Barnegat Football Squad Holds on for 8-6 Victory Against Lakewood

By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 18, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Barnegat quarterback Matt Vernieri runs for some yardage during the Bengals’ 8-6 victory over Lakewood on Sept. 13.

Barnegat — When a team is as inexperienced as the Barnegat football squad, victories in any form are a welcomed treat, especially on Friday the 13th under a full harvest moon in September.

“We lost 19 seniors, a lot to graduation last year but six others this year who are not playing for one reason or another,” said head coach Rob Davis, after his Bengals edged Lakewood, 8-6. “We have some quality seniors with a bunch of juniors and sophomores. We’re playing 17 underclassmen, so with this team right now I’ll take wins like this one any time I can get them. I’m happy with a win, even if it’s 8-6.”

To say scoring was at a premium is an understatement. Neither team moved the ball much on offense. However, the Piners in the first half had a lot less distance to cover because of great field position on their first three possessions.

After the Bengals (1-1) punted to conclude their first possession of the contest, Lakewood started on its own 44-yard line and quickly made its way to the Barnegat 2. The Bengals squelched the next two running plays and on third-and-goal the Piners were whistled for a false start, setting them back at the 7-yard line. Barnegat’s defense made two more stops on running attempts to take over on downs with just over five minutes left in the first quarter.

The Bengals offense managed one of its four first downs during its next possession, but its movement sputtered out after 21 yards and ended with a punt again. The punt went out of bounds at the 50-yard line. Lakewood didn’t go far before it too had to punt, but a bad snap gave the Bengals the ball on the Piners’ 31. The Bengals went three and out to give back the ball, ultimately resulting in a scoreless tie at the end of the quarter.

On Lakewood’s first possession of the second quarter, the Piners found the end zone at the end of a decent drive, which ticked the clock down to 6:59. However, the point-after kick was no good and their lead was 6-0. Barnegat answered two plays later when senior quarterback Matt Vernieri hit senior receiver Matt Scott with a pass on the run and Scott took it to the house for a 69-yard TD. Unfortunately, junior kicker Matt Xiques’ PAT attempt banged off the left goal post for a 6-6 tie.

Lakewood received a big break at the end of the first half when a bad snap on Barnegat’s next punt attempt sailed past Xiques and he ended up down at the Bengals’ 19-yard line, giving the Piners a shot to take the lead with 1:18 left in the half. Barnegat’s defense slowed them enough for the clock to wind down without another point being scored.

The Piners started off the second half with terrible field position when the opening kickoff bounced off the helmet of the player trying to receive it and they began at their own 2-yard line. A few plays later, Lakewood was punting from its 5 and the snap sailed out of bounds, resulting in a safety to give the Bengals an 8-6 lead.

Still, on the ensuing kickoff, a Barnegat fumble recovered by Lakewood set the Piners up on the Bengals’ 40 and the defense had to come up with another stop without giving up points. Behind several great efforts from seniors Mike DiPianta and Dominick Aneses, who each had a sack, the Bengals pushed the Piners back into their own territory and forced another punt with 6:36 left in the quarter.

“After halftime, we had a lot of confidence on defense,” said DiPianta, who was in on 10 tackles for the game. “We were making stops all day and we knew we could keep doing it. We just had to stay together and keep working hard.”

Barnegat had a chance to extend its lead late in the quarter, after the Bengals worked the ball down to the Piners’ 8-yard line, but a 27-yard field goal attempt went wide of the left goal post. The Bengals clung to that two-point lead the rest of the way, particularly through Lakewood’s final possession of the contest, when the Piners started on their own 20 and used much of the fourth quarter to make their way to the Barnegat 25.

Four plays later, the Bengals had backed up Lakewood to the 49, and DiPianta culminated the defensive stop with a sack to give Barnegat the ball for a chance to end the game with the ball. As Vernieri did his best to milk the clock, the Bengals ultimately faced a fourth-and-4 at the Lakewood 39 and still 2:32 left. He ran the ball for 5 yards to gain the first down, then ran it another 20 yards to the 14 to seal the victory.

“I just had to get those couple of yards and I knew my line would get me that push,” said Vernieri, who rushed for 72 yards to lead the Bengals’ running game and completed four of seven passes for 72 yards as well. “The offensive line did a great job to help us win the game. We have a young team and I need to lead by example. We need everybody to give 110 percent on every down and do their part, and if they have my back I’ll have theirs.”

Aneses ended up involved on 20 tackles, including seven for a loss, while Vernieri also got in on 15 stops, which included a sack. For the game, Barnegat’s offense managed just four first downs, and Davis believes better days are to come for his offensive crew.

“Lakewood’s a more experienced team than we are, so this was a good test and our kids did a great job,” he said. “The defense is playing really hard and our coaches did a great job to have them ready. On offense, we have one starter back, so that’s tough. But as the weeks go on, our kids will gain more confidence and they will turn the switch at some point. The future is exciting. These kids are very coachable and they’re getting better.”

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