STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - Logan Sheehan prevented touchdown passes for the Southern Regional High School football team last season.
This year, he throws them.
Sheehan, a senior in his first varsity start at quarterback, threw three touchdown passes as Southern beat Freehold Township 26-6 in the season opener for both Shore Conference teams.
"I wasn't nervous. I was excited," Sheehan said. "I came out and just wanted to play. All my coaches were saying the same thing 'be calm. Be calm.' After our first touchdown (a Rob Yaiser 1-yard run in the second quarter), I cooled down a little bit."
Sheehan completed 7-of-16 passes for 150 yards. He showed good presence in the pocket, scrambling five times for 38 yards.
"It's still a process, but I thought he handled himself very, very well," Southern coach Chuck Donohue said of Sheehan. "He looked like a quarterback. He looked like a kid who had played there."
Sheehan was not Southern's only offensive standout.
Mike Gesicki, one of the state's top players, caught two passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. Running back Yaiser rushed 14 times for 68 yards. Linebacker Ryan Jensen sparked the Southern defense with four tackles for losses.
Southern fans filled the home bleachers to watch the opener in humid conditions that got cooler and windier as the game wore on.
Southern finished 9-3 last season, losing to Williamstown 43-20 in the South Jersey Group V final.
This year the Rams are mixing veterans with newcomers. Gesicki is easily Southern's best-known player. Twenty-two Football Bowl Subdivision colleges - including Ohio State, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Penn State, Miami (Fla.) and Florida State - have offered the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Gesicki scholarships. Two Miami assistants watched Thursday's game from the Southern sidelines.
Sheehan intercepted eight passes last season. But the Rams needed a quarterback. Donohue approached Sheehan about playing the position in the offseason.
"He's really tough," Donohue said of Sheehan. "I don't think he knows how tough he is. He's an unbelievable worker. I felt he was athletic enough. He had played on the field as a safety. If he understand the defense, he can understand the passing game."
Southern methodically wore down Freehold.
The game turned in Southern's favor late in the final minutes of the second quarter.
The Rams drove 85 yards in eight plays to take a 13-0 lead with 1 minute, 39 seconds left in the first half. Sheehan found Gesicki over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown pass. Gesicki caught the pass at the 5-yard line and outsprinted Freehold defenders to the corner of the end zone. Yaiser set the touchdown up with runs of 21 and 11 yards during the drive.
Sheehan's second touchdown pass came in the third quarter when he tossed the ball to Vinnie Colecchia in the flat. Colecchia sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown to put the Rams up 19-0.
On his final touchdown pass, Sheehan lofted a pass down the sideline to Colecchia, who caught the ball in stride for a 60-yard touchdown.
"It's definitely a different job playing quarterback," Sheehan said. "Last year, I was captain of the secondary. I'm the quarterback now. I'm telling people what to do."
Thursday's win should give the Rams and Sheehan confidence. Southern plays at highly-regarded Toms River South next Friday.
"We definitely have to get better," Sheehan said.
EXTRA POINTS: Southern dedicated its field to former coach Ron Emmert at halftime. Emmert coached the Rams from 1971-86. He led Southern to a Shore Conference division title in 1972.
"Many coaches have made an imprint on this field," Emmert said. "I'm humbled and honored. I've been a lucky and blessed man."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Freehold Township 0 0 0 6 - 6
Southern Regional 7 6 6 7 - 26
SR – Yaiser 1 run (Yaiser kick)
SR – Gesicki 26 yd pass from Sheehan (kick missed)
SR – Colecchia 24 yd pass from Sheehan (kick missed)
SR – Colecchia 60 yd pass from Sheehan (Yaiser kick) FT – O'Brien 1 run (Kick missed)