LACEY TOWNSHIP - Ask fans at Saturday's South Jersey Group III semifinal between Lacey and Pemberton who played well and they would almost certainly start their list with junior running backs Jarrod Molzon and Jake Dabal - and with good reason.
Molzon ran for 213 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns and Dabal for 155 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown as the third-seeded Lions beat No. 6 seed Pemberton 33-14.
Lacey will face second-seeded Timber Creek in the semifinals next week.
Ask Molzon and Dabal who played well and their list starts with fullback Mike Stuppiello.
Stuppiello, the unheralded star of Lacey's ground
attack, paved the way for Molzon and Dabal to make big run after big run Saturday.
"We've got a 230-pound defensive tackle pretty much blocking for us who can move a little bit," Dabal said. "He creates great holes. It's awesome. I love it."
Stuppiello was at his best on a long run by Molzon in the fourth quarter with his team holding a 26-14 lead.
The senior chipped on a lineman as he led Molzon into a hole off the right side.
Stuppiello plowed through a linebacker before leading Molzon down the right side for a 51-yard gain, getting a piece of at least three other Pemberton defenders before going down in a pile of players within yards of Molzon inside Lacey's 10-yard line.
"I saw Jarrod going and I wanted him to go all the way so I was chasing him and anybody that got in his way I tried getting in front of him," Stuppiello said. "It's a whole team effort. The O-line is doing great and (Molzon and Dabal) are running awesome. I'm just another fit in the puzzle."
There is nobody Molzon and Dabal would rather run behind than their 6-foot-1, 235-pound fullback, who also had a sack from his defensive line position.
"Every time I'm behind him I know he's going to get a good block," Molzon said. "On that (51-yard gain), he gave me everything he had to stay in front of me and probably got me another 20 yards. You can't ask for more from a fullback than that."
Stuppiello and football are a match made in heaven.
He's the kind of player that looks like he's having a bit too much fun taking and delivering big hits.
"I love this sport and every single bit of it," Stuppiello said, donning a jersey that was barely recognizable after spending much of the day in the muck and grime of Lacey's water-logged field. "Everything about football I just love, and the best way to play football is just having fun."
"He'll get hit and just laughs," Molzon said. "The other teams get frustrated because he's laughing the whole time. He just goes every play hard and gives everything he's got. He's just a good football player."
Dabal ran for 100 yards on 10 carries in the first half, highlighted by a 54-yard touchdown run that gave the Lions a 7-0 lead.
He picked up 55 more yards on four carries before getting relieved of his duties as running back by Molzon after suffering a minor oblique injury. He continued to play defense and said he will be ready to go next week.
Molzon stepped into the backfield and the team didn't skip a beat. He ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone.
"Ever since we were little (in youth football) we've been like thunder and lightning," Molzon said of the running back duo. "He pounds it. I pound it. We'd just go back-and-forth so no team could key on us. We just know if it's our turn to step up, we just have to step up. We don't really care who does it as long as it gets done."
It's no secret that Lou Vircillo-coached teams are going to run.
The Lions threw only eight times Saturday, completing three passes.
"We're just a smash-mouth football team," Dabal said. "We just run it down their throats until they get tired and they can't cover it anymore. It always works."
Contact John O'Kane:
Pemberton 6 8 0 0-14
Lacey Township 7 7 6 13-33
LT-Dabal 54 run (Molzon kick)
P-Monroe Jr. 31 run (kick failed)
LT-Cicardo 1 run (Molzon kick)
P-Reeder 51 pass by Raynor (conversion good)
LT-Uveges 2 pass by Cicardo (kick failed)
LT-Molzon 1 run (conversion failed)
LT-Molzon 7 run (Molzon kick)
Team stats P LT
Rushing 95 408
Passing 142 36
First downs 10 22
Penalties 6-51 4-25
Turnovers 2 0
Rushing-Monroe Jr. 10-61, Raynor 6-25, Roberson 2-8, Moore 2-1 P; Molzon 28-213, Dabal 14-155, Cicardo 16-40 LT.
Passing-Raynor 10-25-142-2 P; Cicardo 3-8-36-0 LT.
Receiving-Reeder 6-109, Roberson 2-16, Gonzales 1-9, Wilson 1-8 P; Jensen 2-34, Uveges 1-2 LT.
Records-Pemberton 5-4, Lacey 7-2.