Barnegat senior Andrew Vernieri had the game of his life Friday night in West Long Branch and he did it in a single half.
Vernieri, a 6-foot, 185-pound wide receiver, owned the second half against Shore, scoring the decisive touchdown on a wildcat run and intercepting two passes — the second one at the Barnegat one yard line with 12 seconds remaining. Vernieri also intercepted a pass on the final play of the first half stopping a Shore march at the Barnegat 25 yard line.
Barnegat improved to 2-0 with a heart-stopping, 20-13, victory over Shore (1-1). It was Barnegat’s fourth-straight win over the Devils.
“I’ll be smiling in my sleep,” Vernieri said. “I’ve never had a game like that.”
Vernieri, who plays wide receiver on offense most of the time, but in short yardage spots, he is the feature back in Barnegat’s wildcat set.
“If you’re a Vernieri, you’re tough,” said Barnegat head coach Rob Davis. “We like to use different players to attack the defense is short-yardage situations.”
Vernieri capped a 10-play, 80-yard march on Barnegat’s second possession of the third quarter with a decisive, against-the-flow cut running right.
He saw say daylight, put his foot in the ground and plowed through Shore defenders just before the goal line.
“I have to give credit to my offensive line,” Vernieri said. “I just saw the hole open and I hit it.”
Barnegat played most of the second half without 1,000-yard rusher Nik DiLeo on offense. DiLeo, who was suffering from cramps, had 91 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He did play the majority of the second half on defense.
Vernieri picked off his first pass six plays into the fourth quarter. He jumped the route being run by Shore’s 6-foot-4 wide receiver Chris Kessler and snuffed the Shore march at the Barnegat 36 yard line.
After the Vernieri interception, Barnegat went on a clock-gobbing, 13-play drive moving to the Shore five yard line. On a fourth-and-one, DiLeo was stopped a chain-link short of the first down with 2:52 left.
Shore quarterback Mike McGhee engineered a magnificent, 15-play drive, in the closing moments. McGhee completed seven of eight passes on the march for 85 yards. He also scrambled for 21 yards. Shore did have a holding penalty on the final drive.
On third-and-10 from the 11, McGhee put the ball in the hands of Kessler (6 catches, 117 yards). However, a clean, but jarring hit by Vernier at belly-button level knocked the ball loose.
On fourth-and-10, McGhee was given plenty of time to throw. When the pressure finally came, he fired for Kessler in the middle of the field. Vernieri made the interception in front of the goal line to preserve the victory.
“I saw No. 27 (Shore’s Shane McLaughlin) trying to set a pick on me,” Vernieri said. “I ran under the pick and made the interception.
“I’m a senior, trying to have some fun, but at the same time I am trying to earn a scholarship,” Vernieri said. “I’m hoping to get a little film up.”
In the first half, Shore rushed for 157 yards and Barnegat 98.
Shore scored first on a 48-yard run by junior Jamie Mazzacco. Just four minutes and 32 seconds later, Barnegat tied it on a 48-yard scamper by DiLeo with 11:18 remaining in the second quarter.
Shore took the ensuing kickoff and drove 67 yards in 11 plays. Harvard bound halfback Shane McLaughlin capped the match with a three-yard run. The two-point pass failed, but Shore had a 13-7 lead with 5:54 left in the first half.
Barnegat responded with a 68-yard, six-play drive. Barnegat QB Matt Xiques, a righty passer, sprinted left then smoked a pass to Dorsey Criss for 42 yards to the one.
On the next play, Jojo Bivins muscled in for the score. The PAT kick was blocked and the first half ended in a 13-13 tie.
Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a subscription.