Heading into halftime of Thursday night's US Army Gridiron Classic Monmouth County Head Coach Ed Gurrieri said he felt good about his team despite holding just a 7-0 lead.
"We just told them to stick with it," he said. "We could kind of get a feel for the game and the way I felt we were very close to giving them the flip and that's kind of what happened." Before the night was done his team proved he was right as they rolled over their guests from Ocean County in a 28-7 win at Holmdel High School.
Gurrieri said in the end the difference came down to his squad's ability to not only control the line of scrimmage but also take to the air to gain an advantage over their opponents. "We knew our offensive line was going to be our strong suit and we had a good group of running backs and quarterbacks and receivers," he said.
One of those running backs was Manalapan's John Sieczkowski who proved once again why he was one of top runners in the Shore Conference. Over the course of the night he racked up exactly 100 yards and got Monmouth on the board first to give them a lead they never surrendered.
Playing for his head coach one last time before heading off to play at Monmouth University Sieczkowski said he was looking to make the most of his high school finale. "I did everything I wanted when I ran the ball and I just hit everybody," he said.
Hitting figures to be a prominent part of his game for the Hawks as he makes the switch from offense to linebacker. Ending his career with the braves with a win was just another highlight in a memorable year for Sieczkowski. "It just tops everything off," he said.
When the Monmouth squad did go to the air they had plenty of talent to do that starting with St. John Vianney quarterback Matt Smith who split snaps with Ryan Davies of Howell.
Davies said the game was the most fun he has had in a career of success and record breaking performances. "The whole experience of being around everybody, all the guys we're all like best friends," he said.
As he gets ready to take his game to the next level Davies said he was glad to end his time playing for Monmouth County and the Rebels with a win. "We thought we could do it but then it actually happened," he said.
Having gone to the game with his dad and coach Corey for longer than he could remember Davies said it was a surreal experience to actually be playing in the game. "It's just an honor," he said. "I've been coming since I don't even remember the first time so to be able to finally be able to come out and represent Howell and Monmouth (County) is just great."
Ocean County also had plenty of talent on the field including Point Boro quarterback John Dunbar and his counterpart Brandon Kieslor from Brick Township.
It was Kieslor who got his team on the board with a short carry in the third quarter which helped him to earn the offensive MVP award for his team. "It's an honor to play with all these kids," he said. "There's only like 40 something kids here. It's an awesome time playing here, an awesome time meeting all of them even our former rivals."
Kieslor said he just wanted to end his career with a touchdown and that was exactly what he did. "I would have loved to have won, but it's an all star game so your'e trying to have fun with it. You're trying to have a good time with all these kids and end on a good note."
The Monmouth defense proved too strong for their Ocean opponents helped by several key players including Manasquan's Kodie McNamara. His next step will be playing for Gettysburg College but on Thursday he was happy to get one last chance to play with his friends and make some new ones. It really is an honor," he said. "I'm really glad that I got to play with two of my teammates and every kid I met here is such a good kid."
As he celebrated the victory McNamara said it was a good way to walk off the high school field one last time. "That just just put the icing on the cake," he said. "I'm so happy that we won, that made it so much better."
Monmouth now leads the overall series 19-15-1 following last year's 6-3 loss to their rivals from down south.