Mario (Spanky) Medina of the Nottingham Northstars lead the pack on defense helping shut down and out Ewing’s offense in a game dedicated to Prosper Nwanko on Senior Day. Photo by Michael A. Sabo.
By Rich Fisher
Sep. 23: It was only fitting that the Nottingham High football team dedicated today’s game to senior defensive back Prosper Nwankwo.
Nwankwo was slated to be a starter this year until he suffered an ankle injury on the first day of practice that required surgery. The operation was done this week and Nwankwo joined his fellow captains for the coin toss.
And if ever a guy can be proud of a game that was dedicated to him, it was Nwankwo, as his defensive comrades played out of their minds.
Nottingham held visiting Ewing to 69 yards of total offense and minus-15 yards of rushing offense in taking an 18-0 win in a key West Jersey Football League Valley Division clash. The victory puts the Northstars (3-1) in a tie for first place with Hamilton at 2-0, while Ewing (2-1) dropped to 1-1 in division play.
“Awesome,” coach John “Big Dawg” Adams said of his defense. “They were incredible. Everybody thinks they can block little 93, Mario (Spanky) Medina, but he’s all over the place causing problems. Ridge (Pierre) is just a monster. We lost Mackenzie Henry, and we replace him with a guy like Bryce Fremgen.”
Medina had a monster game at tackle as did Na’Zair Rickerson at end. Fremgen is in his first year as a two-way line player, Nkemdi Eke is also at end and Pierre is a veteran of wreaking havoc inside. The group was outstanding in holding quarterback Tyrique Alston – a big-play threat whenever he gets the ball – to minus-16 rushing yards.
“The ends really contained their quarterback,” Adams said. “He’s the guy we were worried about and we just felt if we could squeeze him down and get him frustrated, we could hold him. I didn’t expect to shut them out, of course. But you take the best player away from most teams and you’re going to win.”
Rickerson was happy with the effort, but not gushing about it.
“I think we played pretty good today,” the junior said. “The defense held it down and the tackles took their gaps, the ends did what they had to do to contain. Everybody did what they had to do.”
“I’m proud of my team,” Medina said. “We were humble all week and practiced hard all week. You practice hard, you play hard.”
The linemen got plenty of help from their linebackers. Especially Jerry Andaluz, who seems to be a magnet to the ball carrier.
“Calvin Cox stepped in and did a great job in the third and fourth quarter,” Adams said. “Jerry Andaluz is a linebacker who everybody talks about on our team because he’s all over the place. He runs a hundred miles an hour.
“He’s like Mighty Mouse,” Adams continued, referring to a Saturday cartoon of his youth. “He’s everywhere to save the day. He’s just making plays everywhere.”
Adams’ praise did not stop there. He gushed about defensive coordinator Frank “The Godfather” Gatto and his underbosses, John Berei, Bob Harris and Andrew Paden. And of course, there was the secondary, whose coverage gave an already tenacious pass rush even more time to chase Alston.
“They’re all doing great things on our coaching staff with the kids,” Adams said. “The kids believe in the system. One man goes down the next man steps up. We have a young secondary. Robbie Bennett had a great game today, Cliff Harris, Derick Williams and Jaier Nelson all played outstanding football.”
Nelson did it in more ways than one, as he had several nice returns, including a 35-yarder off a free kick that set up the Stars’ final touchdown.
Points were definitely tough to come by as Ewing’s defense was equal to the task in the first half. Nottingham had to count on its defense early when it lost a fumble at its own 41. But sacks by Mighty Mouse, er, Andaluz, and Rickerson put the Blue Devils in a quick third-and-26.
The Devils next possession went to the Northstars 45 before Alston was hit for a 7-yard loss and was then intercepted by Cliff Harris. Despite a fake punt by Alix Oge that resulted in a 26-yard gain, the drive stalled on a missed field goal.
Nottingham finally scored on Dionte Nicholson’s 1-yard run with 3:08 remaining in the half to make it 7-0.
Nicholson had just 37 yards at halftime but Nottingham’s depth and fitness would pay off in the second half. The Stars offensive line began wearing down the Blue Devils while the defense and Oge’s punting continued to give Ewing terrible field position.
Oge kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it 10-0 and the defense actually scored some points early in fourth quarter when Medina sacked Alston in the end zone for a safety.
“I want to thank my line and Ridge Pierre for forcing it inside,” Medina said. “He forced it to me and I just hit him.”
The ensuing free kick was returned to the 45 by Nelson, and resulted in another 1-yard TD run by Nicholson, who finished with 124 yards on 34 carries.
“Coach Adams is real hard on conditioning,” Medina said. “We definitely wore them down.”
“Last week we wore (Hopewell) down,” fullback Eric D’Herron said. “Coach is always running us in practice and as the game goes on we progressively make teams get tired.”
D’Herron was a key contributor to the win in subtle ways. The senior provided a nice second option to Nicholson, who had 65 percent of Nottingham’s offensive touches entering the game. He caught three passes for 22 yards, rushed five times for 32 yards and served as Nicholson’s blocking back. He had 10-yard and 9-yard runs for first downs and caught an 11-yard pass from Logan Barber for another first down.
“When I get the chance to run the ball, I take advantage of the opportunity,” D’Herron said. “I gotta check out my line, they were blocking great. And the defense was playing shutout ball. It’s exciting to watch our defense like that. I love it.”
Adams feels D’Herron could be a part of that defense were he not needed on the other side of the ball.
“Eric has been a Godsend for us this year,” the coach said. “He fits in nice, he doesn’t complain, he blocks his butt off and he’s sneaky. We like to run him inside, we like to throw the ball to him. He’s a very quick player and he’s heady and brings a lot to the table. He’s got a great skill set. We’d like to use him more but he’s too valuable on offense to put on defense.”
After today, that defense looks just fine as it is.