EDISON — Following Timber Creek’s 26-21 win over St. Thomas Aquinas, head coach Brian Wright addressed both teams as they listened in a circle.
“The way you fought to the end – it’s Brian Meeney,” he said. “You have much to be proud of. Keep fighting for each other.”
And that summed up Meeney in a nutshell, someone who exuded that fighting spirit, forcing impressionable teenagers to always keep going and molding players to their full potential on and off the pitch.
Meeney, who coached St. Thomas Aquinas for the past three seasons, died suddenly in March at age 46. A few days before his death, Wright said they spoke for about two hours and discussed a game or scrimmage. (Wright and Meeney were friends and teammates at Rowan University.)
WEEK OF FOOTBALL 0 BLITZ:Big Central Conference High School Football Coverage Headquarters
Once he died, the South Jersey team only had to travel 80 miles to open in Middlesex County.
On Friday, St. Thomas Aquinas honored Meeney in a pregame tribute with poignant comments from athletic director Jerry Smith, who coached Meeney at JF Kennedy-Iselin in the early 1990s. On hand was the Meeney Randi’s wife and two daughters.
When the action started, Timber Creek took an early lead and led 19-0 at halftime. Trailing 26-7 in the fourth quarter, St. Thomas d’Aquin rallied with two touchdowns and nearly scored in the final minute.
First, STA’s Jayden Young connected with Sherief Guinyard for a long pass to the Timber Creek 6-yard line. Two plays later, Young took the lead for a 1-yard score with 8:47 remaining to make it 26-14.
With just under 9 minutes remaining, Isaiah Marelis forced a fumble that Steve Coghan recovered in Timber Creek territory. Joel Marelis scored 4 yards with 5:59 left to make it 26-21.
After a short punt from the Chargers, St. Thomas d’Aquin had one last chance and faced a fourth-and-a-go from the 11-yard line with 33 seconds left. Young escaped from a heavy rush, but his pass went out of the end zone as Timber Creek held on for the win.
What this means
Despite the loss, St. Thomas Aquinas and his team of veterans showed they were going to be a force in the Big Central Conference United Gold Division.
St. Thomas Aquinas’ Najee Lovejoy had two interceptions, while Timber Creek had four turnovers.
Chase Conway picked up a fumble and heartbreaking interceptions were Marcus Upton and Zyheem Coleman Frazier, who dipped into the end zone on a reverse pass in the third quarter.
On the final play of the first half, the 6-foot, 155-pounder jumped up to catch a TD pass, keeping one foot to the left side of the end zone after a throw from Victor Oquendo to take it to 19 -0 before intermission. .
Nasir Reason Dallas rushed for a 14-yard touchdown to give Timber Creek a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
For Saint-Thomas d’Aquin, Young led the offense with confidence and threw a 5-yard touchdown to Benjamin Bussière on the third quarter opener to make it 19-7.
The key games
After the Reason Dallas score, Timber Creek picked up a fumble at the kickoff near midfield. The Chargers headed for the 25-yard line when Lovejoy came forward past the receiver for the interception just outside the 10-yard line.
Saint Thomas Aquinas seemed to have the momentum, but Timber Creek forced a punt. Coleman Frazier took the punt down the left side, zigzagged through midfield and finished down the right side for the 80+ yard touchdown return to give his team a 12-0 lead with 2: 39 to go in the quarter.
Israel Bey of the Trojans intercepted the pass on the two-point conversion attempt.
They said it
Wright on playing Meeney’s team, “They took on his personality. Even though he wasn’t there physically, you could see them playing Brian Meeney football. I could hear him in my head laughing at me at the end of the game, like ‘You know it wasn’t going to be easy. We will fight until the end. Now that it’s over and we have the win, it’s kind of emotional to see how those kids fought all the way.
St. Thomas Aquinas coach Tarig Holman on the team handling Meeney’s death, “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for these kids. The only thing you always watch is the way the children cry. You also need to keep their minds up. It’s not just about creating healthy bodies, but we also need to make sure everyone’s mental health is correct. It’s hard for kids to have to deal with something like that. So I thought our kids had handled what was a really, really difficult situation really well.
“They took something that was negative and turned it into a positive. Wonderful tribute to a great coach who built a foundation here. We just want to keep trying to build this program and make it the best it can be.
Holman on the game against Timber Creek and the team’s comeback: “One of the things we try to do with our program is to be the best. And if you want to be the best, you have to play the best. To have an opener against a team like Timber Creek who are a powerhouse in South Jersey, always have been, says a lot about who we are. … I think our kids showed a lot of character and a lot of heart in the way they fought tonight, so I’m really proud of them.
St. Thomas d’Aquin travels to New Providence next Thursday for a Big Central Conference crossover game at 7 p.m. On Friday, Timber Creek travels to Camden Catholic.