Shore Regional Repeats as Shore Conference Girls Flag Football Champion
MIDDLETOWN -- Shore Conference girls flag football is still in its infancy, but through two seasons the league has its first budding dynasty.
Senior quarterback Julian Iannuzzelli tossed six touchdown passes, including three to standout junior Rylee Drahos, to fuel a Shore Regional offense that scored on all six of its possessions to defeat Middletown North, 38-26, and claim the Shore Conference championship for the second year in a row.
Iannuzzelli also threw touchdown passes to Clara Ford, Mia Agresti, and Lexi Bosco and connected with Drahos and Bosco on successful PATs. After falling behind, 7-0, on the first play of the game, the Blue Devils scored on three straight possessions with two defensive stops mixed in to take a two-score lead and never look back.
"They beat us (in the regular season) but we were ready to win this game," Iannuzzelli said.
"It's pretty awesome to come back and win it again after we lost multiple talented seniors," Drahos said. "It's really cool to be a part of something like this."
Middletown North entered with an undefeated record and wasted no time jumping out to a 7-0 lead. Left-handed standout quarterback Valentina Fanetti dropped back on the first play of the game and lofted a 40-yard touchdown pass into the hands of Aimee Tanglao and then connected with Tanglao on the extra point for a quick Lions lead.
Shore answered on the next possession when Drahos caught the first of her three touchdowns. The Blue Devils then came up with two clutch defensive stops that helped them open up a 19-7 lead late in the first half.
"That was huge," Drahos said of the defensive stops. "There were multiple plays where I knew it could be a game-defining moment and clearly those were."
After forcing Middletown North to turn the ball over on downs for the first time, Shore went down the field and took a 13-7 lead when Iannuzzelli hit Ford with a touchdown pass and then tossed the conversion pass to Drahos over the middle. After holding Middletown North on downs again, Drahos worked her way from left to right and got open in the corner of the end zone where Iannuzzelli found her for a touchdown with 36.5 seconds left in the first half. The PAT pass was broken up, but the Blue Devils had opened a 12-point lead.
Middletown North did not back down, however, and answered right away when Fanetti threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Brucato with just 1.9 seconds remaining in the half. The conversion pass was incomplete and Shored led 19-13 at halftime.
The teams traded touchdowns on the first five possessions of the second half and it was the cushion that Shore built over the first 20 minutes that held up. The Blue Devils opened the second half with Iannuzzelli throwing a touchdown pass to Agresti and Middletown North firing back on a score from Fanetti to Brucato.
Middletown North needed a defensive stop to get back into the game but Shore's offense could not be stopped. Iannuzzelli threw her fifth touchdown of the game when she tossed a short pass to Bosco, who juked around a defender and across the goal line, and then hauled in the extra point to put Shore up, 32-19, with 12:24 left in the game.
The Lions were able to make it a one-possession game with under seven minutes left when Fanetti fired a touchdown pass to Emma Robson. Tanglao then caught the PAT pass to bring Middletown North within 32-26. Shore's perfect offensive game continued on the next possession and the Blue Devils were able to ice the game when Drahos ran a shallow cross into traffic and Iannuzzelli threaded a pass between two defenders for her sixth touchdown.
"We knew it was going to be difficult," Drahos said. "Middletown North is a good team and beat us earlier in the year but we came out and did what we had to do."
"We talked to them about how hard it is to go back-to-back, so it's awesome," said Shore head coach Marc Costantino. "Last year we had a loaded team and Rylee is really the only one back and she played part-time. The girls worked hard and kept getting better and better, and it's hard because they're all playing other sports doing AAU, doing travel. But we just kept working. They were easy to coach."
Drahos had a fantastic year on the basketball court where she led Shore to the Central Jersey Group 1 sectional final. Ford, Agresti, and Bosco are standouts on Shore's girls soccer team that won its 10th straight sectional title and fifth Group 1 state championship this past fall. Iannuzzelli doubles up in the spring as the Blue Devils' quarterback and the softball team's starting second baseman.
"It was stressful, but I did it because I wanted to be here," Iannuzzelli said. "This means everything to me. I want the future girls to have this experience and have it be a varsity sport. I want to start a flag football club in college."
The competition has been excellent through two seasons with Shore, Middletown North, Holmdel, and Pinelands reaching the semifinals in both years. But going into year three, it's clear who is the team to beat.