Running back T.J. Bellissimo scored three times to give Southern Regional High School a come-from-behind 21-18 victory over visiting Toms River East on Friday night as the Rams clinched their first Shore Conference A South title in team history.
Southern also won the title in 1972 while in Class C but shared it with Wall Township and Asbury Park.
"Every kid dreams of a championship, and that's the same at Southern," Southern coach Chuck Donohue said. "This team got to live the dream, and they had to come back from two touchdowns down to do it. They had a champion's heart, and did it."
The Raiders jumped out to a 15-point lead in the first quarter. Before Friday's game, Toms River East (1-5) had yet to score more than 13 points in a game.
Bellissimo finally put the Rams on the board with a 1-yard run to end the first quarter. Jerry Caporale kicked a 20-yard field goal in the second quarter to increase the Raiders' lead going into halftime.
Things changed quickly in the second half. The Rams' defense didn't allow a Toms River East first down or any points and the offense turned it on.
Bellissimo scored his 15th and 16th touchdowns of the season. The first came on a 12-yard pass from Dan Higgins. Higgins then found Matt Kelly for Southern's first successful 2-point conversion of the season.
Bellissimo's other touchdown was a 4-yard run with 5 minutes, 15 seconds left in regulation.
Mike Gesicki helped set up the winning touchdown when he caught his only pass of the game on a third-down play. Gesicki caught a 31-yard pass from quarterback Higgins after reaching over the defender and wrestling the football away. The catch set up Southern at the Raiders' 14-yard line.
Joe Fiorelli helped secure the win for Southern with an interception at Southern's 20-yard line late in the fourth quarter and the Rams eventually let the clock run out. It was Fiorelli's third interception of the season. Ryan Boyle also had an interception on the first play in the fourth quarter when TRE was still leading 18-15.
Toms River East (15) 3 0 0- 18
Southern Regional 7 0 8 6- 21
TRE-Rosengrant 46 pass from Funicelli (Gudzak pass from Caporale)
TRE-Gudzak 5 run (Caporale kick)
SR-Bellissimo 1 run (Pandolpho kick)
TRE-Caporale 20 FG
SR-Bellissimo 12 pass from Higgins (Kelly pass from Higgins)
SR-Bellissimo 4 run (Yaiser kick failed).
Records-TRE 1-5, Southern 6-1 (5-0).
Rushing-Southern, Bellissimo 30-136.
Passing-Southern, Higgins 10-15-127-3.
Receiving-Southern, Bellissimo 2-18, Barreau 3-29, Pandolpho 2-31.