Long Branch held on to the Ty Lewis Memorial Trophy on Thursday, beating Red Bank Regional 13-0 in the Buccaneers' final game of the season.
The Green Wave scored its only touchdown on its first possession of the 89th game of one of the oldest high school football rivalries in the country.
The game capped a roller coaster high school ride for the senior Buccaneers, who started with an undefeated freshman season, including a win over Long Branch. "We miss the seniors already," said coach Nick Giglio. "But they leave behind a level of preparation and play that our younger players have already learned and benefited from."
Under blue skies at a chilly Long Branch field, the Red Bank defense made a strong showing against one of the Shore's premier rushing teams, twice keeping the Green Wave out of the end zone and forcing field goal attempts.
Dillon Stambaugh, Penn State-bound Garrett Sickels, Isaac Coates, Tajhi Tomaino, Jahmir Hinton and the rest of the Bucs' defense never made it easy for Long Branch, which has been a powerhouse all season, has a 9-1 record, and is on its way next weekend to the state semi-finals. The loss leaves Red Bank with a 4-6 record for the year.
Long Branch scored its lone touchdown at 6:13 of the first quarter.
Red Bank quarterback Ross Gisondi, playing on an injured ankle, struggled to catch up, but the Bucanneer offense was stymied in the first quarter. A Coates sack, pressure by Sickels, and solid hits by Hinton marked the Bucs defensive play, and Red Bank forced a Long Branch fumble and recovered the ball toward the end of the first quarter.
But the Bucs were forced to punt, and Long Branch started out on its own 20. Tomaino, Sickels, Stambaugh, Coates, and the defense stopped the Green Wave, with a Stambaugh-Sickels sack bringing up fourth down and forcing Long Branch to punt.
Red Bank took over at its own 32 midway through the second quarter. The drive was marked by a long Gisondi pass to Steven Megill that fell incomplete, and Red Bank was forced to punt. But pressure from Stambaugh, Gary Johnson and Dylan DeVita stopped the Long Branch passing game, and Red Bank was able to take over on downs after two incomplete Green Wave passes toward the end of the first half.
The Bucs couldn't get started, though, and had to punt. On Long Branch's last possession of the half, the Bucs' Sickels, Coates, Gary Johnson and others stopped Long Branch short of the goal line. With time running out, Long Branch set up to kick a field goal from the 20 yard line. The kick was short, caught by Red Bank, and run back, but a Red Bank penalty gave Long Branch another shot at the field goal, this time from the 10 yard line, and the Green Wave didn't miss. The half ended Long Branch 10, Red Bank 0.
Long Branch kicked to start the second half. A Gisondi completion for a long gain, and a short gain on fourth down gave the Bucs another first down at their own 33 at 8:30 of the third quarter. But Hinton was brought down on third down, and the Bucs had to punt, but couldn't get the kick off.
Long Branch took possession at the Red Bank 31, and at 4:21 of the third quarter Long Branch kicked a field goal to make the score 13-0, where it stayed.
The Bucs' Ryan Seeley ran the Long Branch kick back to the green Wave 32, but Long Branch recovered a Red Bank fumble to regain possession. DeVita hit a Long Branch runner for a loss, and Long Branch lost momentum. Remaining plays in the game included nice runs by Hinton, Tomaino and Trevor Riley, and Red Bank had possession at its own 45 at the start of the fourth quarter. A long pass by Gisondi fell incomplete and Long Branch took over on downs.
Stambaugh, Hinton, and a Sickels sack with less than five minutes remaining forced a Long Branch punt that was downed at Red Bank's 3 yard line.
On plays including a nice run by Tomaino, Red Bank made it to their own 25, but with less than two minutes remaining, the Bucs fell short on 4th and 12. Long Branch took over, and was eventually able to allow time to expire.
"If there is one thing that I've learned from this season it's that you have to be aggressive," said Stambaugh. "Nothing is going to be handed to you, not in football, not in life. You have to take what you want and earn it."
Coach Giglio agreed. Of the last four years, he said, "expect nothing, accept everything, learn from both, and never give up on yourself or your team."
"Playing football taught me and my teammates a lot about life these past four years, and for that I'm thankful," said Stambaugh.
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.