Jackson Liberty earns bid to grid playoffs
Jackson Liberty High School’s football team has a new game on its schedule this season — the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs.
The Lions qualified for the first time, getting there dramatically on Oct. 26 with a 38-31 double-overtime victory over Point Pleasant Borough High School.
Matt Castronuova moved to quarterback in the previous game — a 63-28 victory over winless Pinelands Regional High School — connected with Nate Matos on a 20-yard touchdown pass on 4 and 8 to seal the victory. Castronuova had a 23-yard touchdown run called back moments earlier.
He also scored three touchdowns, two of them in the third quarter on a 60-yard run and a 70-yard interception runback from his defensive back position, when Jackson Liberty (5-2, 4-2) put 17 unanswered points on the board to take a 31-17 lead.
Mike Ostrowski kicked a 27-yard field goal in the quarter. He later missed a 32- yard field goal in the first overtime.
Point Pleasant Borough came back with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the latter on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds left that culminated a long drive started by an interception when it was backed up deep in its own territory.
It forced the second overtime game for Jackson Liberty this season, the other a 14- 13 double-overtime loss to Barnegat High School that foiled the team’s first-ever 3-0 start.
“I’m happy for the kids and the school, but we’re looking beyond that. Now we’re looking to win some games (in the playoffs) and make some noise,” said Jackson Liberty coach Tim Osborn.
Jackson Liberty has a lot at stake in its Nov. 2 game at Monsignor Donovan High School, which won last year’s game, 31-28, on a last-second field goal. A victory would mark the first six-win season for Jackson Liberty, keeps the Lions in the running for a share of the Shore Conference B South championship with leader Monsignor Donovan and also determines its seeding in Central Jersey Group IV.
If Jackson Liberty wins on Nov. 2, it can be seeded anywhere from fourth to seventh in the playoffs. If it loses, Osborn said it is locked into the No. 8 seed, which puts it on the road for every playoff game.
In the conference, a Jackson Liberty victory keeps the Lions alive, but only if Monsignor Donovan loses its next game to Manchester Township High School. If that happens and Lakewood High School and Barnegat win their remaining games, it means a four-way tie for the division championship.
“Monsignor Donovan is an option team, just like Point Pleasant Borough,” Osborn said. “But Point Pleasant runs off its option a dive play and powers the fullback, but Monsignor Donovan is a perimeter team with a lot of speed outside. Against Point Pleasant, we loaded up to stop the run but now our defense has to be strong on the outside.”
That means another big game from outside linebacker Ahmed Foster, who intercepted a Point Pleasant Borough pass in the first overtime period, as well as defensive end Dan Niblack, who earned hefty praise from Osborn.
Jackson Liberty likewise has become an option team over the past two games and responded to the change well, said Osborn.
“You have to give credit to Bob Davies, our senior captain who has been our quarterback and now has a diminished role,” Osborn said. “He wasn’t happy with it, but he’s a team player who accepted his role and has been working with Castronuova to do what it takes to win and Castronuova has rushed for 320 yards in these last two games.”
Davies came on early in the Point Pleasant Borough game to throw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Foster. Castronuova also had a short touchdown run to bring Jackson Liberty back from an early 10-0 deficit.
It’s the way that his team answered that early deficit and to Point Pleasant Borough’s fourth-quarter comeback when it seemed to grab momentum going into the overtime that heartened Osborn. “It’s the way the kids responded, which is different from what’s happened in the past,” Osborn said. “They fought back, took the lead and went up by 14 and then lost it. Teams might have folded when that happens but they didn’t in the overtime.”
It’s that type of determination that can help this team the rest of the season that includes a Thanksgiving rivalry with Jackson Memorial High School, which has been struggling.
“This kind of game helps us,” Osborn said. “In our short history, this team, with leadership from Chris Cruz, Bob Davies and Jeremy Sousa, seems to fly with adversity unlike in the past.”
Jackson Memorial High School
Southern Regional High School rebuffed a deep threat and then drove 82 yards in 14 plays after a missed field goal to take a 13- 0 lead en route to a 20-7 Shore Conference A South victory over Jackson Memorial (1- 6, 1-5). Jackson Memorial also fumbled the ball away in the third quarter after a 74-yard drive. Joe DeMaio completed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Mike Specht for a 56- yard touchdown pass, followed by a successful onside kick with 5:30 left, but the Jaguars could not close the gap.