By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

The Washington Township High football team want to be considered one of the top teams in the South Jersey Group 5 section, and in order to do that head coach Mike Schatzman knows he has to put together a challenging schedule to make sure his boys are ready for postseason play.

It doesn’t get a lot more challenging than going up against Toms River North — a team that played in the South Jersey Group 5 championship game a year ago — at this year’s kickoff event in Ocean City, the Battle at the Beach at Carey Stadium.

The Minutemen came away with a 28-21 loss, but Schatzman said his boys found out a lot about themselves, and what the competition is going to be like down the road.

Washington Township quarterback Jared Dzierzgowski breaks a tackle for some of his 100-plus rushing yards on Saturday at the Battle at the Beach. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“They are obviously a preseason top-15-ranked team in the state and they have a lot of guys back after having played in a South Jersey Group 5 final last year, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. I’m proud of our guys and how they fought until the last whistle. There were one too many mistakes and taking care of the football was a big thing. Some of our negatives hit a little tougher than theirs. I know we’ll see them down the road (in the state playoffs), that’s a good possibility,” Schatzman said. “We’re looking to get better. It’s early, obviously. This was our first time playing a Week 0 game, and (the preseason) was quick. It went by fast. But we’re looking forward to next week and getting ourselves better. We know it’s a long year and starting out hot is important, but we have a tough schedule.”

Mariners quarterback Micah Ford gave the Minutemen all they could handle, rushing 29 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including a 3-yard run in the third quarter that snapped a 14-14 tie and gave Toms River North the lead for good.

On Washington Township’s next possession, Mariners defensive back Jeremiah Pruitt picked off a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown that gave North a 28-14 lead, but Washington Township refused to go away. Quarterback Jared Dzierzgowski connected with Logan Perez to convert a fourth down early in the fourth quarter, and later Dzierzgowski capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, pulling the Minutemen within 28-21 with 10:36 to go.

The teams traded punts and eventually Washington Township got the ball back with less than two minutes to go, but sophomore defensive back Nasir Jackson picked off a tipped pass for Toms River North at midfield and returned it to the Washington Township 14-yard line with just 55 seconds remaining. The Mariners then got a first down to ice the victory.

Ford got the Mariners on the board first, capping off a long drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. The drive ate up most of the first quarter, but within a minute Township had tied the game, as Dzierzgowski ripped off a 64-yard touchdown run. Toms River North responded with another scoring drive as Ford found Tareq Council over the middle for a 38-yard scoring strike, but the Minutemen tie the game at 14 on a 4-yard touchdown run by Dzierzgowski that was set up by a long fumble recovery from Jason DiBlasio.  

Township linebacker Logan Brown looks in for a defensive call during the second half of the Minutemen’s loss to Toms River North. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“They were really big and physical up front, and we knew that from seeing them on film. That quarterback (Ford) is a special player and there’s a reason why he touches the ball a lot. You know what’s coming — but sometimes it’s the Jimmy’s and Joe’s and not the Xs and Os. I give our guys credit, they fought and I thought we tired them out a little bit and had them on their heels, but they just made one or two more plays than we did, and that’s how high school football is,” Schatzman said. “There are lessons learned in a loss. I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad loss — we played four quarters tough with them and we can take a lot of things we did today and build on that. Obviously you want to win, and I don’t want to say a loss is good, but a loss can be productive as far as us moving on throughout the rest of the year.”

Schatzman said he believes his team has what it takes to see the Mariners again in the state playoffs, and the Minutemen will start getting a chance to prove him right on Friday night when they travel to Eastern. After that, it’s a tough stretch that includes Kingsway, Holy Spirit and Williamstown.  

“We have a lot of inexperienced guys on defense and we knew that was one thing coming in that we knew was going to be a question mark for us,” Schatzman said. “Offensively, we started out hot, scoring twice on the first seven plays of the game. Moving the chains and sustaining more drives will be something we’ll look to do more of going forward, but I tip my cap to Toms River North. They are a really good football program and there is a reason why they’ve been in the conversation the last few years of the best teams in Group 5. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season, and hopefully we see them again down the road.”

What’s Next: Washington Township travels to Eastern on Friday at 6 p.m. Toms River North travels to Rumson-Fair Haven on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays