Central Jersey Group IV Championship Preview
*Note: This game will be broadcast live on the radio by Shore Sports Network on 1160/1310 a.m. and streaming audio online right here on ShoreSportsNetwork.com.
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP IV CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday at 4 p.m. at Rutgers University
(1) Brick Memorial (9-2) vs. (7) Jackson Memorial (7-4)
Brick Memorial stat leaders: Tim Santiago, Sr., QB/DB, 1,566 yards rushing, 15 TD, 4 INT on defense; Tony Thorpe, So., RB, 1,205 yards, 17 TD; Elie Lavarin, Sr., RB/DB, 533 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT; Matt Cuppari, Sr., K/WR, 6 FG, 2 receiving TD; Mike Nobile, Sr., OL/DL, 77 tackles, 5 sacks; Anthony Nobile, Sr., OL/DL, 64 tackles, 5 sacks; Chris Hayes, Sr., DL, 8 sacks; Billy Walsh, Sr., LB, 76 tackles, 3 sacks.
Jackson Memorial defensive stat leaders; Offense: Mike Gawlik, Jr., RB, 1,352 yards, 14 TDs; Kyle Johnson, Sr., QB/WR, 280 yards rushing, 3 TDs; 193 yards passing, 3 TD, 14-313, 5 TDs receiving; Vinny Lee, Sr., RB/WR, 440 total yards, 8 TD; Kyle Lona, Sr., WR 14-221.
Brick memorial's best wins: 52-20 over South Jersey Group V finalist Toms River North; 31-17 over Central Jersey Group V finalist Old Bridge; 28-7 over Jackson Memorial.
Jackson Memorial's best wins: 21-7 over Brick in the quarterfinals; 56-10 over Steinert in the semifinals.
Brick Memorial keys to the game:
1. Win on first down
Brick Memorial's flexbone triple-option offense has been among the Shore Conference's best this season, and to continue to have success the Mustangs need to stay in manageable second and third down situations. Their offense is not built to come from behind both on the scoreboard and yard markers.
2. Protect the football
Brick Memorial is an aggressive option team, and that sometimes results in fumbles on pitches or at the mesh point. That can't be the case against a Jackson team that will try to limit the Mustangs' offensive possessions and work with a short field. When the Mustangs limit their mistakes on offense they usually thrive.
3. Finish drives
Jackson struggled to find an offensive identity midway through the season before coming together during the playoffs, but its defense has been consistent most of the season and is a top-10 unit, statistically, in the Shore. Brick Memorial must come away with points when it enters the red zone and not let Jackson hang around. Jackson isn't built to throw the ball either, so a two-score lead would be huge.
4. Make Kyle Johnson beat you
That can also be read as shut down Mike Gawlik. The junior is the focal point of Jackson's offense, which has transformed from a multiple-I attack with Gawlik and senior Vinny Lee splitting carries to a zone-read scheme with Johnson at quarterback. Gawlik has 57 carries for 380 yards in the playoffs, so Jackson is going to ride him to the end. Johnson is a great athlete with breakaway speed, but Gawlik is unquestionably Jackson's biggest offensive weapon.
5. Use all three options
Tim Santiago is the headliner with over 1,500 yards rushing, but sophomore Tony Thorpe's emergence has taken the offense to another level. Senior Ellie Lavarin is averaging 10 yards per carry as the pitch back. If Jackson has to legitimately account for all three players through out the game Brick Memorial will be in great shape.
Have to stop: Mike Gawlik, Jr., RB
It's difficult to envision a scenario where Jackson can win without Gawlik having a big game. That comes down to the play of the offensive line, too, but Gawlik is cleary priority No. 1 for Brick Memorial's defense. In the first meeting the Mustangs held Gawlik to 63 yards in a 28-7 victory, and will need a similar effort on Saturday.
Underrated player: Chris Hayes, Sr., DL
Hayes plays with a high motor and is very consistent along Brick Memorial's defensive line. The entire unit, which is Brick Memorial's strength with Hayes and havoc-wreaking twins Mike and Anthony Nobile, will have to be at its best to stop Jackson's running game once again.
X-factor: Matt Cuppari, Sr., K/P/WR
One of the Shore Conference's best kickers, Cuppari has hit 6 of 8 field goals and has been a touchback machine on kickoffs. He is also an outstanding directional punter. In a close game he is a major weapon for Brick Memorial.
Jackson Memorial keys to the game
1. Play assignment football
The Jaguars know what they are going to see from Brick Memorial, it's a matter of playing disciplined and tackling well inside. In the first meeting, a 28-7 loss for Jackson, Santiago ran for 135 yard and Lavarin added 98, so the Jaguars have to find a way to neutralize a portion of Brick Memorial's option offense and make the Mustangs predictable.
2. Hit a big play in the passing game
Brick Memorial will be selling out to stop Gawlik and Johnson in the running game, so if Johnson can connect with Vinny Lee or Kyle Lona for a big gain early it will open things up. The ability to execute when those pass plays are called will be crucial so Brick Memorial can't just gang up on Gawlik.
3. Hold blocks against Brick Memorial's defensive line
Brick Memorial's defensive line of Mike and Anthony Nobile and Chris Hayes is its strength, and the group has a habit of making plays in the opponents' backfield. If they are getting consistent penetration and blowing up plays Jackson won't be able to get off the ground offensively.
4. Limit big plays
Brick Memorial isn't the typical option offense that puts together 15-play drives and chews massive amounts of time off the clock. They certainly have that capability, but when its offense is going well it usually means Santiago is ripping off long runs. Jackson's defense needs to make Brick Memorial drive the length of the field instead of picking up yards in chunks.
5. Force third and long
Brick Memorial has attempted just 40 passes all season, so if it has to throw the ball Jackson will have the Mustangs right where they want them. Against a team that almost exclusively runs the ball, senior defensive end Tyler Towns and his 21 sacks won't come into play unless the Jaguars consistently stop Brick Memorial on first and second downs or have a lead late in the game.
Have to stop: Tony Thorpe, So., RB
Santiago is Brick Memorial's top offensive player, but it has been Thorpe's emergence at fullback that has enabled the Mustangs' running game to become high-octane. When the dive is working for five yards a clip it gives Santiago more room when he pulls the ball and keeps it himself.
Underrated player: Zach Lubertazzi, Jr., LB
Lubertazzi is third on the team in tackles with 72 and second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. He also has 4.5 sacks and an interception. Jackson's linebackers will need to have a strong game in order to slow down Brick Memorial's running game.
X-factor: Kyle Johnson, Sr., QB
When junior starter Danny Barker missed time with a concussion, Johnson stepped in and Jackson changed up its entire offense. Brick Memorial will be geared up to stop Gawlik, so Johnson will have to make solid reads and keep the ball when the opportunity presents itself. He has a breakaway speed and is excellent in the open field, and will need to take some of the focus off Gawlik.
Notes: Jackson is seeking its fifth sectional title in its sixth appearance...The Jaguars are trying to win back-to-back titles for the second time in program history (2000-2001)...Brick Memorial is playing for its third sectional title and first since 2009...A win by Brick Memorial would tie the program's single-season record for wins (10)...The last time Jackson Memorial and Brick Memorial met in the playoffs it produced one of the most epic playoff endings in Shore Conference history. Corey Lavin, who is now Jackson's offensive coordinator, hit Joe Reggio for a touchdown pass on the final play of the game to give the Jaguars a 30-28 win in the 2005 final.