Eagles Game Preview: Week 1

The Eagles Are Looking To Avenge Last Year’s Homecoming Defeat


Danny DeCrescenzo, Sports Editor

In Week 0, the Eagles started slow and finished strong before falling to the Manalapan Braves 23-13. With Week 1 in NJ football now underway, Middletown South will play its first of three consecutive games on the road, starting with the Lancers of Saint John Vianney. The Lancers not only beat the Eagles last year 9-0 at The Swamp, but they also did it on Homecoming Friday and snapped South’s 5 game win streak; in a sequel that will be as exciting as the original, Coach Antonucci’s crew is looking for some revenge. 

Evaluating the Lancers:

BIG NAMES RETURN: 4 truly star-caliber players return for this year’s SJV team. CJ Duell is entering his second year at quarterback and the now-senior will be more fully accustomed to his role as the leader of a Lancers team looking to make a statement. Kavon Chambers, the explosive running back fresh off a 2nd straight 1,000-yard season, is now in his senior year and eager to flaunt his incredible athletic ability again. Also returning for the Lancers is Josh East, the long and dynamic wideout who can double as a fearsome defensive back. Last but not least in this quartet of Lancer veterans is two-way stud Jayden Bellamy, son of NFL DB Jay Bellamy; he is already one of New Jersey’s hottest football recruits on both sides of the ball. On both sides of the ball, SJV has a nucleus of box-office playmakers.

A GLARING QUESTION MARK: For all of their firepower, the Lancers have a noticeable weakness. While they possess starpower on both sides of the ball, their offensive line is something that is completely up in the air. Their OL lost integral, D1-caliber pieces such as CJ Hansen and Paul Liseno to graduation; it’s pretty much a brand new, much smaller unit in 2019. Can the coaching staff get them to gel? If not, then CJ Duell may have a tough time orchestrating an offense behind a line that is ill-prepared to protect him; it could be a potential Achilles’ heel.

YEAR TWO: Joe Martucci is now in his second year as the coach of the SJV football team. He has plenty of experience with success, winning five sectional titles and ten divisional titles at Matawan Regional. After a rocky, 5-5 first season at SJV, Martucci is looking to propel the Lancers, a team seen as a bit of a wild card this season, back to the top of the Colonial Division and the Shore after working in the offseason to have the team adjust to his system. SJV’s matchup against Middletown South will be its first game in pursuit of their return to form, as they did not participate in Week 0, unlike the Eagles. 

Evaluating the Eagles:

STANDING THEIR GROUND: This year’s Eagles team starts and ends with their defensive prowess, especially with a strong senior core. Chris Lotito, the two sport sensation, is back for his last season on the gridiron before returning to the diamond; a two-way impact player, he’ll be an athletic free safety that could cause problems for any offense. Vinny Condito may be more known for his ability to carry the ball, but he is a ferocious free safety who packs quite a punch. Matt Krellin has always been a feisty cornerback who is hungry to add to his interception total. Throw in linebackers TJ Latore and Shane Murphy looking to cause havoc and you have a recipe for a bunch of turnovers.

WORKING OUT THE KINKS: While Middletown South’s defense can be a conglomerate of chaos, their offense is, at the moment, still meshing. Vinny Bonavita certainly did well in his debut, racking up 126 total yards, throwing two touchdowns, and keeping his INT count at 0. Matt Krellin, Bonavita’s favorite target, was the recipient of those two touchdowns, and he will certainly pose a threat every Friday. However, beyond The 234, Middletown South’s offense needs to fully recapture the magic that made the previous season so fun to watch. The trademark ground game needs to find their footing and be able to hold their own against athletic defenders all night long, something that will be a deciding factor as to whether the Eagles can march into enemy territory. Can Middletown South make their offense fire on all cylinders? Friday night, with a strong defense looming, should answer that question.

YEAR TWENTY-TWO: Coach Steve Antonucci is, once again, at the helm of the Eagles. His accomplishments need no introduction, and last year’s 8-3 American Division Champions could be considered his best Middletown South team since the 2015 state title. As a new crop of players fills the void left by a stellar graduating class, it will once again be the task of him and his staff to instill the discipline needed to work the hardest on and off the field, all while dealing with injuries and a brutal 2019 schedule. No matter what, even with a huge test coming on Friday, Antonucci has certainly shown he can keep his team on a winning path.

What are each team’s prospects?

THE LANCERS WILL WIN IF… Their stars show up. SJV has defeated Middletown South in three consecutive years in large part to the superior athletes they field. Last season, the Eagles went blow-for-blow with the Lancers until the very end of the fourth quarter, but all it took was one sizzling 75-yard TD run by Kavon Chambers to put the game to bed. There is no complex explanation here; if the Lancers maximize their athletic and playmaking advantage, they have a very good shot of winning their season opener.

THE EAGLES WILL WIN IF…. They play a spirited 48 minutes. When sitting down with the Asbury Park Red Zone Roadshow this week, Coach Antonucci remarked that despite a weak first half against Manalapan, “if we can every game from this point out the way we played those last 24 minutes of that game, we’ll be in good shape.” All it will take is for Middletown South to impose their will on the game immediately. Maybe that will expose the offensive line. Maybe SJV will feel the pressure of opening their season to such lofty expectations from their fans at home. Maybe the Middletown South defense can pick on the mistakes of the Lancers, and the Eagles, seeing red, could make them pay on the offensive side. The entire squad will have to buy in, but should they do so the Eagles could very well take home a gritty road win.

The Lancers host the Eagles on Friday, September 13th, at 7:00 PM.