The Red Bank Regional Buccaneers gave their fans another thrilling game and pummelled favorite Matawan all day long on Saturday, but in the end fell just short, 14-7, in their second double overtime loss this year.
The Bucs' season has been filled with dramatic, close games, and Saturday's game didn't disappoint. Jarring defense, the occasional pinpoint pass, and a pounding running game marked the Buc's effort.
Coach Nick Giglio noted that both teams played "very hard. That's the way football should be played."
But he anticipated a week of practice working on all areas of the team's game leading up to next week's battle against Freehold Borough.
The first half was scoreless. The Bucs' first drive had senior quarterback Ross Gisondi running up a storm, but finally turning the ball over on downs on an incomplete pass to senior Tajhi Tomaino.
The Huskies took over at their own 42. Seniors Garrett Sickels and Dillon Stambaugh, and junior Dylan DeVita, kept the pressure on for the Bucs. Tomaino helped keep Matawan contained, and a sac by DeVita forced the Huskies to punt.
RBR senior Will Noglows received, and took the ball to the Buc 35 yard line. But the Bucs had a tough time getting started, and with just over three minutes to go in the first quarter, punter Gisondi sent the ball back to the Huskies' own 20 yard line.
Between tackles by senior Isaac Coates in the Huskies' backfield, and a pass knocked down by Sickels, the Huskies were again forced to punt as the second quarter got underway.
Noglows received at the Buc 25. Gisondi to senior Jahimere Hinton was good for eight yards, but the Bucs were stymied on the next few plays and had to punt. Long snapper Tim Vilardi and senior Marcel Newborn took down Matawan's receiver, and the Huskies started out at their own 40 at 9:15 of the second quarter.
Two quick pass plays put Matawan in Buc territory, but the Bucs' defense hung tough. Sickels pressured the Matawan quarterback and Stambaugh knocked down a pass, and the Huskies punted, the ball going out of bounds at the RBR two yard line.
With a long way to go and less than four minutes in the half, Hinton pounded his way to the five yard line. A Gisondi keeper around the left side got the Bucs eight more yards and a first down, and Tomaino ran for a first down to the Bucs 30 yard line, with Coates clearing the way.
But again the Bucs lost momentum, and had to punt. The Huskies' drive from their own 15 yard line was marred by holding penalties, but a 36-yard pass ending in a simultaneous catch by Gisondi and the Matawan receiver was given to the Huskies.
That put Matawan on the Buc 25 yard line with time running out in the half. With 10 seconds to go and the Huskies having reached the Buc nine yard line, RBR broke up a pass to the end zone, and the Huskies set up to kick a field goal.
The snap was good, but the kick was wide left, and the first half ended with no score.
Matawan started the second half at their own 39, but tackles by Stambaugh, pressure by Sickels, and a pass break-up by Gisondi forced the Huskies to punt. The Bucs' Noglows received at the 22, but an interception on the next play gave the Huskies the ball back at the Bucs' 40 yard line.
But not for long.
On the next play, Tomaino forced a fumble. Sickels picked it up, and ran it down the sideline to the Husky 49. In the next series, Tomaino took a Gisondi hand off and meandered 49 yards for a Buc touchdown at 8:32 of the third quarter. Erwin Pupovic kicked the extra point to put the Bucs ahead 7-0.
The Huskies' next drive went nowhere. Matawan punted, and the Bucs took over on their own 31 yard line. But with five minutes left in the third quarter, the Bucs punted on fourth down. Again the Bucs defense shut down the Matawan drive, and the Huskies were forced to punt at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Bucs' drive started at their own 11, with Gisondi keeping the ball for a significant gain and leaping over a Matawan defender in a second effort. But in an unusual call, the Bucs were penalized on the play and the ball was spotted at the Buc six yard line for violation of the no hurdling rule in high school football.
The Bucs lost steam and were forced to punt, and the Huskies began a back and forth drive that landed them on the Buc six yard line with just over five minutes remaining. A Newborn sack behind the line, with help from the defensive line, backed the Huskies up to the Buc 14. But a pass completion to the eight was followed by a run to punch the ball into the end zone.
With the extra point, the score was tied at seven with 3:28 remaining in the game.
Gisondi's pass from the 24 yard line to senior Alex Fox was good for eight yards. A Matawan encroachment penalty gave the Bucs five more yards, and Coates recovered a Buc fumble to hold onto the ball for RBR. A pass to senior Steven Megill gave the Bucs a third and two at their own 45 with less than two mintues remaining.
On fourth down, Gisondi dropped back to punt, but took the snap and passed to junior Adam Lynch to put the ball on the Matawan 30 yard line.
And then a Matawan penalty gave the Bucs first down and ten yards to go at the Husky 12 yard line with one minute left in regulation time.
A Gisondi keeper was good for two yards, and the Bucs took a time out to regroup. A hand off to Tomaino put the Bucs back on their own 15 when the Bucs' standout runner was given nowhere to go, and after another time out the Bucs set up to kick a field goal with 17 seconds left in the game.
After a Matawan time out to ice kicker Erwin Pupovic, the snap by Tim Vilardi to holder Will Noglows was good. But Pupovic's kick was blocked. The ball was recovered by Noglows at the Buc 31, where Matawan took over.
But with only 10 seconds left, Matawan was unable to move the ball, and the game went to overtime.
The Bucs won the toss and elected to take the first possession. Starting at the 25 yard line, a Gisondi pass to Megill was good for 11 yards and a first down on the 14. Tomaino carried the ball to the ten yard line, and an encroachment penalty gave the Bucs new life on fourth down with one yard to go, with the ball on the five yard line.
A Gisondi keeper gave the Bucs a first down on the four yard line. But Tomaino was trapped in the backfield on the next play for an 11 yard loss. The Bucs couldn't move it, and set up for a field goal. The attempt was no good, but a Husky penalty for running into the kicker gave the Bucs another chance.
But the second attempt went wide right, and it was the Huskies' turn to start out on the 25 yard line. Stambaugh and the Bucs' defense stopped Matawan at the line, but a pass got the Huskies to the 10 yard line. On third down, the Huskies' try at a filed goal was blocked by Sickels, and the game went into a second over time.
The Huskies kept the ball to start the second series, and came alive. A pass and a run got them 13 yards and a first down on the 12. On third down at the one, the Bucs defense combined to keep Matawan out of the end zone. But with the ball less than a yard from the goal line, the Huskies drove it into the end zone on the next play, and the extra point put Matawan on top, 14-7.
The Bucs had one last possession to try to score. But the Huskies defense came on strong, holding Gisondi to a small gain on a keeper, and forcing him to throw it away under pressure. A pass to Coates was incomplete when Coates was hit hard, and on fourth down and a long two yards to go, Gisondi couldn't find a target and was met at the line to end the game.
It was a particularly tough loss for the RBR seniors, who were playing in their last home game. The loss also knocked the Bucs out of contention for a playoff spot.
"It really hurt going out like that, in double OT, in my last home game ever," said Stambaugh. "But I know I left everything I possibly had on the field and gave it my all."
The defensive standout said next week's game would be a "true test of character and what type of team we are."
Coach Giglio said he was proud of his players. Next week, the team will be looking to defend the option well and run and pass offensively with more efficiency, he said.