Central Jersey Group I Championship Preview
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP I CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday at 4 p.m. at Kean University
(1) Shore (11-0) vs. (3) Palmyra (10-1)
Shore's best win: 20-13 over Central Jersey Group III finalist Rumson-Fair Haven.
Palmyra's best win: 35-34 over Keyport in the semifinals.
Shore keys to the game
1. Get pressure on Max Smyth
Smyth leads the state in passing yards and has thrown 30 touchdowns in Palmyra's wide-open, spread offense. He has good size at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, but isn't a big threat to make plays outside the pocket. He wants to set his feet and have time to scan his reads. Shore will no doubt have some schemes cooked up to make him uncomfortable, but winning the battle up front with the defensive line is key so the Blue Devils don't have to send extra players on blitzes. Erik Graham, Jeremy Radaelli, Mike Rosati and company can wreck Palmyra's gameplan in a hurry if they can control the trenches. If Smyth has consistent time to throw it could get dicey for Shore, even though it has very good defensive backs in Jack Britton, Matt Pennel and Duke Russo. Smyth's top target is senior Kelvin Harmon, a four-star, top-50 wide receiver recruit who is committed to South Carolina. He has over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sophomore Taj Harris is equally as dangerous and another potential FBS recruit who is approaching 1,000 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns. If Shore can't get pressure and has to cover those two all game, Palmyra will be in business.
2. Control the clock
This is Shore's bread and butter, and the Blue Devils will need to continue to have long, time-consuming drives to keep Palmyra's high-powered offense off the field. Then again, if Shore's offensive line is dominating up front and Jack Britton and Doug Goldsmith are breaking long runs the Blue Devils would sign up for that scenario.
3. Stay out of third and long
When Shore wants to throw the ball it has been very efficient, but if it has to take to the air it will be in trouble. As a Delaware Wing-T offense, the Blue Devils passing game is basically non-existent. They only throw if they think they can hit a big play or to keep teams honest. Penalties would be the biggest culprit in short-circuiting drives, so if Shore can avoid holding penalties it should be able to play its typical game.
4. Tackle well in space
Palmyra and Smyth will air it out, but they aren't strictly a deep passing team. Harmon and Harris are very dangerous after the catch, and Smyth is comfortable hitting them on short passes and letting them pick up yards after the catch. Shore's linebackers and secondary need to make sure five-yard passes don't turn into 50-yard gains.
5. Stop the run
Shore has an excellent run defense, and even though most of the focus will be on Smyth and the Panthers' passing game, Palmyra does have a 1,000-yard running back in sophomore Elijah Karnjay. He averages almost nine yards per carry and has 14 touchdowns, and when he is finding consistent holes it makes Palmyra's offense that much tougher to defend. If Shore can take away the run right away it can at least make Palmyra one-dimensional.
Have to stop: Max Smyth, Sr., QB
Palmyra has several offensive weapons, but it starts with the state's leading passer. If Shore gets him off is game and frustrates him with pressure it will take away the best chance the Panthers have at pulling the upset.
Underrated player: Jeremy Radaelli, Sr., DL
Shore's defense has solid players at every position, including Radaelli along the defensive line. He has four sacks on the year and has played well in Shore's biggest games.
X-factor: Jack Britton, Sr., RB
Doug Goldsmith is the workhorse at fullback and gets the majority of the carries, but Britton is the home-run threat. He is averaging an absurd 11.9 yards per carry and has a team-high 13 touchdowns. His speed adds another dimension to Shore's usual physical attack.
Notes: Shore is will be playing for its second consecutive title and seventh overall...The Blue Devils can finish off their first undefeated season since 1981...Shore last won back-to-back titles in 1981-1982...The Blue Devils have the No. 1 scoring defense in the Shore Conference (5.8 points per game) for the second straight season and have allowed more than one touchdown in just one game...Shore enters with a program-record 19-game winning streak...Palmyra won eight state titles before the NJSIAA playoffs began in 1974 but is looking for its second state title since in its four appearance in the finals. The Panthers' last NJSIAA title came in 1978.