After third-seeded Toms River North scored a late touchdown, followed by a successful 2-point conversion to tie the score with 57 seconds left for the home crowd, momentum went all out against Kingsway.
With overtime on the horizon, fourth-placed Kingsway mounted a clutch drive at the right time, culminating in a 36-yard touchdown completion to sophomore tight end Luke Van Brill, who caught a pass along the seam and into the left pylon rumbled for a touchdown with seven seconds left.
I’m just running and watching and waiting, Van Brill said over his mind as he waited for the lobed pass that resulted in the game-winning touchdown. It feels like an eternity, waiting for that ball to get into my hands. But once I got it, I knew it was going to go to the end zone and win the game for the team.
The game-winning completion put Kingsway in the lead for good, giving the Dragons a 21-14 win on the road over Toms River North in the final round of the NJSIAA/Rothman Orthopedics South Jersey, Group 5 playoffs on Friday night.
I am so proud of our children for representing our city and our community, Kingsway head coach Mark Hendricks said after the win.
Van Brill finished with two touchdowns, after he also found the endzone to open the score halfway through the first quarter via a trick play. Junior Nate Maiers, who took over as quarterback in Week 4, lined up as the punter in fourth, taking the snap before turning his body and launching a pass to a wide-open Van Brill on the left. Van Brill took the ball home for a 51-yard touchdown to give Kingsway control of the game early on.
He’s great, man, said Coach Hendricks on his standout tight end, who leads the team in tackles, receptions and touchdowns. He catches the ball like you would teach your kid in the backyard to catch the ball. He goes and gets it with his hands, everything he does, he becomes a talented footballer as he continues to grow.
Kingsway (7-4) almost jumped out to a two touchdown lead early in the second quarter, drove into the red zone and nearly found the end zone for a potential 14 point advantage. On the 3rd and goal from the 12-yard line, Maiers slumped back to pass and fired one into the end zone. Toms River Norths Tareq Council intercepted the pass in the endzone to avoid falling too far behind in the first game of the second quarter.
Later in the half, when the starting kicker was unavailable due to injury, Toms River North sophomore quarterback Micah Ford tied with Jeremiah Pruitt for a first deficit on a 4th and 15 before taking a quarterback goalkeeper 8 yards for a touchdown halfway through the second quarter. A missed PAT would leave the team behind by one point, establishing the need for the 2-point conversion late in the fourth.
Late in the third quarter, junior Darrell Brown Jr. the 2nd and goal of the 3, turned the left corner and found the end zone for a touchdown to give Kingsway a 14-6 lead.
With two minutes left in the fourth, the Toms River North defense (6-4) forced a punt before the offense took over at its own 9-yard line. The Mariners had a spectacular ride completing 50 yards from Ford to Ryan Dean. With the ball on the 30-yard line, Ford found Pruitt in the back of the endzone, splitting the cover with a perfect pass that pulled Pruitt down to secure a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the game.
Ford took the carry to the endzone for a successful two-point conversion, clearing things up with less than a minute to go and making overtime inevitable, before Kingsway’s amazing game-winning drive threw the game away.
You talk about what you have to do to win a match, Hendricks said. You’re talking about the discipline part, we told our kids that if we wanted to go through and win this competition, we had to do the things that we do, and we have to do it right. Our children have been executed in many ways tonight.
The title represents the second in program history for Kingsway, which won its first Section Championship in 2001 and made its first appearance in a Section Final since 2012.
I’m really proud of the way they show resilience, said coach Hendricks of his teams’ performance. It’s a back-and-forth ball game. We made mistakes, they made mistakes, but we made some big plays to get a little forward, and probably no bigger than the ones we made to hang on and hit the tight end in the middle with limited time left in the game.
In addition to the decline of Brown Jr. Maiers benefited from solid offensive play, racking up some short 3rd and 4th down conversions on QB power runs and outside handoffs in the second half.
Our line of attack, I can’t say enough about it, Hendricks said of the big boys in the trenches. When we needed the soil and the pound, we got it. That’s what we’re going for.
The win brings Kingsways’ record in Section Finals to 2-4, while Toms River North drops to 6-2 in Section Title matches.
We just went downhill with them, Maiers added on his offensive lines performance. We watched a movie, and we saw that they were big, but they don’t really come off the ball. We knew that if we could beat them off the ball, get a little push, something would break, and that’s what happened.
Kingsway will face Central Jersey, Group 5 champions Hillsborough in the regional championship game next week.
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