2015 NJSIAA Playoff Preview
With 27 teams qualified, the 2015 NJSIAA Football Playoffs will have a massive Shore Conference presence with championship contenders in multiple brackets.
The road to a state sectional championship begins Friday Nov. 13 and Saturday Nov. 14 with the quarterfinals, continues the following week wth the semifinals and concludes the weekend of Dec. 4-6 at neutral sites MetLife Stadium, High Point Solutions Stadium, Kean University and Rowan University.
Among the teams that will vie for a state title are six No. 1 seeds and three No. 2 seeds which will have home-field advantage through the championship games. Top-ranked and undefeated Middletown South is the No. 1 seed in North Jersey Section 2, Group IV, Brick Memorial is the top seed in Central Jersey Group IV, two-time defending champions Rumson-Fair Haven is the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group III, defending champion Shore Regional is the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group I and St. John Vianney is the top seed in Non-Public Group III.
Brick in Central Jersey Group IV, Ocean in Central Jersey Group III and Asbury Park in Central Jersey Group I are each seeded second in their respective brackets.
The Shore Conference took home a record six sectional titles last season and could potentially break that record with Toms River North, seeded fourth in South Jersey Group V, having emerged as a title contender.
Let’s take a look at each section involving a Shore Conference team and break down their chances be hosting a trophy in December.
North Jersey Section 2, Group IV
8-West Windsor-Plainsboro North (5-4) at 1-Middletown South (8-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Sayreville (5-4) at 4-Middletown North (6-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Summit (6-3) at 3-Colonia (7-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Woodbridge (5-3) at 2-Phillipsburg (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
Middletown South is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and No. 1 in the state by NJ Advance Media, and enter as a substantial favorite to capture its 10th sectional and first since 2006.
The Eagles have been virtually perfect since the second quarter of a Week One win over state-ranked South Brunswick and are solid in every phase of the game. Senior quarterback Matt Mosquera has been efficient in the passing game and is also one of New Jersey’s best kickers, and senior Cole Rogers leads a rushing attack that also features standout junior James McCarthy. Senior linebacker Dylan Rogers leads a ferocious defense.
Middletown North got a boost from the return of senior running back Chad Freshnock, who missed six games before returning to rush for over 100 yards in a Week Nine win over Freehold Township. Junior quarterback Donald Glenn has thrown for over 1,400 yards and junior wide receiver Brendan Kube is among the Shore Conference’s leading receivers.
Middletown South is the overwhelming favorite in the quarterfinals, and should Middletown North get past Sayreville it would set up two straight games between the Thanksgiving Day rivals. On the other side of the bracket is defending champion Phillipsburg, which is seeded second. The Stateliners will be favored in a semifinal game against either a Colonia team that Matawan beat during the regular season, or a Summit team that is having a down year by its standards and has recently been a Group II team.
Championship prediction: Middletown South over Phillipsburg.
Central Jersey Group V
8-Hunterdon Central (3-6) at 1-South Brunswick (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Manalapan (5-4) at 4-Trenton (5-4), Saturday at 1 p.m
6-Edison (3-5) at 3-Old Bridge (5-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Freehold Township (4-5) at 2-New Brunswick (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
Manalapan is the defending champion but is having a down year after going 43-5 over the last four seasons, while Freehold Township is in the playoffs for just the second time ever and first since 2001.
Manalapan is led by senior running back Marcus Salinas, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. The Braves have a very winnable road game in the first round at Trenton, but the road would get significantly harder from there with top-seeded South Brunswick potentially waiting.
Freehold Township’s “Air Raid” offense led by Cory Davies, who is in his first season as Patriots head coach, catapulted them into the postseason for the first time in 14 years. Senior quarterback Jack O’Brien has thrown for 1,805 yards and 19 touchdowns with a receiving corps led by senior Nick Galanti and his 592 yards and 9 touchdowns. Juniors Adrian Rybaltowski, Anthony Lotti, Tyrique Hall and Max Nowak each have other 20 receptions on the season, as well. Senior Quinn Cleary leads the defense with 109 tackles, while Lotti has 92.
Freehold Township gets a rematch with New Brunswick in the first round after the Zebras won 38-28 during the regular season. If the Patriots can pull off the stunner they would potentially face an Edison team they already beat 52-28 or an Old Bridge team that would not be a huge favorite. The Patriots have never won a playoff game.
Championship prediction: South Brunswick over New Brunswick.
Central Jersey Group IV
8-Jackson Liberty (4-5) at 1-Brick Memorial (7-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Allentown (5-4) at 4-Freehold (6-3), Saturday at 1 p.m.
6-Steinert (6-2) at 3-Burlington Township (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Jackson Memorial (5-4) at 2-Brick (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
One of the two sections that has a heavy Shore Conference flavor is Central Jersey Group IV, where two all-Shore matchups will occur in the first round with Brick Memorial hosting Jackson Liberty and Brick welcoming Jackson Memorial for the second time this season.
Jackson Liberty’s Week Eight win over Point Boro helped the Lions secure the second playoff berth in the program’s nine-year history. They will be a heavy underdog against a Brick Memorial team that is ranked sixth in the SSN Top 10 and enters 7-2 playing a grueling schedule. Senior quarterback Ryan Van Wickle and senior wide receiver/kicker Braden Yorke lead the Lions, while the Mustangs have one of the Shore’s top offenses with senior quarterback Tim Santiago, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards .
Brick and Jackson meet in a rematch of a regular-season game won by Brick, 2-0, in a driving rainstorm. Both teams were undefeated at the time, and the loss for Jackson was the first of three in a row. The Jaguars are 2-4 since and have been without junior starting quarterback Dan Barker for a few weeks, but will be primed for a rematch. The Jaguars are the defending champions and will lean on their power rushing attack against a stout Brick defense.
Freehold is the other team also in the bracket and hosts Allentown in the first round. A win by the Colonials would likely set up a trip to face Brick Memorial in the semifinals.
The winner of the Jackson Memorial-Brick game would be facing either Steinert or Burlington Township, which are solid teams but ones either Shore Conference team would be favored over. The potential for an all-Shore Conference final hear is high, and the potential for an all-Brick championship between the Mustangs and Dragons makes this one of the most interesting title races to follow.
Brick’s last state title came in 2013, while Brick Memorial last won in 2008. Freehold’s last sectional title was in 2010.
Championship prediction: Brick Memorial over Brick.
Central Jersey Group III
8-Rahway (3-5) at 1-Rumson-Fair Haven (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Matawan (6-3) at 4-Hopewell Valley (7-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-South Plainfield (6-2) at 3-Red Bank (8-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Hamilton West (4-4) at 2-Ocean (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
If all breaks right in the first round, the Central Jersey Group III playoffs can just be re-named the Shore Conference Tournament.
With top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven, second-seeded Ocean and third-seeded Red Bank all favored, plus a red-hot Matawan team as the No. 5 seed, the probability of all four semifinalists being from the Shore is very high.
Rumson is seeking its third straight state title after winning the last two Central Jersey Group II titles, while Matawan is the defending champion in the bracket. Ocean is looking for its first sectional title since 2005, while undefeated Red Bank is having its best season in a generation and is hoping to bring home the program’s first state title since 1975.
We’ll assume a first-round sweep to set up an all-Shore final four, and that would pit champion versus champion in Rumson against Matawan in one semifinal. Rumson is led by junior quarterback Mike O’Connor and junior tailback Matt Veccharelli in its run-heavy attack, but also features senior John Kingdon and 6-foot-6 sophomore wide receiver Elijah McAllister. The Bulldogs defense is among the best in the Shore Conference with standout junior linebacker Mike Ruane roaming sideline to sideline and senior linebacker Max Pfrang making the calls.
Matawan, meanwhile, is on fire after starting the season 0-3. Sophomore quarterback George Pearson and senior running back Makiya Ceasar were both injured early in the season, but their return sparked a six game winning streak that have the Huskies ready to defend their title. Senior linebacker Aliem Shaw and senior defensive back Shawn Ramcheran lead a fast and physical defense. Senior Adam Elliot is also one of the Shore’s most clutch kickers.
On the other side of the bracket would be Red Bank and Ocean in a rematch of a Week Three game won by Red Bank, 16-6. The Bucs are in the midst of a potentially historic season as they are looking to finish undefeated with division and state titles for the first time in 40 years. The senior-laden Bucs are led on offense by quarterback Jack Navitsky, running back Alim Godsey and Syracuse-recruit Sadiq Palmer at wide receiver. Defensive end Sean Naiman, linebacker Chris Outterbridge and defensive back Matt Reardon lead a defense that is ranked sixth in the Shore in points allowed. Like Matawan the Bucs also have one of the Shore’s best kicker’s in Jack O’Connor.
Ocean has a top-10 offense in the Shore with senior running back Tyler Thompson rushing for over 1,000 yards for the third time in his career and junior quarterback Kenny Pickett among the leading passers. Receivers Greyson Stoothoff and Joey Aldarelli are Pickett’s main options on the perimeter, while running back Ruquan Dean is a versatile threat who has burned several teams as a receiver out of the backfield.
Championship prediction: Rumson-Fair Haven over Red Bank.
Central Jersey Group II
8-Roselle (3-5) at 1-Lincoln (9-0), Saturday at noon
5-A.L. Johnson (5-3) at 4-New Providence (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Raritan (3-5) at 3-Point Boro (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Spotswood (7-2) at 2-Delaware Valley (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
Raritan and Point Boro are the only Shore Conference teams in this section and will square off for the second time this year in the first round.
The Panthers clinched a share of the Class B South division title in Week Nine and are looking for their first sectional title since going 12-0 in 2005. Senior quarterback Noah Husak leads a triple-option rushing offense that also features his twin brother Nate at fullback, seniors Gene Franceschini and Devin Connelly at running back and junior Hayden Frey at wide receiver. Point Boro also has one of the Shore’s top defensive units with 11.7 points allowed per game.
Raritan is led by senior running back Derek Ernst, who has run for over 1,000 yards this season. The Rockets will try to snap a five-game losing streak after starting the season 3-0. Raritan fell to Point Boro 33-27 in Week Seven in a game that came down to the final play, so the Rockets will have plenty of motivation to salvage their season.
Whichever team emerges victorious will have to travel to either seventh-seeded Spotswood or second-seeded Delaware Valley, which was a sectional finalist last season, in the second round. Top-seeded and unbeaten Lincoln is the heavy favorite in the bracket anyway, so it will be a long and arduous road for either Point Boro or Raritan to bring home a state title.
Championship prediction: Lincoln over Delaware Valley.
Central Jersey Group I
8-Burlington City (3-5) at 1-Shore (8-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Middlesex (5-3) at 4-Florence (5-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Point Beach (5-4) at 3-Palmyra (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Keyport (5-4) at 2-Asbury Park (6-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
This is another section with several Shore Conference teams, but the team that clearly stands out from the pack is defending champion Shore Regional.
The Blue Devils are the top seed, undefeated and on a program-record 16-game winning streak. They also have already defeated Asbury Park, Point Beach and Keyport during the regular season, as they all compete in Class B Central.
Keyport at Asbury Park in an interesting first-round game and a rematch of a 28-21 win by Asbury Park in Week Six. Running backs Desmond Underwood and Ky’Sun Pryor have combined for close to 1,500 yards rushing this season for Keyport, while Asbury Park’s pass-heavy offense is led by quarterback Davon Thompson and wide receiver Jaedon Stephens.
Point Beach will try to pull the upset against a 7-1 Palmyra team on the road to start its postseason. A win would match the up against a familiar division opponent. The Garnet Gulls beat Asbury Park 13-6 in overtime to start the season and lost 21-7 to Keyport in Week Three.
Shore is an overwhelming favorite to reach the final and win its second straight and seventh overall sectional title behind a potent rushing attack and a dominant defense that is ranked second in the conference. Running backs Jack Britton and Doug Goldsmith have paced the offense, and both are standouts on defense. Seniors Connor Rempel and Erik Graham are also key players on both sides of the line.
Championship prediction: Shore over Asbury Park.
South Jersey Group V
8-Rancocas Valley (4-4) at 1-Lenape (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Kingsway (4-4) at 4-Toms River North (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Washington Township (5-3) at 3-Williamstown (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Millville (5-3) at 2-Cherokee (6-2), Friday 7 p.m.
Toms River North is the only Shore Conference team in a section that is routinely considered the best public school bracket in New Jersey. The Mariners are seeded fourth, but there is no easy road with Lenape, Cherokee and Williamstown all powerhouse title contenders.
Toms River North has the Shore’s third-highest scoring offense at 37 points per game with several standout playmakers. Junior quarterback Mike Husni is approaching his second straight season with over 1,000 yards both rushing and passing, and senior running back Asante Moorer is a punishing back with over 1,100 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Juniors Darrion Carrington and Bryce Watts lead an explosive receiving corps and sophomore running back Daryn Blackwell adds another piece to a dynamic group of skill players. Toms River North’s defense is led by All-Shore defensive tackle Dashon Copes and junior linebacker Pete Laquaglia.
This is a brutal bracket, but I'm going with the Mariners to run the gauntlet and finish off an amazing late-season run to win the title.
Championship prediction: Toms River North over Williamstown
South Jersey Group IV
8-Toms River South (4-4) at 1-Hammonton (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Mainland (4-4) at 4-Timber Creek (5-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Central (6-3) at 3-Bridgeton (6-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Winslow (5-4) at 2-Shawnee (6-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
Both Shore Conference teams in the section are big underdogs as the top four seeds are expected to advance. Toms River South gets an 8-1 Hammonton team which has only lost to a 7-1 Williamstown team in the first round. Central gets a Bridgeton team that has won six games in a row following an 0-3 start.
Central junior running back Mike Bickford enters the game as the Shore Conference’s leading rusher with 1,382 yards and 19 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Mike Miserendino has combined for over 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns, so the Golden Eagles have the ingredients to pull the upset. If they can they would likely face Shawnee, which is the two-time defending champion.
Championship prediction: Shawnee over Hammonton
South Jersey Group III
8-Sterling (3-5) at 1-Delsea (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Seneca (5-3) at 4-Lakewood (6-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
6-Woodrow Wilson (6-2) at 3-Camden (6-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Oakcrest (5-3) at 2-Pemberton (7-1), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Lakewood is the only Shore Conference team in the bracket, and has an uphill battle with top-seeded Delsea on its side of the bracket. A first-round game with a tough Seneca team is no picnic, either.
The Piners will continue to lean on star senior Amir Tyler, who is a gifted playmaker on both sides of the ball. He has rushed for over 900 yards this season and is averaging over 10 yards per carry and has scored 15 total touchdowns. Lakewood won a share of the Class B South division title, its first since 2000, and is looking for its first state title since 1986.
Championship prediction: Delsea over Camden.
Non-Public Group III
8-Donovan Catholic (3-5) at 1-St. John Vianney (9-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Red Bank Catholic (7-2) at 4-Pope John (7-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
6-Bishop Eustace (5-3) at 3-Delbarton (7-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
7-DePaul (3-6) at 2-Camden Catholic (8-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
A section that has long been dominated by northern New Jersey schools has a Shore Conference team as the defending champion and another as the favorite.
Red Bank Catholic won the title last year and is seeded fifth this season. The Caseys will travel to Pope John for a first-round game. Top-seeded St. John Vianney is the No. 1 seed and undefeated, and a favorite to reach the final and take home its first sectional title since 1980.
The Lancers host Donovan Catholic in the first round - a team they beat 63-21 in Week Seven - and are in line to face Red Bank Catholic in the semifinals if the Caseys defeat Pope John. That would be one of the most anticipated matchups in the Shore considering Red Bank Catholic’s dominance over the last five years and the Lancers in the midst of a historic two-year run.
St. John Vianney has the Shore Conference’s No. 1 offense at 45.6 points per game, and is led by senior quarterback Anthony Brown. The Boston College recruit is among New Jersey’s best quarterbacks and will enter the playoffs having throw for 1,751 yards and 27 touchdowns. He has also run for 510 yards and seven touchdowns. He leads a deep pool of talent that includes junior running back Chris Chukwuneke, senior running back Khalil Haskins and senior wide receivers Mike Stapert, Jeff Sheard and Marcque Ellington.
The Lancers’ defense is also a high-ranking unit with 8.9 points allowed per game, good for fifth best in the Shore. The unit is led by linebackers Calvin Beaty and Tyler Tedeschi.
Red Bank Catholic isn’t the juggernaut it has been over recent seasons, but is still a very good team with senior UConn recruit Eddie Hahn at quarterback. Despite missing a game, Hahn is still among the Shore’s leading passers with 1,531 yards and 11 touchdowns. he has also rushed for 409 yards and four touchdowns. Seniors Dylan Murphy and Mike Wilen power the rushing attack with over 1,000 yards combined, and senior Mike Balzofiore is Hahn’s top target with 30 catches for 564 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Murphy and Wilen also lead the Caseys’ defense in tackles with 95 and 75, respectively, while Charlie Gargiulo and Nasir Darnell have 7 and 6 sacks, respectively. Junior Max Hazard has four interceptions to lead the secondary.
On the other side of the bracket, Delbarton is the third seed and was a sectional finalist last season, losing to Red Bank Catholic. The Green Wave also defeated St. John Vianney in the semifinals last season. Camden Catholic is undefeated and the No. 2 seed, but the most dangerous threat for either St. John Vianney or Red Bank Catholic may be DePaul. The Spartans are 3-6 and seeded seventh, but have the No. 1 running back recruit in the country in Kareem Walker and play a brutal schedule in the Big North Conference’s United Division.
Championship prediction: St. John Vianney over DePaul.
Non-Public Group II
8-Mater Dei Prep (3-6) at 1-Montclair Kimberley Academy (9-0), Saturday at 1 p.m.
5-St. Mary (Rutherford) (7-2) at 4-Hudson Catholic (8-1), Saturday at 4 p.m.
6-Holy Cross (5-4) at 3-Immaculata (7-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Holy Spirit (4-4) at 2-St. Joseph (Hammonton) (7-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Mater Dei Prep qualified for the playoffs by virtue of Newark Academy, who was the original No. 8 seed, opting out of the tournament. The Seraphs are led by sophomore quarterback Kyle Devaney and senior wide receiver Eddie Lewis. Devaney has thrown for over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns while Lewis, who missed time with an injury, is a game-breaking threat on offense, defense and special teams.
The Seraphs have a tough road, however, with undefeated Montclair Kimberley Academy as the No. 1 seed and first-round opponent, and perennial juggernaut St. Joseph-Hammonton on the other side of the bracket.
Championship prediction: Immaculata over Montclair Kimberley Academy.