Some eye-opening wins, a group of dominant performances by preseason heavyweights and an ugly brawl that derailed two teams’ seasons before they barely began made for a memorable Week One in Shore Conference football.

I was actually out watching some Shore grads do their thing in Penn State’s wild, 42-39 loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field this past weekend. Southern grad Mike Gesicki had 4 catches for 47 yards, Red Bank’s Garrett Sickels made 3 tackles and Barnegat’s Manny Bowen had 5 tackles, including one for a loss, for the Nittany Lions.

Senior Mike Gawlik set a school record for career touchdowns as Jackson Memorial rolled to a season-opening win over Jackson Liberty. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Also, if anyone, like say your younger brother who graduated from Penn State, convinces you that riding seven hours on an old school bus with 20 other guys on bench seats with no air conditioning and a tatted-up driver wearing a sailing captain’s hat for a weekend of football is a great idea, you should probably just take your own car.

One thing I will say is that judging by the large swath of Penn State fans we hung out with all weekend, the pitchforks and torches are starting to line up at James Franklin’s door.

But enough about that, let’s get to the recap.

Early Statements

The two wins that jumped out right away were Asbury Park’s 14-7 win over defending Class B Central and Central Jersey Group I champion Shore Regional, and Wall’s impressive 34-14 victory over Ocean.

I wrote last week that there are always those teams that sneak up on everybody after being overlooked in the preseason and end up being Top 10 teams, and those two certainly made their case.

Asbury Park’s win immediately stamps the Blue Bishops as a contender for the Class B Central title considering Shore was on a 20-game winning streak. Their identity under coach Tim Fosque has been hard-nosed defense, and they held a team that has had one of the most prolific rushing offenses in the conference without a rushing touchdown.

That quickly makes this week’s game against Keyport into a crucial one given that the Red Raiders are coming off their own solid win against Point Beach to give new head coach Jay Graham his first win at his alma mater.

If Asbury Park can make it unscathed through the first three weeks, that could set up a great match-up of the Bishops’ defense against the high-powered Mater Dei Prep offense, which helped Seraphs and new coach Dino Mangiero roll to a 35-0 win over Keansburg to start the season.

Asbury Park football made a strong opening statement with its win over Shore Regional. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Wall announced itself as a contender in Class B North with its win over Ocean thanks to a dominant performance by its offensive line in the second half. The Crimson Knights roared back from a seven-point deficit with four straight touchdowns thanks to a rushing attack powered by Sean Larkin and Brady McNally, who combined for four scores in the win.

On the other side, the defense registered a second-half shutout against an Ocean team led by Pittsburgh-bound quarterback Kenny Pickett, which included an acrobatic interception near the goal line by Shane Richey.

The victory is almost as big psychologically as in the win column for the Crimson Knights given that they had yet to win a season-opening game under third-year head coach Dan Curcione. Two years ago they ran into the Red Bank Catholic team that went on to win a state title and last year they watched much of their season unravel when the centerpiece of their offense, quarterback Matt Cluley, went down with an injury in a loss to Red Bank.

I think it could be a similar case for Wall's Thanksgiving opponent, Manasquan, which picked up a crucial season-opening win of its own in knocking off Long Branch. The Warriors are coming off consecutive losing seasons and are looking to get the swagger back at a program that has more state titles than any other team in Shore Conference history. Running backs Connor Morgan and Canyon Birch helped lead the way for the Warriors.

Top performers

Make sure to get your vote in for the Shore Sports Network Player of the Week from this weekend's action.

If you're going pure stats, quarterback Mike Husni's 369 total yards and five total touchdowns Toms River North's 41-7 win over Southern has to be right there. If you're going for the best job given the caliber of opponent, I would lean toward Shane Richey's touchdown catch and clutch interception at the goal line off an FBS-bound quarterback in Wall's takedown of a preseason Top 10 Ocean team.

Big Man TD of the Week

Have to give it up for Brick's Dean Helstowski, who rumbled 90 yards with a fumble for a touchdown in the Green Dragons' win over Brick Memorial on a hot Saturday afternoon.

 

Central, Toms River East ineligible for playoffs

Certainly the most unfortunate news from the weekend is that Central and Toms River East have been declared ineligible by the NJSIAA to participate in the state playoffs this season, according to SSN's Bob Badders.

Both teams each had three players ejected from a brawl that occurred during Central's 42-0 victory on Friday night. By NJSIAA rule, any team that gets three ejections before the playoffs occur cannot participate.

It's a particularly crushing blow for Central, which is off to a 2-0 start under new coach Justin Fumando. Given that teams make the playoffs with 3-5 records at the cutoff these days, the Golden Eagles had a very good chance at being part of the field in South Jersey Group IV.

That's why even though games can get heated, players have to remember that their actions can have consequences that affect way more than just them. Having to stand up in front of your teammates and apologize for ruining any chance at playing in the postseason is not something any player wants to do.

On the board

A group of new coaches all picked up their first wins this weekend to start off on the right foot.

As mentioned above, Keyport's Jay Graham and Mater Dei Prep's Dino Mangiero had happy debuts in Class B Central. Also getting a win in his debut was Point Boro's Matt Cilento, the Panthers' former defensive coordinator, who guided the Panthers to a 31-12 win over Pinelands.

Rumson-Fair Haven's Jerry Schulte also had plenty to savor after a 41-0 win over Raritan in his debut after 11 years as the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator.

Flexing their muscles

While the bottom of the Top 10 rankings saw a little turbulence, the teams at the top all looked like the heavyweights they were predicted to be in the preseason.

No. 1 Middletown South beat RBC 49-14 to pick up right where it left off the previous season. Senior Maxx Imsho looked like an early Defensive Player of the Year candidate and also had a touchdown run. Had to be some salt in the wounds for RBC a little bit as sophomore running back Anthony Summey, who transferred from RBC to Middletown South only a few weeks ago, added a pair of touchdown runs.

The victory also shows how things are cyclical in high school football. I remember in 2013 when RBC beat Middletown South 41-13 in the midst of their 40-game winning streak against Shore Conference teams there was some general groaning from Shore Conference football fans that the Caseys maybe shouldn't be playing Shore teams any more. Middletown South had also become the team that struggled to finish the job in the playoffs.

Fast forward three years, and now the pendulum has swung back the other way. The Eagles are coming off a 12-0 season and are the heavyweights again. You knew they weren't going to be down for long, just like RBC won't be down for long under Frank Edgerly.

It's pretty clear that the preseason notion that Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney were once again on a collision course in Class A Central looks to be accurate. The Bulldogs beat Raritan 41-0 and the Lancers beat Matawan 31-0 in a pair of division games.

Given that this senior class at Rumson has been special since the minute they arrived as freshmen, this could end up being the best team of this four-year run that has produced three straight state championships. Players like Mike Ruane, Mike O'Connor, Matt Vecchiarelli and more have been mainstays since they were sophomores and all had big nights in the win over Raritan.

The offensive line paved the way for a ridiculous 13.8 yards per carry in the win, although the best run was this Mike O'Connor 90-plus-yard scamper that got called back.

 

Chris Chukwuneke and Johnny Buchanan helped St. John Vianney roll, and now the Lancers have Raritan in a bid to get another step closer toward defending their division title.

No. 2 Toms River North, No. 3 Manalapan and No. 5 Jackson Memorial all scored lop-sided wins in games where they were heavily favored to handle their business. One of the more impressive performances was No. 8 Middletown North's 34-7 win over Neptune behind Connor Welsh and Donald Glenn. The Lions' offense was predicted to be one of the Shore's best and looked like it against a quality program.

Gawlik reaches milestone

Jackson Memorial senior running back Mike Gawlik set the school record for career touchdowns with 41 in the win over Jackson Liberty, according to Jackson historian Jim Colbert. He passed early 2000s great Nick Castellano, who was a first-team all-state player in his day and one of the best pure high school players I have covered in this area. Gawlik is carving out a similar legacy, and both of them have been integral parts of state championship teams.