Division Titles, Brilliant Performances Highlight Thanksgiving Games
Five teams wrapped up division titles, and talented seniors across the Shore Conference played their final high school games as the Thanksgiving rivalry showdowns finished off the season for all but 11 teams in the area.
Point Beach won the most anticipated showdown on Thanksgiving in the Shore Conference when it beat Shore Regional 19-7 to win the Class B Central title, its first division title since 1997, and end Shore’s eight-game winning streak. The Shore Conference’s leading rusher, senior running back Danny Tighe, ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns to lead an offense that rolled up 334 total yards. Senior defensive lineman Lucas Jordy had three sacks to lead a ferocious defensive effort in which the Garnet Gulls registered six sacks and held Shore to 93 total yards.
The victory improved Point Beach to a school-record 10-0, and it may be the first of two meetings between the teams, which are also the top two seeds in Central Jersey Group I. Point Beach will host third-seeded Florence in the semifinals on Friday night, while Shore will host fourth-seeded Asbury Park on Friday after having already beaten the Blue Bishops 37-12 in the regular season.
Top-ranked Red Bank Catholic, which is tied with Point Beach for the Shore Conference’s longest current winning streak at 11 games, tied its school record for wins (10) and clinched the outright Class A Central title with its 10th straight win over rival Rumson-Fair Haven. The Caseys beat the Bulldogs 28-12 to win their third straight division title and fifth in the last six years and also set the school single-season record for points with 379. Fullback Frank Olmo ran for one score and caught a touchdown pass, and junior linebacker Ryan Schoer had 12 tackles, a sack and an interception. Senior defensive back Chris Whitlock added 10 tackles and also blocked an extra point.
Now comes one of the more highly-anticipated sectional semifinals in the state when RBC travels to perennial juggernaut St. Joseph’s-Montvale to play the defending Non-Public Group III champions in the semifinals on Saturday. St. Joe’s stunned national power Don Bosco Prep 20-10 on Thanksgiving, ending the Ironmen’s 61-game winning streak against New Jersey competition, so RBC will go from a local heavyweight to a heavy underdog for a week.
Second-ranked Manalapan also tied its school record by improving to 10-0 with a 51-0 win over Marlboro that clinched the Braves’ third straight Class A North title. It’s the first time in program history that Manalapan has won three straight division titles, and the Braves will take a 17-game winning streak in divisional games into next season. Junior wideout Saeed Blacknall was brilliant in the win with five catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Manalapan will now host Hunterdon Central in the Central Jersey Group V semifinals on Friday in a bid to set a school record for wins and reach its second straight sectional final and third in school history.
Marlboro coach Derek Sininsky also announced after the game that he is stepping down after leading the Mustangs to a 4-6 season. Marlboro went 9-41 in Sininsky’s five seasons.
“They need new leadership here,’’ Sininsky said. “It’s just time for them and me to move on.’’
Long Branch clinched a tie for the Class B North title with Neptune by beating Red Bank Regional, 13-0, in one of the Shore’s oldest Thanksgiving rivalries. The Green Wave defense held the Bucs to 99 total yards. Sophomore kicker Vicente Mota booted a pair of field goals and senior tailback Dwight Clark scored his first touchdown of the season in his second game back from a broken ankle suffered in the preseason.
Long Branch coach Dan George also awarded the game ball to the parents of Ryan Longo, a former Red Bank player who died at 33 years old on Sept. 6. George coached Longo in football and wrestling in the 1990s at Red Bank. Long Branch will now travel to second-seeded Nottingham in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals on Saturday.
Monsignor Donovan locked up the outright Class B South title with a 56-19 rout of Manchester to pin down its first division crown since 1993. Senior fullback Grant Klimek and senior slotback Kevin Ortiz each scored three touchdowns to lead the way as the Griffins finished the season 6-4.
In the oldest Thanksgiving rivalry in the Shore Conference, Lakewood’s ferocious defense led the way to a 7-0 win over Toms River South, as senior quarterback/safety Tyrice Beverette ended his brilliant career by scoring the lone touchdown of the game. Lakewood’s 7-3 finish marked its most wins since going 8-2 in 2000.
Neptune rolled to victory in another one of the Shore’s top Turkey Day rivalries, beating Asbury Park 33-6 for its second straight win over the Blue Bishops. Senior quarterback Ajee Patterson threw three touchdowns, two to running back Myles Martin, and also ran for a score. The defense recorded four interceptions, including one that sophomore Cameron Calderon returned 60 yards for a touchdown. Neptune will now travel to top-seeded Allentown for a Central Jersey Group III semifinal on Friday night as it tries to defend its CJ III crown.
In another one of the Shore’s top Thanksgiving Day rivalries, Manasquan pulled out a hard-fought 14-7 win over Wall thanks to touchdown runs by Connor Grogan and Joe Murphy. The Warriors finished at 5-5 to avoid just their second losing season in the last 23 years. One of the most exciting and unorthodox finishes to any Thanksgiving game was Ocean’s 15-13 victory over Monmouth Regional. Junior linebacker Cody Cooper sacked Monmouth quarterback Jeff Farrah in the end zone for a safety with only 12 seconds left in the game for the winning points as the Spartans continued to dominate that series.
Another team that has maintained mastery over its rival is Middletown South, which beat Middletown North for the 12th straight time with a 21-13 victory. Senior Eli Smith had a pair of touchdowns and won defensive player of the game honors as well. The Eagles will now travel to Colts Neck for a Central Jersey Group IV semifinal on Saturday. Colts Neck won its school-record ninth game by beating Howell 48-7 as junior tailback Anthony Gargiulo ran for a pair of scores and senior quarterback Mike Campbell threw a touchdown pass and also ran for a touchdown.
Jackson Memorial continued to hold the upper hand against its rival, Jackson Liberty. The Jaguars roared to a 31-0 win over the Lions on Saturday with five different players scoring touchdowns to give them a 5-0 edge against Jackson Liberty in their series. Barnegat rolled over Pinelands, 49-0, to finish the season 5-5 as junior tailback A.J. Opre erupted for a career-high 245 yards rushing and three touchdowns on only nine carries, including a 97-yard touchdown run.
One of the more thrilling Thanksgiving games was Freehold Township’s 28-27 win over Freehold Boro, as the Patriots scored on a 6-yard run by senior Shane McGhee with 3:57 left in the game and won it on Justin Miller’s extra point. Senior quarterback Dan Bloodgood ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns and finished the season with 1,005 yards rushing on 143 carries. The Patriots won four of five games following an 0-5 start, and Bloodgood became their first 1,000-yard rusher since Kevin Wagner in 2004.
Holmdel picked up its first win over Raritan since 2007 and its first win in their short Thanksgiving series as it pulled out a 30-27 victory. Sophomore running back Frank Condito was sensational with a career-high 244 yards rushing along with 53 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Condito went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the process, possibly becoming the first sophomore to ever rush for 1,000 yards in Holmdel history.
Another standout sophomore, Toms River North quarterback Carmen Sclafani, ended a brilliant season of his own in a 42-24 victory over Toms River East. Sclafani threw three touchdown passes, two to senior wideout Damien Singleton, and also ran for a score in the win. Sclafani finished the season with over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing for just over 2,250 yards of total offense.
St. John Vianney’s prolific junior quarterback, Billy DeMato, helped the Lancers secure their first winning season since 2006 when he threw a touchdown pass to senior wideout Ishmael Hyman and also ran for a score in a 19-14 win over Matawan. An interception return for a touchdown by senior defensive back Tom Wagner proved to be the difference as the Lancers beat the Huskies for the second straight year for the first time in program history.
Southern rolled to a 35-0 victory over Central in the renewal of a rivalry that dates back to 1958 but was on hiatus since 2005. Junior wideout Mike Gesicki had a pair of touchdowns for the Rams, who will travel to second-seeded Eastern on Friday night for a South Jersey Group V semifinal.