re good, they beat you. When you’re an Ocean County team and you travel down into deep Southwest Jersey and get a win, it’s sweet!! I’d rather be in South Jersey than any other bracket in the state. Some people complain that we’re not South Jersey, but we’ve always been down here. We’re South Jersey, and this is the first that we’ve won in Group V. We are 6-0 as a program all time in championship games”, added Oiserowitz again.
Passing: TRN – Husni 5-8-1-26. WT – Stanzione 3-9-1-32
Rushing: TRN – Moorer 24-115, Husni 24-104, Blackwell 1-3, Watts 2-8. WT – Glenn 12-44, Stanzione 12-35, Early 9-95.
Receiving: TRN – Moorer 2-8, Carrington 1-12, Cook 1-4, Watts 1-2. WT – Ellis 1-14, Smith 1-10, Smith 1-8.
Interceptions: TRN – Carrington. WT – Smith
TRN – Mike Husni 6 yard run. (Bayha Kick)
WT – Joe Early – 61 yard run. (Keenan Kick)
TRN – Asante Moorer – 1 yard run, (Bayha Kick)
Stay tuned to NJSR for our final SC Power Rankings and Yearly Awards for the football season! You can follow @SCHoops1, @JimRosa519, and @ShoreSportsNJ on twitter.