STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - Billy Shimko and the Southern Regional High School football team went from ecstatic to heartbroken in a matter of seconds on Friday night.
The Rams defense stacked Toms River North running back Cody Alves in the backfield midway through the second quarter. Before Alves went down to the ground, the ball popped into the air and directly to Shimko, who ran it back for the touchdown.
At least that's what he thought.
Alves was ruled down on the play.
On the very next play, North quarterback Demetri Davis sprinted left and outran the Southern defense for a 75-yard touchdown as the Mariners took the lead and the momentum.
North (5-1), the No. 7 team in The Press Elite 11, carried that momentum into the second half and beat the Rams 27-7 in a Shore Conference game.
"That was big," Shimko said of the play. "It was just a huge momentum swinger. We kind of put our heads down for a second, made a small mistake, and they got us. Good teams take advantage of mistakes that you make."
The loss drops Southern to 3-3 and makes the Rams a longshot to qualify for the South Jersey Group IV playoffs.
"That took the air right out of us," said senior outside linebacker Rob Boyle, who led the Rams defense with seven tackles. "We thought we were doing fine. We had momentum and then that happened. That killed us."
Shimko gave Southern an early spark.
North received the opening kickoff and marched down the field. A 10-play, 67-yard drive took the team to Southern's 5-yard line.
On fourth-and-2, Davis took the snap, headed toward the line and then tried a jump pass.
"I saw him pull up so I looked and read his eyes," Shimko said. "He threw the ball and I was in the right place. I got a great block by Alec Morris and a couple other of my teammates. I was just trying not to get caught from behind."
Shimko intercepted Davis' pass at his own 1-yard line and ran it back 99 yards for the touchdown.
After North scored on a 15-yard yard touchdown run by Chris Hunter, Shimko burst into the backfield and blocked the ensuing extra point as the Rams clung to a 7-6 lead.
But it was all Toms River from there.
The Mariners had three players rush for more than 90 yards and finished with 319 rushing yards as a team. Davis ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries and has now rushed for more than 100 yards in all six of North's games.
Cody Groves ran for 104 yards on seven carries with a touchdown and Hunter ran for 93 yards on 14 carries and a score.
"They've got a lot of good players," Boyle said. "Their quarterback is probably the best we'll see all year. He's quick and he's hard to stop. …Their backs run hard. They're hard to bring down."
The Rams would likely need to win all of their remaining games and get some help from other teams to qualify for the playoffs.
"We can win out," Shimko said. "We play tough every week. We're just making small mistakes that are hurting us and we'll get them fixed in practice this week."
Contact John O'Kane:
Toms River North 6 7 7 7 - 27
Southern Regional 7 0 0 0 - 7
SR-Shimko 99 INT return (North kick)
TRN-Hunter 15 run (kick blocked)
TRN-Davis 75 run (Gulla kick)
TRN-Groves 52 run (Gulla kick)
TRN-Davis 3 run (Gulla kick)
TEAM STATS TRN SR
Rushing yards 319 92
Passing yards 50 96
First downs 14 7
Penalties 1-10 3-25
Turnovers 1 1
Rushing-Toms River North: Davis 16-121, Groves 7-104, Hunter 14-93, Alves 2-1; Southern Regional: Sullivan 14-37, Shimko 11-31, Bellissimo 6-24.
Passing-Toms River North: Davis 2-10-50-1; Southern Regional: Sullivan 5-16-96-0.
Receiving-Toms River North: Carrington 2-50; Southern Regional: Barreau 1-46, North 1-23, Shimko 2-14, Morris 1-13.
Records- TRN 5-1, Southern 3-3.