It was the kind of night that old football coaches love to talk about: rainy and muddy, the kind that forces teams to run the football and play the game “old school.”
It was also the kind of night that causes teams to make mistakes and struggle to hold onto the ball.
Central brought its running game, but Barnegat brought a defense to match, and the Golden Eagles fell to Barnegat 16-14 at Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field.
Kalyph Hardy rushed for 120 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown, and Mike Grieco passed for a score, but Central turned the ball over three times, including a fumble at its own 26 that set up Barnegat’s winning field goal. The Golden Eagles are now 2-1, 1-1 in Shore Conference Class B South, while Barnegat earned its first victory of the season.
“I’m proud of the boys,” Central head coach and athletic director Vinnie Casale said. “We played hard the entire game.”
At first it appeared Barnegat was going to have an easy time with Central. The Bengals shut down Central on its opening possession, then marched methodically down the field on their first drive, scoring on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Mark McCoy to Jordan Salt, giving Barnegat a 7-0 lead.
But as the rain started to pick up, so did the fumbling. Central fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but two plays later Barnegat returned the favor.
That seemed to settle down the Golden Eagles, who put together a seven-play, 72-yard drive capped by Hardy’s 2-yard touchdown run, to tie the game at 7.
After that, Central struggled to break Hardy free. Runs up the middle of the Barnegat defense were summarily snuffed, and the Bengals heavily pursued on the toss sweeps that had been so effective for Hardy and Central the previous two games. The few times Hardy was able to get free, the ground had become so muddy that he lost his footing -- and at least once it happened when he appeared to be about to break a big run.
Another Barnegat fumble, this time of a punt in its own end, set up Central’s second touchdown. A run by Hardy was negated by a holding penalty but on the next play, Central took to the air and Grieco found Joshua Dwight all alone in the left front corner of the end zone. Austin DeRose’s second PAT of the night gave the Golden Eagles a 14-7 lead going into halftime.
By that point, the rain was coming down so hard that the ball boys were having trouble keeping the balls dry even with a towel draped over them. It poured through halftime, but as the teams emerged from the lockerroom, the rain slowed and finally stopped.
Then Barnegat began to throw its muscle around. The Bengals put the ball in the hands of Matt Schofield, their fullback, after David Smithman went to the sideline with a thumb injury. Smithman had been hard to stop, but Schofield gave Central fits, finding big holes and making his own when the holes were small.
However, as Barnegat neared the goalline, the Central defense seemed to stiffen and they stopped Barnegat inside the 10 on two consecutive series. Blake Jambor, Jonathon Azaceta and Albert Labagnara all had a turn sacking McCoy – sacks caused in part because the receivers were tightly covered downfield.
Barnegat broke through early in the fourth quarter, when McCoy hit Pat Moran on a slant pattern and Moran sprinted in for a 47-yard touchdown. Central gave itself hope by blocking Moran’s point-after try, but then fumbled the ball at the Central 27. The Golden Eagles forced Barnegat to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Moran, and with 8 minutes remaining they still had hope of reaching that 3-0 mark that has eluded Central since 1997.
Barnegat shut the Golden Eagles down the rest of the way, with McCoy intercepting Grieco to end the game.
“They’re a very well-coached team,” Casale said of Barnegat. “It’s one loss.
“These kids,” he said, waving to the Central players walking off the field, “they didn’t give up.”
And you can bet they’ll be eager to get win No. 3 next week at Brick.