RED BANK REGIONAL AND LONG BRANCH WILL MEET ON THANKSGIVING FOR THE 97TH TIME
By Mike Ready
RED BANK – One of the Shore Conference’s longest running Thanksgiving Day football rivalries is still going strong as most of the Shore’s traditional Thanksgiving Day games have gone by the wayside.
The Red Bank Regional Buccaneers and the Green Wave of Long Branch will take the field on Thanksgiving morning for the 97th time with kickoff scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 28 at 10:00 am in Red Bank.
The Shore Conference’s longest running Thanksgiving Day rivalry game is the Toms River South – Lakewood game which will be played for the 100th and last time on Thursday. So it appears moving forward, the Red Bank – Long Branch game will now hold that distinction.
“I still get some of those same feelings on game day that I did when I was a player,” said longtime Long Branch head coach Danny George. “It’s always a great way to start the Thanksgiving holiday being out there with your players with a packed house and two passionate fan bases supporting their teams.”
Both squads will again playing for the Ty Lewis Memorial Trophy, which is named in honor of the former Red Bank coach who passed away in 1990 at the age of 41 after battling leukemia. Lewis was one of the first black head coaches in the Shore Conference and his memory lives on to this day.
Long Branch leads the all-time series, 62-31-3, but you can throw the series record out the window when these two long-standing rivals take the field against one another.
Entering the season, Long Branch (4-6) was favored to win its third straight state sectional title, but a brutal early season schedule, injuries and some internal strife led to disappointing 2-5 record after seven games.
In their seventh game of the season, a 42-39 shootout loss to No. 2 Toms River North, the lead changed hands four times in the final 3:32 of the game. Long Branch took the lead, 39-36, with a minute left but the Mariners drove 64 yards in 42 seconds for the game-winning touchdown.
However, as tough of a loss that game was for the Green Wave, they seemed to turn the corner and began to look the part of a two-time defending champion.
Following their loss to the Mariners, they beat Saint John Vianney, 26-21, right as the Lancers were gaining steam themselves after upsetting a one-loss Southern team – ranked eighth in the Shore.
With the win, Long Branch qualified for the state playoffs despite their sub-.500 record based on their strength of schedule.
Seeded sixth in the NJSIAA South, Group IV tournament, Long Branch rolled over No. 3 seed Highland Regional, 33-3, in the quarterfinals advancing to play seventh-seed Ocean City in the semifinal. Ocean City had upset No. 2 seed Mainland, 21-14, in the quarterfinals to advance.
In the semifinal, senior quarterback Kyle Davidson tossed a 12-yard scoring strike to Long Branch star running back Jermaine Corbett to take a 20-14 lead right before the half. However, the extra-point kick was blocked and that would come back to haunt them.
Davidson, who up to that point had completed 11-of-15 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown, was injured on the play and did not return, leaving the quarterback job up to sophomore free safety Christian Rodriguez, who hadn’t taken a varsity snap at quarterback all season.
Ocean City scored in the third quarter to take a 21-20 lead, but Long Branch was driving late in fourth quarter when, after a nice gain by Rodriguez, he fumbled with Ocean City recovering at their own 27-yard line – essentially ending the game and handing Long Branch the devastating loss.
George is hoping both Davidson and Corbett will be able to go on Thanksgiving Day. Corbett has been hampered by a string of nagging injuries that has forced him to the sidelines throughout the season.
Corbett was the 2018 Shore Conference Player of the Year and a first team All-State selection after rushing for a state-best 2,021 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns averaging 8.7 yards per carry.
“Being back-to-back state champs these kids have never not played into December so it’s a little different situation for them,” said George of his team’s mindset heading into Thursday’s game. “The senior class is broken up pretty hard with the loss Friday night so now it’s kind of gathering our guys together and we’ll play one of the best Red Bank teams we’ve faced in a while, so it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”
Aside from Davidson, Corbett and Rodriguez, players to watch for Long Branch include junior cornerback/wide receiver Jayon Farrar, senior tight end/defensive end Lucas Tellas De Sa, sophomore wide receiver/cornerback Jayden Farmer, junior wideout/strong safety Basen Fraser, senior defensive end Jayson Glasper, senior offensive and defensive tackle Tracy Taylor and senior inside linebacker Jah’Kwan Gordon.
In the Green Wave’s last two games, Farrar had kickoff returns of 89 and 84 yards for touchdowns, so he’s someone you might want to keep an eye on.
Under first-year head coach David Schuman, not much was expected from Red Bank this season after heavy graduation losses from last year’s 7-3 team that advanced to the sectional semifinal.
To make matters worse, standout running back Makai Mickens was lost for what was thought to be for the entire year after he tore his ACL in June.
Mickens was a second team All-Shore selection after becoming the first Red Bank player to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004. He ran for 1,206 and 13 touchdowns for an average of 7.2 yards per carry and added 50 tackles and four interceptions on defense from the free safety spot.
Mickens had surgery last July 3 and amazingly – only four months after his surgery – he returned to the field in Red Bank’s 42-13 win over Monmouth Regional on Nov. 2 scoring two touchdowns.
Even without Mickens most the year, the Buccaneers turned out to be one of the surprise teams in the Shore Conference this season posting a 5-3 record and qualifying for the state playoffs before suffering a disappointing 22-14 loss to Holmdel in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group III tournament.
They rebounded nicely, however, defeating a scrappy Middletown North squad, 22-17, the following week to run their record to 6-4 on the season. Mickens picked up 83 tough yards on the ground on 19 carries; senior quarterback Jack Chamberlain ran for two scores and junior linebacker Nick Ferrogine had a 38-yard pick six. For the year, Ferrogine has recorded 63 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles on the year.
Chamberlain has completed 96-of-165 passes for 1,123 yards and 11 touchdowns along with 614 yards and another 11 touchdowns rushing on 112 carries. Ferrogine (16-275-2), senior wideout/cornerback A.J. Abarno (29-378-4) and junior wideout/running back/linebacker Owen Laughlin (17-143-1) are Chamberlain’s main targets.
In three games, Mickens has rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 35 attempts and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off for some big yardage on Thanksgiving being it will be his final game of his high school career.
Laughlin (54-179-2), senior running back/cornerback David Hick IV (22-158-1) and sophomore linebacker/fullback Cian Curylo (46-171) have gotten most the carries this season in Mickens’s absence.
Senior linebacker Will DalPra (85 T, 10 TFL, 3 sacks) and Kyle Weisman (77 T, 5 TFL, 2 sacks) lead the team in tackles and Laughlin (61 T, 11 TFL, 4 sacks) is tops in tackles for loss and sacks.
In the secondary, senior cornerback Tucker Cochrane (23 T, 2 TFL, Int, 8 PD) and junior safety Jack Dengler (50 T, TFL, Int, 7 PD) lead the team in passes defended.
It looks to be an entertaining and competitive contest and as is always the case for the Thanksgiving Day game, get there early with overflowing crowds expected.
“I’ve always felt this game is football at its simplest and purest form,” said George. “It’s a game of family and tradition. The kids always look forward to this game because they look forward to winning the trophy.”