Central Jersey Group II Championship Preview
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP II CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday at 7 p.m. at Kean University
(1) Lincoln (11-0) vs. (6) Raritan (6-5)
Raritan offensive stat leaders; Defense: Ryan Dickens, Jr., LB, 113 tackles, 16.5 TFL; Sean Ennis, Sr., LB, 73 tackles, 10 TFL, 2 sacks; Vito Aleo, Jr., DB, 63 tackles; Jordan Smith, Sr., FS, 46 tackles, 2 INT; Matt Thompson, Jr., DT, 5 sacks; Paul Bavaro, Jr., DT, 4 sacks; Sean Agar, Jr., DL, 4 sacks; Mike Gillen, Sr., DL, 4 sacks.
Lincoln's best wins: 18-0 over Union City; 40-6 over North 2, Group I finalist Hoboken; 22-17 over Non-Public Group II finalist Hudson Catholic.
Raritan's best wins: 40-3 over Matawan; 34-0 over Freehold; 42-13 over Delaware Valley in the semifinals.
Raritan keys to the game
1. Establish Derek Ernst early
Raritan's senior running back is the driving force for the offense and is having an outstanding senior season after breaking out as a junior. He leads the Shore Conference in rushing yards entering the state finals and has been a monster in the playoffs with 325 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus another 180 and three touchdowns on Thanksgiving. He has been held under 100 yards rushing only once this year, and that came against Non-Public Group III finalist St. John Vianney. Raritan being able to run the ball effectively would also keep Lincoln's explosive offense off the field.
2. Hit big plays off play-action
These depends on whether Ernst can find running room, but if he does it gives junior quarterback Marc Carnivale a chance to draw in the linebackers and hit his receiver over the middle. Raritan spreads the ball around nicely in the passing game among Nick Pasquin, Jordan Smith, Jahciere Jones and Mason Sheehan, so Lincoln won't be able to key on any one player specifically.
3. Score first
Lincoln has blown out basically every team on its schedule and is used to playing with a lead. The Lions are also the heavy favorite and are hungry to take home their second state title after losing in the finals last season. If Raritan can take an early lead it would give the Rockets the opportunity to set the tempo, and prove they can hang with the unbeaten Lions.
4. Force Zymire Gordon to make throws under duress
Gordon has thrown for 1,649 yards and 22 touchdowns and has two major weapons at wide receiver in Iowa-bound senior Frank Darby and senior Jason Harrison. The two have combined for 21 touchdown catches, and Darby has nearly 1,000 yards receiving on just 31 receptions. If Gordon has time to scan the field and Darby and Harrison have time to get into their routes, it's going to be tough for Raritan to keep Lincoln's offense under wraps.
5. Limit mistakes
Raritan has its hands full, so drive-killing penalties and costly turnovers must be avoided. The Rockets don't have to play a perfect game but they can't give Lincoln extra chances on offense or bail them out on defense.
Have to stop: Frank Darby, Sr., WR
Darby is an explosive wideout who is headed to Iowa. He averages over 30 yards per catch and is quarterback Zymire Gordon's favorite target. He is far from the only playmaker Lincoln has, but he is the most dangerous.
Underrated player: Marc Carnivale, Jr., QB
Ernst gets most of the attention when it comes to Raritan's offense, but Carnivale has quietly carved out an impressive season with 1,598 yards passing and 16 touchdowns. With Lincoln zeroed in on stopping Ernst and the Rockets' running game, Carnivale could take advantage of single coverage in the secondary.
X-factor: Raritan's offensive line
Ernst has to have a big game for Raritan to pull the upset, and that means the Rockets' offensive line will have to win the battle up front and consistently open holes for him. We'll find out early if that's the case, and if it is, Raritan should be in the game right to the end.
Notes: Raritan is looking for its second sectional title in its sixth appearance...Raritan's only state title came in 2004 when it went 12-0 with Andrew Mandeville at quarterback...Raritan started 3-0 before losing five straight, then rebounding with three more wins in a row to reach the finals...Three of Raritan's losses have come to sectional finalists St. John Vianney, Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank...Heading into the season Raritan had not won a playoff game since 2009..Lincoln has won 21 of its last 23 games.