Division Titles, Playoff Scenarios: Get Ready for an Action-Packed Weekend of Shore Football
This is the most action-packed schedule of the Shore Conference season, with one game after another featuring either major state playoff implications, division title scenarios, a chance at school records or all of the above.
It's one of those weekends where everyone will be obsessively checking their phones to find scores from other games while watching the excitement right in front of them. It doesn't get better than that for a regular-season weekend.
Here is a breakdown of the stakes for all of the Week Nine action. The official state playoff brackets will be released by the NJSIAA on Sunday after the dust settles from this weekend's action. I think this could be a historic year for the Shore in the state playoffs even after having six teams win titles in each of the past two seasons, but Bob Badders and I will get to that with playoff previews next week.
As a reminder, the top eight teams in power points in each section qualify for the playoffs. Here are the power-point criteria for those curious about how they are calculated.
DO OR DIE
Raritan (4-3) at Red Bank (3-4), Friday at 7 p.m.
Raritan is the defending Central Jersey Group II champion, yet it will most likely not get a chance to become the first team in school history to win back-to-back state titles if it doesn't beat the Bucs. The Rockets are currently in ninth place in power points and are not likely to get too many residual points this weekend, so they have to have this one.
Last season, they got in with a 3-5 record and went on an incredible Cinderella run to their second title in school history, beating undefeated Lincoln in the final. Now they have to get to 5-3 just to get into the bracket. Now back at full power with Marc Carnivale at quarterback to complement tailback Vito Aleo, they are a team once again capable of making a deep playoff run. They just have to get there first.
They also look to avenge a 30-14 loss to the Bucs from last year. As for Red Bank, it will look to mainly play the role of spoiler as the Bucs are currently 12th in power points in Central Jersey Group III and look to be out of the playoff picture.
Carteret (5-2) at Rumson-Fair Haven (5-2), 7 p.m. on Friday
It's crazy that a Bulldogs team that has won three straight state titles is on the razor's edge of playoff qualification, especially with five wins. That's the scenario in Central Jersey Group III, where Rumson is currently tied with Ocean for the eighth spot. Ocean has already played eight games, so it can only get residual points this weekend, whereas this game counts for Rumson. The Bulldogs want to get this one and safely secure their spot rather than be scoreboard watching for residual points.
Carteret is currently fifth in the bracket, so a win would vault the Bulldogs up a few seeds. Rumson is now back at full power with senior Michael O'Connor at quarterback after he missed two games with turf toe, so the Bulldogs are ready to go. With a defense led by linebacker Mike Ruane and a tough schedule that included ranked teams St. John Vianney and Middletown South, the Bulldogs are battle-hardened and ready for another run.
They are looking to become just the third team in Shore Conference history to win four straight state titles, joining the immortal Manasquan squads of 1998-02 and the Knowshon Moreno-led Middletown South group from 2003-06. While Somerville is unbeaten in the bracket, if Rumson gets in, the Bulldogs are obviously a serious threat to win it all again.
Lakewood (5-2) at Pinelands (4-3), 7 p.m. on Friday
The Piners have to win this game against Pinelands to make sure they qualify in South Jersey Group III, where they currently sit in seventh with Oakcrest, Camden and Ocean City right behind them with games that will count toward their power points this weekend.
Lakewood is coming off a hard-fought 24-17 win over Barnegat to get their feet back under them after a two-game skid. Another reason this win is crucial is because if Barnegat upsets Point Boro, the Piners will share the Class B South title with the Panthers for the second straight year, so they will be keeping an eye on that one.
The Piners have made nine state playoff appearances in their history, and four of them have come in the last four seasons under head coach L.J. Clark.
Meanwhile, Pinelands is on a four-game winning streak, its longest streak since its last winning season in 2004. With a win, the Wildcats would have a chance at only their third state playoff berth in school history. They are 13th in power points, but a boost from the win plus some residuals along with losses by the teams in front of them could give them a shot to sneak in.
Point Boro (7-1) at Barnegat (3-4), 7 p.m.
Speaking of Point Boro and Barnegat, the Bengals have to pull the upset in this game to get a spot in the South Jersey Group II playoffs. Barnegat currently sits in ninth place in power points.
Point Boro is coming off its first loss, 41-7 at the hands of Ocean, but is unbeaten in Class B South games this season. While the Panthers have already secured a first-round home game in Central Jersey Group II, this game is still important because they can clinch the outright Class B South title with a win. If they lose, it opens the door for Lakewood to share the title with them by beating Pinelands.
The Panthers and quarterback James Fara are looking to get the running game cranked back up after being stifled by Ocean, while Barnegat is looking to get over the hump in close games after losing 24-17 to Lakewood last week and taking Lacey to overtime a week earlier.
Freehold Township (7-1) at Manalapan (8-0), 7 p.m. on Friday
This game will decide the outright Class A North title. Either Manalapan, which has already clinched no worse than a tie for the crown, will keep it all for itself, or Freehold Township will share the division championship with a win.
The Patriots have never won a division title in their program history, and a victory would also set their single-season school record for wins now that they've tied the 7-win mark from the 2001 team. They took Manalapan to the brink last season in a last-second, 21-20 win by the Braves, but Manalapan looms as a strong favorite in this one.
The Braves, ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, have already locked up the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group V, so this game is simply to keep this title all for themselves for their sixth outright division title in the last seven seasons. Manalapan enters third in the Shore in scoring at 37.9 points per game and fourth in defense at 10.6 points allowed per game. They will face a Freehold Township offense averaging 29.8 points per game in its breakout season.
Monmouth (2-6) at St. John Vianney (8-0), 7 p.m. on Friday
The Lancers can wrap up their third straight outright title with a win over the Falcons in a game where they are heavily favored to take care of business. The main goal here for St. John Vianney is to get through without any injuries and gear up for their run in Non-Public Group III, where it will most likely be on the road in the first round unless Cherry Hill West wins a clash of unbeatens with Camden Catholic this weekend.
St. John Vianney is looking to finish the job after missing out on its first state title since 1981 last year with a loss to Depaul in the final. This year the Lancers will have to contend with one of the state's best teams, perennial power St. Joseph's-Montvale, among a tough field.
Toms River North (8-0) at Central (7-1), 7 p.m.
The Class A South championship will be decided in this winner-take-all game. For the Mariners, it's their latest stop in their bid to finish undefeated for the first time since 2007 and go down as a legendary Shore Conference team.
For the Golden Eagles, it's the culmination of a remarkable journey. After their second game of the season resulted in being ruled ineligible for the playoffs due to ejections from a fight in their win over Toms River East, they could've mailed in their season. Instead, they rode a tough defense and star running back Mike Bickford to an unbeaten mark within the division in their first season among the big schools after moving up from Class B South.
This is Central's last game of the season, so it's basically their version of playing for a state title. They will have to find a way to stop a team considered to be the best public school squad in the state, which enters averaging a Shore-best 49 points per game behind record-setting senior quarterback Mike Husni. While Central has won B South titles in 2014, 1994 and 1988, it hasn't won an A South title against Ocean County's biggest schools since 1977. It would complete a remarkable job by first-year head coach Justin Fumando.
Toms River North has not been held under 41 points by any team this season, but it could be a shootout given that Bickford is capable of a 300-yard rushing game and has a seven touchdown-game to his credit this season.
Middletown South (5-2) at Wall (6-1), 7 p.m.
Middletown South can clinch no worse than a tie for the Class B North title with a victory and could potentially win it outright if Red Bank Catholic can knock off Manasquan.
A win by Wall would put the Crimson Knights in position to potentially win the title outright or share it by beating Manasquan on Thanksgiving, depending on what happens in the Middletown South-Middletown North Thanksgiving game. Wall's last division title came when they won Class C Central in 2011 behind current William & Mary starting quarterback Steve Cluley.
The Eagles are coming off two straight losses to top-three teams in the Shore in Toms River North and St. John Vianney. Wall has had two weeks to prepare thanks to its bye, which the Crimson Knights also hope was enough time for star senior running back Sean Larkin to return from a concussion. If both teams are at full power, which is likely, this should be another nail-biting B North slugfest.
Middletown South is trying to win its second straight division title after going 12-0 last year and the 19th overall in their illustrious history. The Eagles have not lost three games in a row since 2013, and before that it may have been in the 1980s, so it's a rare occurrence.
The game also has major playoff seeding implications. Middletown South, the defending champion in North II Group IV, would lock up the No. 1 seed with a win. Wall, a strong favorite in South Jersey Group III, would secure the No. 1 seed in that bracket with a victory over the Eagles. So this one has it all.
Mater Dei Prep (8-0) at Point Beach (5-3), 7 p.m. on Friday
The Seraphs can set a school record for wins and capture the outright Class B Central title, their first division title in program history, with a win over Point Beach.
Mater Dei Prep enters as a heavy favorite considering no team has come closer than 22 points to the Seraphs this season. The defense has three shutouts and has only allowed one team to crack double digits all season. The offense, led by junior quarterback George Pearson, is second in the Shore at 39 points per game.
Considering this looks to be a somewhat mortal year for perennial state power St. Joseph's-Hammonton (5-3), the Seraphs are looking to make a run at the first state title in school history. Their last trip to the final was in 1999. This game will not have any bearing on playoff seeding for either team because it's the ninth game for both.
Point Beach is looking to spoil Mater Dei's unbeaten season and also gain some confidence heading into the Central Jersey Group I playoffs, where they won't see any team in the same league as the Seraphs.
JOCKEYING FOR POSITION
Manasquan (6-1) at Red Bank Catholic (5-3), 7 p.m. on Friday
Manasquan can keep its division title hopes alive and potentially leap to the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group II depending on the results of other games if they can beat the Caseys.
If Manasquan wins, it could be in a three-way tie for first with Middletown South and Wall in Class B North if Wall beats the Eagles. Even if Middletown South wins, Manasquan could stay in play for a share of the division title by beating Wall on Thanksgiving and having Middletown South get upset by Middletown North in its Thanksgiving game. Got all that?
A key factor could be junior running back Connor Morgan, who took a hard hit and was knocked out of the Warriors' win over Matawan last week. If he isn't available that removes Manasquan's biggest offensive weapon against a rejuvenated Caseys team. RBC welcomed back sophomore quarterback Steve Lubischer from injury with a 35-0 win over Red Bank last week.
Lubischer stabilizes a position that has been plagued by injuries all season and makes RBC's offense much more balanced with Zach Bair and the running game because of his throwing ability. This should be yet another Class B North battle in a division that seems to produce a thriller every week.
RBC is already in the Non-Public Group III playoffs and looks to be on the road in the first round. This is its ninth game so it doesn't count toward seeding.
Middletown North (5-2) at Ocean (4-4), 7 p.m. on Friday
This is an important game for Middletown North because a win could potentially jump the Lions to the No. 1 seed in North II Group IV if Middletown South loses to Wall. Middletown North already is guaranteed a first-round home game, but grabbing that top seed could also mean they wouldn't play the rival Eagles until the final.
In addition, a win by the Lions keeps their Class B North title hopes in play, leaving a variety of scenarios that could result in them having a chance to tie for the championship with a win over Middletown South on Thanksgiving. The Lions enter with the sixth-best offense in the Shore at 30 points per game behind senior quarterback Donald Glenn, while the Spartans counter with Pittsburgh recruit Kenny Pickett at quarterback.
Ocean has already played eight games and looks to be out of the playoffs in Central Jersey Group III, although a loss by Rumson to Carteret could make things interesting. This is mainly the Spartans trying to play the spoiler and picking up a quality win.
Keyport (7-1) at Shore (5-2), 7 p.m. on Friday
This game looks to decide the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group I. Keyport can only get residual points because it's already played eight games, but two-time defending sectional champion Shore can lock up the No. 1 seed with a win.
Also, for those interested in such things, this is for the Class B Central public title behind first-place Mater Dei Prep. These are two old rivals who both run smashmouth Wing-T rushing attacks, so they know each other well.
The winner looks to be the favorite to win the Central Jersey Group I title considering the bracket is basically going to be a Class B Central tournament with Keyport, Shore, Point Beach and Asbury Park most likely being the top four seeds. Shore is coming off a 12-0 season, while Keyport has its most wins since going 8-3 in 2010 and is hunting its first state title since the days of J.J. Bedle and Ken Cattouse in 2002.
Neptune (2-5) at Colts Neck (2-6), Saturday at 1 p.m.
You've got to love the NJSIAA playoff system when a pair of two-win teams are playing an important game with seeding implications on cutoff weekend.
Central Jersey Group IV only has five teams that have winning records going into this weekend, leaving the door open for Neptune, which is surprisingly already qualified with a 2-5 record. A win over Colts Neck could potentially help the Scarlet Fliers jump to the No. 6 seed. The Cougars are in ninth in CJ IV but have already played eight games, so all they could do is get a win and hope to somehow get enough residuals to pass Neptune, which looks unlikely.
Keansburg (2-7) at Asbury Park (4-3), 1 p.m. on Saturday
This game is mainly for Asbury Park's playoff positioning in Central Jersey Group I.
A win over the Titans would allow them to jump Manville for at least a top-four seed and a get a first-round home game. The Blue Bishops have been under the radar a bit since making a splash with a season-opening win over Shore Regional, but they look to be a tough contender among their B Central brethren. Asbury Park is seeking its first state title since the days of the Conover twins in 2011.
BITING THEIR NAILS
Lacey (5-3) at Manchester (2-5), 7 p.m. on Friday
Lacey has already played eight games and currently sits in sixth in power points in South Jersey Group III. The bad news is that the four teams right behind them, Lakewood, Oakcrest, Camden and Ocean City all have only played seven games, so wins by a few of them would allow them to potentially jump the Lions and push them out of the playoff picture.
So while Lacey is looking to handle its business against the Hawks to secure its first winning season since 2012, there will be some scoreboard-watching going on, particularly for Camden's game against Winslow Township (1-6) and Ocean City's game against St. Joseph's-Hammonton (5-3) as well as Lakewood's match-up with Barnegat. Oakcrest has a tall order against a loaded Cedar Creek team.
GUNNING FOR HISTORY
Brick Memorial (1-7) at Jackson Memorial (4-4), 7 p.m. on Friday
A week seemingly doesn't go by where senior running back Mike Gawlik doesn't set a record for Jackson Memorial.
His latest feat could come this week against the Mustangs as he has 1,604 yards rushing entering the game, just shy of the single-season school record of 1,685 set by Will Clayton in 2003, according to Jackson historian Jim Colbert. He also needs two touchdowns to tie the single-season school record of 22 set by Nick Castellano in 2001.
This game doesn't count for playoff seeding for Jackson, which already has a spot in the field in Central Jersey Group IV, where the Jaguars are the two-time defending champions. Just like last season, Jackson seems to be getting hot at the perfect time. No Jaguars team has ever won three straight state titles.
Toms River East (0-8) at Brick (5-3), 7 p.m.
This is a game for Brick to regroup for the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs, where they are already guaranteed a first-round home game. They are coming off a tough 21-7 loss to Central in which star Ja'Sir Taylor took a hard hit and left the game early. The Green Dragons will look to get over the hump in the postseason after losing to eventual champion Jackson Memorial in each of the past two years despite beating the Jaguars in the regular season.
Toms River South (2-5) at Southern (4-4), 7 p.m. Friday
The Rams have qualified for the South Jersey Group V playoffs, so this game is more of a tune-up as they will have to go on the road in the postseason.
Southern started the season 0-3 but has won four of its last five, so this game is all about keeping the momentum going into the playoffs to spring a first-round upset. They will await results of games by Millville and Cherokee to see where they land in the seeding.
Howell (4-4) at Marlboro (3-5), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Howell has already qualified in South Jersey Group V, and whether or not it can get a top-four seed and a home game in the first round depends on how Vineland, Millville and Cherokee do this weekend.
This is the Rebels' first playoff appearance under third-year coach Luke Sinkhorn and their first since 2010. While this game has no bearing on the playoff seeding, it would guarantee Howell its first non-losing season since that 2010 season. Plus, there's also the bragging rights among the rivals at the two Freehold Regional District schools.
It's Howell's high-flying offense behind quarterback Eddie Morales against Marlboro's prolific running game featuring Cameron Caorsi and Jonny Helff, so it should be a fun game. Marlboro is looking for its most wins since going 4-6 in 2012 and potentially its first non-losing season since going 6-4 in 1999.
Long Branch (1-6) at Freehold (4-4), 1 p.m. on Saturday
Freehold has already secured a spot in the Central Jersey Group IV field as a road team in the first round, thanks to the pyrotechnics of junior Ashante Worthy.
The Colonials started 0-4 but roared back into the playoff picture with four straight wins thanks to some Nintendo stats from Worthy. He has had three games of 300-plus yards rushing and has accounted for 21 touchdowns between rushing, passing and defensive scores during the winning streak. Freehold moved him to quarterback in a spread option scheme to take advantage of his athleticism, and the three-year varsity starter has blossomed into a force.
This game is all about keeping that momentum heading into the postseason in a fairly wide-open Central Jersey Group IV bracket. For Long Branch, it's mainly about finding something to build on for next season and avoiding the prospect of becoming the program's first one-win team since 1950 and just the third one-win Long Branch team since the program's inception in 1923.
BUILDING FOR NEXT YEAR
Matawan (1-7) at Holmdel (1-6), 7 p.m. on Friday
This is one of those games where you find out the true character of your players when the season hasn't turned out like they had hoped.
There is nothing really to play for other than trying to get this win, get a victory in an NJSIAA consolation game (or whatever they call it now) and try to get some momentum for next season, but I've seen plenty of teams in the past get these types of wins when no one is watching and then point back to them a season later as springboards when they have turned things around.
GETTING ON THE BOARD
Donovan Catholic (0-7) at Jackson Liberty (0-8), 7 p.m. on Friday
One team will be getting a victory to build on heading into next season as the Griffins and Lions try to break into the win column. If Donovan Catholic prevails, it will be the first victory for new head coach Tom Tarver.