TOMS RIVER – The Lacey Township High School football team faced a pair of precarious situations Saturday night.
Twice the Lions solved their dilemma by throwing the ball to Christian Tutela.
Twice he scored.
Tutela caught three touchdown passes in all to lead Lacey to a 34-22 win over Toms River North in a Shore Conference A South game. Lacey (2-0) is No. 9 in The Press Elite 11. Lacey quarterback Tom Kelly completed 15-of-22 passes for 261 yards and four touchdown passes.
Tutela appears to have a natural instinct to get open and make would-be tacklers miss. He caught five passes for 128 yards and ran twice for 36 yards.
“I don’t know why there’s not 11 guys on (Tutela),” Kelly said with a laugh.
Tutela, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior wide receiver and running back turned the game in Lacey’s favor with a touchdown catch in the second quarter and another in the third.
The Lions started fast, scoring on their opening possession. But Toms River North (0-2) then grabbed the lead and the momentum behind a dominant running game. The Mariners led 15-7 with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first half. Lacey had the ball first-and-10 at its own 20-yard line.
“Morale was a little low,” Kelly said.
Tutela then received a few words of encouragement from fellow wide receiver Travis Covell.
“Covell came up to me before the play and said ‘You have to take it to the house. We need the momentum,’ ” Tutela said. “
Kelly threw an inside screen to Tutela, who weaved his way through the Toms River North defense for an 80-yard touchdown to cut the Mariners’ lead to 15-13 at halftime.
“When I got the ball in my hands, I had to make something happen,” Tutela said. “I got the ball, saw the opening and I was out.”
The score boosted Lacey’s confidence.
The Lions grabbed the lead for good on their first possession of the second half.
They faced a fourth down-and-8-yards-to-go and at the Toms River North 30-yard line.
Kelly found Tutela wide open over the middle for a touchdown to give the Lions a 20-15 lead with 6:52 left in the third quarter. Lacey never trailed again.
The Lacey defense preserved the lead. The Lions stiffened against the run after the Mariners drove 80 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown on their first possession of the game. Lacey defensive lineman Chandler Hammer sparked the defense with two tackles for losses.
The Lions also received a strong offensive performance from running back Chris Jensen, who rushed 12 times for 84 yards and a touchdown and clinched the victory with a 37-yard touchdown catch on screen pass with 2:31 left in the game.
With the win, Lacey remains one of the favorites to win the A South title. But the Lions know aren’t carried away with their early success.
“This is just the beginning,” Tutela said.
Lacey Township 7 6 14 7 – 34
Toms River North 8 7 0 7 – 22
LT – Tutela 4 pass from Kelly (Davis kick)
TRN – Lewis 1 run (Santiago pass from Husni)
TRN – Moorer 35 run (Dougherty kick)
LT – Tutela 80 pass from Kelly (pass failed)
LT – Tutela 30 pass from Kelly (Davis kick)
LT – Jensen 9 run (Davis kick)
TRN – Moorer 1 run (Dougherty kick)
LT – Jensen 37 pass from Kelly (Davis kick)