TOMS RIVER - T.J. Bellissimo carried 34 times against Colts Neck High School two weeks ago.
That was nothing.
The Southern Regional running back rushed 41 times Saturday night.
The senior gained 166 yards and scored two touchdowns as the Rams beat Toms River South 28-7 in a Shore Conference A South game. Southern (2-1) has won two straight and established itself as team to watch in A South and South Jersey Group IV.
"I'm a little tired, but I'm willing to do it for the team," Bellissimo said. "My offensive line does a great job. Coach (Chuck Donohue) does a great job with the lifting and conditioning program. He has trust in me, and I'm thankful for that."
Donohue wasn't pleased after the game when told Bellissimo carried more than 40 times.
"That's way too many times," Donohue said. "I thought 34 (in the 21-6 win over Colts Neck) was too much."
But the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Bellissimo didn't seem any worse for the wear. He led the Rams across the field for the postgame handshake.
"I have some lumps and nicks here and there," Bellissimo said, "but I'll do whatever I have to do for the team. I'm not complaining. I love it."
Southern features a more diverse offense this season than in the past. Bellissimo carried 28 times in the second half as Southern, with at least a 14-point lead, looked to control the ball and keep the clock moving.
Southern dominated the game on an unseasonably warm night before a crowd that filled the home and visiting bleachers. The Rams took advantage of Toms River South turnovers to build an early lead.
Southern defensive lineman Ryan Boyle recovered a fumble at the Toms River South 31-yard line.
Four plays later, quarterback Dan Higgins (8-of-17 for 90 yards) threw a 14-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Kevin Barreau to give the Rams a 7-0 lead with 4 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
Southern went up 14-0 when Higgins scored on an 11-yard run with 6:02 left in the second quarter. Wide receiver Alec Morris helped Higgins reach the end zone with an excellent downfield block.
Southern took complete control when it took the opening kickoff and drove 74 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown. Bellissimo carried 12 times on the 7:53 drive. He scored on a 2-yard run.
"I like Bellissimo because he's quick," Donohue said. "He makes that one jump. He turns that 2-yard gain into a 5- or 6-yard gain."
The Southern defense shut down the Indians' option offense. Toms River South's lone touchdown came on a fumble return. Morris intercepted a pass for Southern, Richie Weisz recovered a fumble and Alex Cattelona made a tackle for a loss.
Southern now begins a key part of its schedule.
The Rams host Brick Memorial (2-1) on Saturday. They play Jackson Memorial (3-0) at home on Oct. 8 and travel to Toms River North (2-1) on Oct. 14.
The Rams' season could be determined by how they fair in those three games.
Donohue doesn't want Southern looking ahead, as tempting as that might be.
"There are things we have to get better at, and there are things we have to change," Donohue said. "We just have to worry about Brick Memorial. It's easy for kids to get sidetracked. One week at a time."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Southern Regional 7 7 7 7-28
Toms River South 0 0 0 7-7
SR-Barreau 14 pass from Higgins (Yaiser kick)
SR-Higgins 11 run (Yaiser kick)
SR-Bellissimo 2 run (Yaiser kick)
TRS-Hart 19 fumble return (Tomkowich kick)
SR-Bellissimo 7 run (Yaiser kick)
Records-Southern 2-1; Toms River South 0-2