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Eagles hope to stay perched atop the Shore

first_img BY DOUG McKENZIEStaff Writer PHOTOS BY SCOTT PILLING staff Above, Middletown South quarterback Pat Campbell looks for an open man during a recent scrimmage against Sayreville in Middletown. A total of 19 seniors graduated from last year’s Middletown South football team. While they left on top, having won three consecutive state titles and 36 straight games overall, their departure marked the start of new era at Middletown South. But for all of those teams out there licking their chops at the possibility that the Eagles are suddenly ripe for revenge this year, South head coach Steve Antonucci has a message for you: “Wait and see.” Antonucci, now entering his ninth season at South, certainly understands the impact losing so many players is sure to have on his team this fall. After all, among those players was Knowshon Moreno, the state’s second all-time leading rusher and leader in points scored and touchdowns, who is now taking his tremendous talents to the next level at the University of Georgia. And while Moreno certainly earned his share of headlines over the last few season, there were plenty of other game-breakers on last year’s Eagles squad who have since moved on the collegiate game. Nick Macaluso was generally regarded as one of (if not the) top linebackers in the state last year, and is now at Stanford University. Also moving on were Keith Heaney (Lafayette), Andrew Poulson (Lafayette) and Mark Longo (Cornell), and a slew of other players who did nothing but win at the high school level. For most programs, such losses would point to a rebuilding process over the next year or two. But not at Middletown South, and not under Antonucci’s watch. “We expect to keep it going,” the coach said. “They’ve obviously got a pretty tough task ahead of them, but we’ve got some experience to mix with a lot of youth on this team. “This group reminds me a bit of the 2002 team,” he added. “We’re just going to plod along and mature with each game. We’re not going to be as explosive as we’ve been, but we’ll be fine.” This year’s Eagles return just four starters on offense, but the team does have some other players with varsity experience, according to Antonucci. Leading the team will be junior quarterback Pat Campbell, who Antonucci expects to surprise people with his abilities this season. “He’s a great-looking specimen,” the coach said. “He’s 6-2, about 210 pounds, and has all the potential in the world. He reminds me of [former Eagle QB] Brendan Kennedy. Maybe he doesn’t have the foot-speed that Brendan had, but he has all the other tools.” Campbell, who led the Eagles JV team to an 8-1 mark last year, has one returning starter in the backfield in senior fullback Dave Dosil. Dosil, who certainly deserves a lot of the credit for Moreno’s success last year, will be opening holes this fall for senior running back Sean Barber, senior Brian Meeker, and a pair of promising sophomores, Matt Martino and Chris Bunge. Among the wideouts are returning starter Dayon Lane, a senior, as well as senior Chris Duffy, who saw a lot of time last year, and sophomore Mike Farrell. The offensive line is anchored by a pair of returning starters at the guard positions, Brian King and Greg Sullivan. They are joined by senior center Chris Guderian, senior tackle Joe Sciortino and junior tackle Steve Lang. Many of the same players will be on the defensive side of the ball, where the Eagles return just three starters. The defensive ends are Guderian and Sciortino, while Farrell will also see some time there. Senior Alec Bay, a returning starter, is at defensive tackle, along with King and senior Mike Guarnien, while Dosil returns at outside linebacker, where he is joined by Martino and Barber. Bay will not start tomorrow night when the Eagles open their season against Neptune, but should be back in the lineup in a couple of weeks once he recovers from a broken toe. At inside linebacker are juniors Josh Matthews and Dan Miller, while Lake and Meeker cover the corners, and senior Sean Gilbert returns at the safety position. Throughout the preseason, the Eagles have looked good, adding to Antonucci’s theory that this new-look Eagle squad could meet with familiar results this year. “So far so good,” the coach said. “We’ve stayed away from major injuries and have played well. Our defense is coming together, though we’re still pretty young on this side of the ball.” Among the younger players who Antonucci said have looked particularly strong through the preseason are Martino, who the coach called a “heck of a ballplayer,” and Bunge and Farrell. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that will eventually be very good football players,” the coach said. “I still think we’re a state qualifier, and as the season goes on, some of our young guys will mature, and the young mistakes should go away, making us a pretty solid team. We’ve got to overcome our youth, and depth could be an issue.” The Eagles’ schedule includes some tough foes in their own right, such as Central, Ocean, Toms River North, Wall and Neptune. And Antonucci and his players know that this year, as in the years past, they enter every game with bull’s-eyes on their backs. “No doubt about it, everybody we’re playing wants to see if they can get back some of what we’ve taken over the last few years,” the coach said. The question is, will the new-look Eagles come back to the pack a bit, or are they still among the Shore Conference’s and the state’s elite teams? Wait and see. BY DOUG McKENZIE Staff Writer Three-time defending state champs open season tomorrow last_img

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