Matt Ahearn, the head coach of the Colts Neck High School football team, has a simple formula for success. “You win games up front,” he pointed out. That translates to winning the line of scrimmage, and as such, the offensive line is critical to success.
When describing what he looks for in offensive linemen, Ahearn stated the obvious: “big, strong and athletic” players. But there is something else the Cougar coach looks for. You might call it an intangible.
“They have to care. They have to have pride,” Ahearn explained. “They’re not going to get the headlines, so they have to love to do it. They’re like brothers in arms.”
Colts Neck has a group of offensive linemen who fit Ahearn’s mold and are a big reason why the Cougars are exceeding expectations in 2022. Tackles Charlie Whalen and Albert Yodakis, center Shea Bresnahan and guards Matt Liggio and JJ Cifelli – juniors all save sophomore Cifelli – are the force behind Colts Neck’s 4-1 start. Although Liggio is the lone returning starter from ’21, this group has gelled quickly and helped the Cougars grind games out behind a powerful ground attack. They have size in Whalen and Yodakis, who are both 260 pounds, and overall speed and quickness. Most importantly, they are like clockwork, functioning as a unit. They are brothers in arms, taking pride in opening holes for running backs and protecting the quarterback.
“We’ve seen a lot of defenses so far, and we’ve been able to adjust on the fly,” said Ahearn.
Tight end Aidan Manasso (Jr.) and fullback Jack Lefkowitz (So.) are also keys to the running back with their blocking.
Behind Whalen, Yodakis, Bresnahan, Liggio and Cifelli, Chris Scully has blossomed into one of the Shore Conference’s best running backs, picking up where he left off last fall. The junior ripped off 254 yards and two touchdowns against Freehold Township and 204 yards and another two TDs against Freehold Borough. He scored the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the game in the 15-7 win over Jackson Memorial.
“Chris is a good one,” said Ahearn. “He’s a workhorse. He worked hard in the off-season. He’s more patient this year giving his blockers time to set up.”
While Scully has continued the Cougar tradition of power backs that move the chains and maintain ball control, he can be dangerous in the open field. He showed some speed on a 50-yard gallop against Freehold. Will Surdez (Sr.) has been backing Scully up.
One of the biggest question marks facing the Cougars was replacing quarterback Tommy Fallon, a four-year starter behind center who led the Cougars through the pandemic challenges and a 21-7 record the last three years. Junior Dom Beninato has comfortably moved into the position.
“He has done a good job,” Ahearn said. “He has taken hold of the position. He’s athletic and can make plays with his feet and his arm.”
Complimenting Scully’s running has been Beninato’s passing. He’s used a number of different receivers led by Sal Marinello (Sr.), Matt Celli (Sr.) and Lefkowitz.
On the flip side of being able to run the ball, Ahearn added that defenses have to be able to stop the run. Colts Neck’s front seven, Ahearn noted, has done just that and put pressure on quarterbacks.
Middle linebacker Surdez is the big playmaker of the front seven. He makes plays sideline to sideline and averages more than 10 tackles a game. He is flanked on the outside by James Bertan (So.) and Eoin Fitzpatrick (Sr.), who make plays themselves.
In the Cougars’ 4-3, juniors Sam Surdez and Eric Loureiro are the ends, and Anthony Lombardi and Dean Collier are the tackles. They’ve controlled the line of scrimmage and have been pressuring quarterbacks. Colts Neck has allowed more than two touchdowns just once.
The backfield has Celli and Jack Tormey (Sr.) at the corners, and Ethan Sloane (Jr.) and Devin Donnelly (Jr.) are the safeties.
Colts Neck’s starting lineup was senior-heavy last fall, leading to a large turnover and a lot of new starters this year. However, Ahearn noted that a lot of 2022’s starters were able to see valuable playing time last fall.
“A lot of them got their feet wet last year playing secondary roles,” Ahearn explained. “They got experience.”
Experience is one thing and talent another. Colts Neck’s large junior class gave every indication that the program would be in good hands with them.
“We knew what we had when they were freshmen,” Ahearn remarked. “They were undefeated. We were hoping it translated to the varsity.”
All indicators are that it has. With a 3-0 record within the Shore Conference’s Constitution Division, the Cougars are in the driver’s seat as they navigate toward the championship.