Mistakes, big plays cost Keyport another title

first_img BY DOUG McKENZIE Staff Writer CHRIS KELLY staff Keyport senior J.J. Bedle hauls in a touchdown pass in the second quarter of Saturday’s CJ Group I final at Neptune’s Memorial Field. NEPTUNE — On paper, Florence looked like a team a year away from a state championship. With just four seniors and an underclassman-heavy roster, the Flashes entered Saturday’s Central Jersey Group I final against defending champion Keyport as the underdog, despite their flashy 11-0 mark. But by the end of the game, which was played at Neptune’s Memorial Field after a flurry of postponements, Florence proved itself a worthy champion against the mighty Red Raiders, a team riding a 22-game winning streak and featuring the state’s all-time rushing leader, Ken Cattouse. The Flashes scored a pair of second-half touchdowns, while shutting down what was one of the state’s most prolific offenses, en route to a 21-14 win, stunning the host Red Raiders. Ken Cattouse (l) hits the hole during the Red Raiders’ loss to Florence in the CJ Group I final on Saturday. Above, the Keyport defense tries to slow down Florence’s Abree Jones. Florence got on the board first, scoring on their third possession of the game following a trick play on a fourth down. Facing a fourth-and-four on the Keyport 33, Florence quarterback Ryan Shafer took a flea-flicker and found Shaquan Virgil for 24 yards, placing the ball at the Keyport seven-yard line. Two plays later, Shafer found the end zone from a yard out. It was the first trick play the Flashes used, but it would not be the last, nor would any of the plays come as a surprise to the Red Raiders. “We practiced against that stuff all week,” Keyport head coach Mike Ciccotelli said. “We knew what they were going to do; we just got out-played at times.” Keyport responded to the score the way they’ve responded all season long — with a steady dose of Cattouse. After the Red Raiders recovered the ensuing kickoff on their own 37, Cattouse broke free for a 27-yard gain. That play sparked a seven-play, 63-yard drive that was capped by Cattouse’s only touchdown of the day, from five yards out. The Keyport defense then stopped Florence, giving the offense the ball back at their own 47. Three plays later, sophomore quarterback Kevin Boyce hit another Red Raiders All-State player, senior J.J. Bedle, for a 53-yard scoring play, giving Keyport the 14-7 half-time lead, following Pete Czech’s PAT. “We had that momentum going into half-time, and I think we lost a little bit in there,” Ciccotelli said. In the second half, the Florence defense tightened, while the Flashes’ offense used some opportunistic plays to get back in the game. Florence tied the game after blocking a punt late in the third quarter, and starting at the Keyport 37-yard line. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty drove them back a bit, they advanced as far as the Keyport 35, where the drive appeared to be stalling with a third-and-21 play looming. The Flashes took a time-out, and then broke the huddle in a “muddle huddle” formation — a play usually reserved for PAT attempts — with six players lined up to the left of the center. Following the snap, one of those players, Dan Miller, broke downfield, where he got behind the Keyport defense and caught a 29-yard pass from Shafer, setting up a first-and-goal from the Keyport 5. It was the second trick play of the day that worked for Florence, and like the first, it changed the complexion of the game. Ciccotelli explained the play in simple terms. “Their kid just got behind our kid,” he said. Three plays later, Florence sophomore Abree Jones busted tackles on his way to the end zone for the game-tying score. After the Red Raiders were stopped on their ensuing possession, the Florence offense took over, looking to milk the clock. But the Keyport defense stood tall, forcing a punt deep in Florence territory. That, however, led to the game’s biggest play, when Bedle apparently touched the ball on a bounce before Florence players pounced on it at the Keyport 28-yard line. “I didn’t think he touched it, but I guess the official thought he did because he took off after it,” Ciccotelli said, after the game. “And he never drops anything.” The Flashes took advantage of the mistake, driving 25 yards in three plays before Jones found the end zone again from three yards out, giving them a 21-14 lead with 1:38 left on the clock. On the Red Raiders’ ensuing possession, they managed to get a first down before a mix-up in the backfield led to a Boyce fumble, which was recovered by Florence, effectively ending Keyport’s hopes for a repeat. Following the game, Ciccotelli was nothing but complimentary of the Flashes. “They played a great game, with a great defensive scheme,” he said. “Defensively we knew what they were going to do, and offensively we knew what they were going to do. We just got burned by mistakes.” But as much as Ciccotelli was impressed with the Flashes’ play, he was equally proud of his team’s effort. “They never quit. They’re comeback kids,” he said. “They came back against South River (in the semifinals), and they played hard all season. It’s a great bunch of guys. They showed up every game.” “They worked hard all year, and fought through a lot of adversity,” he added. “I feel bad for them that they have to go out like this.” With the loss, so ends the careers of two of the Shore Conference’s most electrifying athletes in Cattouse and Bedle. Cattouse, who ran for 143 yards on 21 carries on Saturday, finished with 2,166 yards on the season (his second consecutive 2,000-yard campaign), and 6,676 yards rushing for his illustrious career. He is currently being courted by numerous Division I-A programs, most notably Ohio State and Iowa. As for Bedle, he had another tremendous season for the Red Raiders, catching 49 passes for 995-receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. But it was his ability to come up with the big play in the big spot that separated Bedle from the rest of the wide receivers in the Shore Conference, an ability that will lead to him continuing his career at Syracuse University next fall. “This is not the way I’d like to see him go out,” Ciccotelli admitted following Saturday’s game. “I was hoping we’d get the ball in his hands and something would happen.” But despite the setback on Saturday, Ciccotelli has high expectations for both Cattouse and Bedle as they take their skills to the next level. “I expect them to be impact players wherever they go,” he said. “They’re great kids and they’re great athletes. They’re true football players.” Not to be outdone, Keyport kicker Pete Czech ended his brilliant career with another solid performance, converting on his 59th and 60th PAT kicks of the season, and finished the year one point shy of tying a state record for points scored by a kicker in a season. BY DOUG McKENZIEStaff Writer last_img

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