MATER DEI PROVING JUST HOW GOOD THEY ARE AGAINST TOUGHER COMPETITION
By Mike Ready
MIDDLETOWN – The knock against Mater Dei Prep in recent years has always been strength of schedule and the level of competition they’ve faced as long-time members of the Shore Conference A Central division then the Patriot Division last season.
In defense of the Seraphs, they can only play the teams they’re scheduled to play and the teams they play within the division are out of their control, so they just went about their business and won games.
Mater Dei has won 30 games in the past three years while reaching three consecutive state championship games, including winning the program’s first-ever state sectional title in 2016 when they went 12-0.
This season, however, with division realignment now based on the previous season’s record rather than school enrollment, the Seraphs were moved into the Colonial Division, which is one, if not the, strongest and deepest of the seven divisions in the Shore Conference.
“I’ve been talking about the schedule for four years,” said head coach Dino Mangiero. “Every conference in New Jersey power-rates the schedule and when I came here four years ago they weren’t doing that. This year they attempted to do it, and they’re heading in the right direction, but to me, it’s still not right. Regardless of location and regardless of school size they should have the top eight or nine teams in the same division playing each other every week like every other conference in the state does; it’s just fair. And it should be adjusted from year to year to ensure competitive balance.
“The game is under attack and we need to keep the game safe,” Mangiero added. “To me, that’s the most important thing; to keep the game safe. We have really strong teams with D-1 athletes playing teams with weaker programs and that’s not safe nor is it fair. I love football. It helps the kids build character; it makes them work hard and helps them get through tough times. There’s a lot of good things about the game of football and I love developing young people. But my first concern is to keep the game safe by having teams that are competitive and matched evenly. There’s no reason not to get it right.”
Five of the six teams within the Colonial Division are currently ranked in the Shore Conference Top 10, including top-ranked Mater Dei which has thoroughly whipped two of the Shore’s all-time winningest programs in back-to-back weeks to start the season at 2-0.
“I take them one at a time,” said Mangiero. “I prepare my kids the best way I know how every week regardless of who we’re playing. We don’t circle games on the schedule; I never have. We play one week at a time because I respect everyone we play and we train our kids not to look ahead; that’s how upsets happen. I’ll let you know in December what kind of team and what kind of season we had. There’s so many variables between now and then and we’re just focused on Freehold Boro this week.”
The Seraphs opened the season with a resounding 40-13 win over Colonial Division foe Brick Township. St. Peters Prep transfer quarterback Alex Brown had an auspicious debut completing 16-of-19 passes for
225 yards, including touchdown strikes to seniors Malik Ingram and Isaiah Noguera and sophomore Naran Buntin. He also rushed four times for 39 yards on the ground.
“He’s getting better and better,” Mangiero said of his young signal caller. “He’s a very smart young man and he’s developing nicely. He has terrific coaching in quarterback coach Nick Tyson and offensive coordinator Mark Ciccotelli, who’s been around the Shore Conference for many, many years and has won many championships. Alex is smart, has a strong arm, has terrific coaching and he’s steadily improving. He’s only in tenth grade so we try not to put too much pressure on him but we throw the ball around a lot so we need him to be a leader at the same time.”
Ingram, one of the top running backs in the state, carried the ball six times for 103 yards for a crazy 17.2 yards per carry average and two touchdowns, including a 67-yard scoring jaunt.
“Malik’s a monster in the weight room and is a physical, physical runner with the speed to run away from you,” said Mangeiro. “He’s our nickel on defense and he’s a fine, fine football player.”
Noguera finished with four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown while senior wide receiver/defensive back and Notre Dame-bound Clarence Lewis hauled in six passes for 83 yards as the Seraphs rolled up 367 yards of total offense.
“Clarence is a good student and a really smart kid,” said Mangiero. “He kind of does it all for us. He plays offense for us, plays defense for us and even kicks. Clarence is a fine football player.”
Mangiero likes what he’s seen out of his receiving corps.
“We have some speed out there on the perimeter,” said Mangiero. “We have some younger guys and some older guys that are starting for us and we really work on the timing and precision of our passing game. I’m encouraged by them (Lewis, Noguera, Buntin and Kyree Drake).”
The juggernaut Mater Dei offense kept its foot on the gas in its second game of the season against No. 8 Jackson Memorial as they hung 41 points on one of the better defenses in the Shore that is led by All-Shore defensive end and University of Connecticut-bound Colin McCarthy.
Ingram was again stellar, rushing for 118 yards on nine attempts for a 13.1 yards per carry average and four touchdown runs of 52, 5, 3 and 39 yards – all in the first half when the Seraphs built a 35-7 lead at the half. Ingram’s four touchdowns give him six rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown already this season.
It didn’t take long for Mater Dei to get rolling. Ingram scored from 52 yards out on their first offensive play from scrimmage and after the Seraphs blocked a punt deep in Jackson territory, Ingram ran it in from 5-yards out on second touch of the game.
The Seraphs racked up 238-yards rushing with sophomores Ra’Jahn Cooper adding 75 yards on eight attempts and Drake picking up 21 yards on two carries.
Brown was efficient behind center completing 5-of-8 passes for 160 yards with two touchdown throws to Buntin, including a 73-yard bomb to close out the scoring. Buntin finished with two receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Brown also ran the ball twice for 14 yards.
Defensive ends Dominick Giudice and Khurran Simpson dominated the line of scrimmage with Giudice recording two sacks and five tackles while Simpson was beast racking up three sacks and eight total tackles.
They’re both good football players,” Mangiero said of his defensive studs. “Dom is also a two-way guy and they both work very hard and it shows the way they’re playing.”
Mangiero also singled out Noguera on the defensive side of the ball. “We have all underclassmen at linebacker and in the secondary Isaac has taken on a real leadership role with the younger linebackers. He’s been doing a great job helping us get lined up and being a general out there at safety in the middle of the field. He’s one of our captains and has really taken to that role.”
The Seraphs lost to Red Bank Catholic in last year’s NJSIAA Non-Public Group III championship game and when Mangiero was asked about a rematch he pointedly said, “There’s so many more important things on my mind like making sure our kids are respectful, hard-working kids and making sure they’re doing well in school. So, I concentrate on the important things, not on who we might or might not play in the future.”
Mater Dei is ranked No. 1 in the Shore and fifth in the state.
UPDATE: Mater Dei continued its torrid start on Saturday with a 55-0 rout of Freehold Boro in Freehold. The Seraphs move to 3-0 on the season and 3-0 in the Colonial Division.