PISCATAWAY - Micah Ford has defeated opposing defenses all season by mostly using his legs to run the ball.
Sunday, in the NJSIAA Group 5 championship game at Rutgers University's SHI Stadium against Passaic Tech, the Toms River High School North junior quarterback used his arm in the first half to lead the Mariners to a 28-7 win leaving the game six times with leg cramps in the second half.
Toms River North became the first Shore Conference to win a state championship in this first season of the NJSIAA playing out to public school state group championships. The Mariners also became the first team in state history to go 14-0 in a season. They and Caldwell, which went 13-0 after its 18-14 win over Rumson-Fair Haven in the Group 2 final on Sunday, are the only NJSIAA schools who went unbeaten on the season.
Junior running back Josh Moore capped the scoring with an 80-yard TD run with 2:27 remaining. That run came three plays after Toms River North stopped Passaic Tech (11-3) on downs at the 8-yard line. A TD there would have pulled the Bulldogs within a score with plenty of time remaining and Ford hobbled with the cramps.
"That fourth quarter got a little hairy there, but I think our team showed their character,'' Toms River North coach Dave Oizerowitz said. "I was glad that we were able to do almost in the manner in which we did. It shows you just really what this team is made of. Nothing surprises us with what we do.''
One for the (record) books
The Mariners set a state record for points with 660, according to South Jersey historian Chuck Langerman, and are the only Shore Conference team to win more than 12 games in a season.
There is no doubt this Toms River North team, besides becoming the first Shore Conference public school team to win a state group championship, can now officially take its place among the great teams in the history of the Shore.
"It's amazing,'' Moore said. "We got to do it for our seniors. That was the biggest thing going into this game. We don't have a lot of seniors, but they meant so much for this program. It meant the world to us.''
Micah Ford's magical season
Ford had one of the great seasons in Shore Conference history. He rushed for 2,360 yards and 33 TDs after his 109 yards Sunday. He threw for 1,203 yards and 17 TDs after he went 6-for-7 for 117 yards with the three TDs Sunday. According to Langerman, he is the fourth player in state history and second in Shore Conference history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and throw for more than 1,000 in the same season. The others are: Freehold's Ashante Worthy in 2017 and, in 2010, Old Tappan's Devin Fuller and Paramus' John Robertston.
He reminded everyone Sunday he can throw the ball.
"It felt good. I kind of felt like a quarterback,'' Ford said. "It showed what I can do as a quarterback.''
"We know because we see it every day in practice. We can throw the ball as good as any team, and we have the wide receivers to do it and the line that gives him protection,'' Oizerowitz said.
Sophomore Camryn Thomas steps up
Ford's TD passes were 24 yards to sophomore Camryn Thomas, 10 yards to senior tight end Ty Kazanowsky and 48 yards to sophomore Nasir Jackson
Thomas was taking the place of suspended standout junior receiver Tareq Council, who was ejected from the state semifinal. The TD pass to Thomas capped a nine-play, 69-yard drive on Toms River North's first possession. Thomas also took Council's place at cornerback on defense.
The Kazanowsky TD pass was on a third-and-10 where Ford lofted a screen over the middle. Kazanowsky rumbled into the end zone to conclude a nine-play, 55-yard drive.
Just as it looked like it was going to be 14-0 at halftime, Ford, on a second and 9 from the Bulldogs' 48, evaded the pass rush, scrambled to his left and threw to a wide-open Jackson, who caught the ball around the 10 and raced into the end zone with 53 seconds left in the first half.
The 21 points the Mariners put up in the first half was seven more than Passaic Tech had allowed in a game all season.
The cramping issues did create some nervous moments for the Mariners because it took away the biggest running threat on offense and a key player in the secondary.
Ty Kazanowsky has a message
Ford said the cramps occurred in both of his legs.
"Once he starts to cramp, it doesn't slow down,'' Oizerowitz said.
"I felt bad for the kid,'' said Kazanowsky, who had a team-leading six tackles and two pass break ups. "He was in pain, but he trying to play through it. It was getting tough to see him have to go off the field.
Kazanowsky said he had a simple message as Ford kept going to the sideline.
"I was like, 'Micah, we got this for you. Our defense will get a stop and we will win this game','' Kazanowsky said.
The key stop came with 4:17 remaining and let everyone know a Toms River North defense, which allowed just 115 points on the season but did not receive the same publicity as the offense, is also high-quality.
"Defense is a mentality,'' Ford said. "That (the key stand) showed we have grit. We haven't faced adversity all year. This showed how we react to it.''
Toms River North 28, Passaic Tech 7
Passaic Tech 0 0 0 7 - 7
Toms River North 7 14 0 7 - 28
TRN: Camyrn Thomas 24 pass from Micah Ford (Yianni Papanikolas kick).
TRN: Ty Kazanowsky 10 pass from Micah Ford (Papanikolas kick).
TRN: Nasir Jackson 48 pass from Ford (Papanikolas kick).
PT: Trashon Dye 47 run (Efrain Sanchez kick).
TRN: Josh Moore 80 run (Papanikolas kick).
RUSHING: PT: Trashon Dye 17-117, Cashmere Jones 7-11, RaySun Belton 1-2, Travon Dye 1-2, Jovan Tyrell 1-1, Ma'Kao Taylor 2-11. TRN: Josh Moore 10-127, Micah Ford 23-109, Jeremiah Pruitt 8-42, T.J. Valerio 1-1, Team 2-(-7).
PASSING: PT: Ma'Kao Taylor 5-22-0-98. TRN: Ford 6-7-0-117. Valerio 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: PT: Michael Kiritsis 2-65, Jones 2-32, Belton 1-1. TRN: Nasir Jackson 3-58, Pruitt 1-25, Thomas 1-24, Ty Kazanowsky 1-10.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Shore NJ football: Toms River North beats Passaic Tech in Group 5