Southern Regional Football Squad Opens Season With Shutout

By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 11, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern’s Jaiden Brown finds a big hole to run through during of the Rams’ 21-0 victory over Nottingham on Sept. 7.

Stafford Township — The shirt worn by one of the coaches along the Southern Regional football team’s sidelines read: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

During the team’s opening game of the new season on Sept. 7, head coach Chuck Donohue’s Rams took a step into a new beginning, trying to move on from the struggles of the past couple of seasons. It took about four minutes for the Rams to set the tone for what they’re hoping will be a winning season.

“It felt great to start the season with a touchdown on our first possession of the season,” said sophomore running back Jaiden Brown, who ran the ball into the end zone from 5 yards away to seal Southern’s five-play opening possession against Nottingham, paving the way for a 21-0 win. “We’ve been working all summer for that touchdown. We got the defensive stop we needed to get good field position, so we did what we had to do to start the season right.”

After the Northstars couldn’t move through Southern’s defense during their first three downs of the contest, the subsequent punt was a really short one and the Rams started their first offensive of the season on Nottingham’s 30. Brown carried the ball the entire 30 yards and junior Hank Gallacher delivered the point-after kick to give Southern a 7-0 lead just 4:05 into the game.

From there, the Rams’ defense simply dominated the play, allowing the Northstars just three first downs and 20 yards of total offense while tallying three quarterback sacks and 10 tackles for losses in addition to forcing a pair of turnovers.

The first of those turnovers occurred on Nottingham’s second possession, when junior linebacker Steven Langton snatched an interception at the 23-yard line and ran it back to the 16. Unfortunately, Southern senior quarterback Cole Robinson’s first pass of the game, on first down, was picked off as well.

“We had the chance to really jump on them early, and figured we would take the shot at throwing the ball on first down,” Donohue said. “We let them off the hook for a while by throwing a pick after we got the turnover.”

Nottingham mustered only three plays on its fourth possession of the first quarter and the punt was partially blocked, giving the Rams another excellent chance to score when the ball bounced out at the 15-yard line. Southern didn’t squander the opportunity. On third-and-11, Robinson fired a pass over the middle and connected with junior receiver Alex Rainone at the back of the end zone. Gallacher’s PAT made it 14-0 with three seconds left in the first.

After bringing the 14-0 lead into the second half, Southern moved the ball on its first possession to the Northstars’ 42-yard line, but the drive stalled out when Robinson tossed a pair of incomplete passes on third-and-5 and fourth-and-5.

“Cole’s a great athlete, but at times he was trying to do too much and make plays, rather than let the game come to him,” Donohue said. “He wants to do well and wants to be good, but he has to slow down a bit. Sometimes there’s a play and sometimes there’s not a play, and he needs recognize those times and use his legs once in awhile.”

Nottingham’s next possession resulted in a punt, which stuck the Rams at their own 3-yard line. Two plays later, another Robinson pass was picked off and the Northstars started their next possession at Southern’s 11. They advanced the ball to the 7, but the defense again shut them down, as Nottingham turned over the ball on downs.

“We played a smart game, especially on defense,” said senior lineman Colby Saxton, who ended with eight tackles, including two for losses, and a sack. “We really wanted to get the shutout because for the past couple of years we haven’t been able to set the intensity level for the season and get it going on the right track. We have to fix some simple mistakes we made, but once we do that we’ll be all right.”

Southern cemented the victory when junior running back J.P. Ricciardi ran the ball in from the 1-yard line, culminating a seven-play drive which began when Brown carried the ball 56 yards on the first play to give the Rams first-and-10 at Nottingham’s 24. Ricciardi ran the ball the rest of the way and Gallacher punctuated the win with a third PAT.

“I’m happy for the kids,” Donohue said. “We had a lot of first-timers playing today, a lot of kids playing new positions, and I’m glad they have a game under their belt and it was a win. Now we have to clean up the mistakes. We had a lot of gains called back because of penalties. Penalties are all part of fundamentals, meaning your hands weren’t right, your feet weren’t in the right place, whatever. But that’s where we have to get better right now, and we have to get a lot better between now and when we play Toms River North on Friday.”

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