Fair seas and a following wind nearly carried the Buccaneers to a treasured win Saturday, but the tide turned late in the game, leaving the Red Bank Regional football team high and dry, pillaged by the Ocean Township Spartans, 31-21.
Playing at home in Little Silver, the Bucs defense came out strong in the first quarter, shutting down the Spartans' first drive. But after Bucs kick returner Will Noglows took the Spartans' punt to the 15, and a Ross Gisondi pass to junior Dylan DeVita put the team just short of a first down, the Bucs were forced to punt.
Xavier Chesnut, Garrett Sickels, Dillon Stambaugh, and the Bucs defense came up big again, and senior Tajhi Tomaino recovered a Spartans fumble at the Buc 15. But again, the Bucs were forced to punt.
With four minutes left in the first quarter, however, the Spartans were driving when the Bucs' DeVita recovered a fumble at the Bucs 31. Moments later, Gisondi kept the ball and slammed his way to the Spartans' 29 yard line. A pass to Gary Johnson put the Bucs on the nine yard line, and big senior fullback Isaac Coates pounded through the Spartan defense for a touchdown at 2:38 of the first quarter. Erwin Pupovic hit the extra point, and the Bucs went up 7-0.
As the first quarter wound down, the Bucs defense kept the pressure on with a sack by Stambaugh, and Noglows caught a Spartan punt at the Bucs 25 to start the second quarter.
On the Bucs' drive, senior running back Jahimere Hinton's jukes and dekes moved the ball forward. A great run by senior Alex Fox to the Buc five yard line was called back on a holding penalty, but Fox followed up with a pass to senior wide receiver Steven Megill for a gain, though short of a first down.
On fourth down, Gisondi came out to punt for the Bucs, but a Spartans penalty for roughing the kicker gave the ball back to the Bucs with a first down on their own 45. Seconds later, running back Tomaino took the ball 55 yards for a second Bucs touchdown at 8:20 of the second quarter, and a Pupovic extra point gave the Bucs a 14-0 lead.
The Spartans returned fire on the next drive. Starting at their own 37, a pass and a long run put the ball on the Bucs 40, and after a personal foul on the Bucs on the next play, the ball was spotted on the 15 yard line. After Williams, Coates, DeVita, Gary Johnson and the Bucs defense turned up the heat, pushed the Spartans back, and forced an incompletion, a Spartans 15-yard pass play put them on the scoreboard. After the extra point, the score was Bucs 14, Spartans 7 at 4:49 of the second quarter.
The Bucs' next possession saw Hinton scramble for a first down but come up just short, and the Bucs lost the ball on downs. The Spartans took over at 2:49 of the second quarter, and a 43-yard pass play gave the Spartans their second touchdown. A missed extra point put the score at 14-13, Bucs.
The Spartans kicked to the Bucs' Ryan Seely. But a nice run by Gisondi on the next play was followed by a couple incomplete passes, and the Bucs were forced to punt to give the Spartans one more chance in the first half. Gisondi's punt rolled deep into Spartans territory, and the Bucs' punishing defense never let the Spartans get off the ground.
The Spartan's kick to start the second half was taken by the Bucs' Saiquan Thigpen to the Buc 37, starting a bruising Bucs drive that saw two Gisondi keepers, the pounding runs of Hinton and Tomaino, and a rifled pass to Megill. The drive finished with a 33-yard Gisondi pass to Megill in the end zone at 8:04 of the third quarter, and with the extra point by Pupovic, the Bucs went up 21-13.
The Spartans started off at their own 25. The Bucs' Coates, Sickels and Stambaugh led the defense on the next few plays, before Bucs linebacker Gary Johnson intercepted a Spartan pass. Johnson ran it back to the Spartan 39, but a fumble was recovered by Ocean. And a Buc face mask penalty left the ball in the Spartans' hands at their own 44 at 5:50 of the third quarter.
A combination of pass plays and a Buc penalty for interference put the ball at the Buc 25. A 10-yard Spartan run to the 15 set up a touchdown pass on the next play. The Spartans' attempted two-point conversion came up short, and at 1:42 of the third quarter the Spartans had pulled to within two points, 21-19.
The Bucs struggled on their next possession, hampered by two penalties. The Spartans' Jair Bernier then ran back a Gisondi punt 60 yards for a touchdown at 11:44 of the fourth quarter. After another failed attempt by the Spartans at a two-point conversion, the Spartans were up 25-21.
A long kick had the Bucs start out at their own 20, but the Spartans took over on downs at their own 42. The Spartans were shut down by Coates, Shane Sullivan, and the Bucs defense, and punted to Noglows of the Bucs. But offsetting penalties had the Spartans punt again, this time into the end zone, and the Bucs started out at their own 20 with 5:53 left in the game, down by four points. The Spartans' Bernier intercepted a Gisondi pass at 5:13 and ran it back for a touchdown, but the Spartans missed the extra point, putting the score at 31-21.
The Bucs tried a combination of quarterback keepers, runs and passes, and with the benefit of a pass interference call on the Spartans made it to the Spartan 44. But Gisondi was sacked for a loss with three minutes left, and an incomplete pass on fourth down saw the Spartans take over.
Again, the Buc defense stopped the Spartans, who punted, placing the ball on the Bucs one yard line with less than two minutes to go. Gisondi to Fox was good for five yards, a Gisondi keeper got the Bucs to their own 21, and Gisondi to Fox got the Bucs to their own 30. But Gisondi was pressured and tackled at the 25 on the next play. A pass to Megill was incomplete, but led to a pass interference and an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Spartans, giving the ball to the Bucs at the Spartans' 45 with 23 seconds left. Gisondi was sacked on the next play at the 50 yard line, and had to be helped off the field, and on the last play of the game, a Fox Hail Mary to Sickels was intercepted as time ran out.
The loss clearly stung. Bucs receiver Megill, who played a strong game, called the loss disappointing. "We need to play good football all four quarters," he said.
Senior standout Sickels agreed. "As a team, we lost this game," he said. "It's on us as players to execute on every snap and not give up the big plays."
And their coach was frustrated as well. "We do great things, then it turns negative somehow," said Coach Giglio. "We need to find ways to stop hurting ourselves. The coaches and players will not stop working to fix what needs to be done."
"I don't doubt our team," said the coach. " When you don't have any doubts, losses tend to hurt more, because you feel that strongly about everyone involved."
RBR falls to to 0-4 on the season with the loss. Next week's game is on Saturday at home against Neptune at 2:30 p.m.
"I think that if we stay tight and disciplined as a whole we can beat Netpune," said Tomaino. "I believe in our team. We can get things done but we have to do it as a family and put in the work - nothing is ever handed to you."
Sickels agreed. "We just gotta get back to work on Monday," he said. "We are up against a very good team so we have to be 100 percent focused."
"We got it in us," said Megill.
The Buc's ship of state isn't scuttled, though; the Red Bank Regional man o' war sails to fight another day.
"Great challenge again next week," said Coach Nick Giglio about the upcoming game with powerhouse Neptune. "But you wouldn't want it any other way."
Bob Neff, who serves as Little Silver's mayor and has a son on the Bucs football team, gives us the lowdown each week on the Red Bank Regional High School game.