Emotional Return After Hurricane Sandy Highlights Week Nine
It was an emotional return to the gridiron across the Shore Conference in Week Nine after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and football was only part of the equation.
Rivals came together to raise funds for hurricane relief efforts and try to give a battered area a welcome distraction with a hard-fought football game. In addition, the NJSIAA playoff field was determined, with 27 of the 43 Shore Conference teams securing a state playoff berth. Two teams locked up No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets and three others fought their way into the postseason with crucial victories.
The most emotional and thrilling victory belonged to Manasquan, which won its third straight game and stunned previously unbeaten Rumson-Fair Haven with a 14-9 comeback victory at Vic Kubu Warrior Field. The Warriors trailed 9-0 early in the fourth quarter before scoring on a pair of short touchdown runs by junior tailback Joe Murphy. Senior safety Chris Miller had a blocked field goal and a huge sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery that set up the game-winning touchdown for a team whose sending district suffered extensive damage from the storm. Admission to the game was waived in favor of collecting donations for hurricane relief to the Vic Kubu Long Blue Line charity, named after the late legendary Manasquan and Middletown North coach.
The win made sure Manasquan would not miss the playoffs for only the second time since 1988. The Warriors are the No. 7 seed in Central Jersey Group III and will travel to No. 2 Nottingham in the first round.
“I don’t know how many people were there, but I know that people came to that game looking for a distraction to everything that has gone on,” said Manasquan senior wideout/defensive back Connor Grogan. “I know me personally, I couldn’t have asked for something better than that. I feel like it was just a metaphor for everything that had gone on. So much adversity, going down 9-0, and we just showed what the community is all about. Everyone came back, and we came back as a team.”
Rumson-Fair Haven, which has reached the last two Central Jersey Group II finals, is the No. 3 seed in CJ II and will host No. 6 Weequahic in the first round at Borden Stadium Friday night.
Another team that scored a big win to secure a state playoff spot was Toms River North, which continued its dominance in the annual “Civil War’’ by winning its 11th straight game over rival Toms River South with a 24-10 victory in Class A South. That gave the Mariners the No. 7 seed in South Jersey Group V, where they will head to No. 2 Eastern for a first-round game. Jalen Hunter, Trevon Bass and Joey Fields each ran for touchdowns in the win over Toms River South, which had won three straight games.
“This game helped bring a sense of normalcy back to town,’’ Mariners sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani said. “This brought us together because everyone’s been through so much. The fans were cheering. It was a good thing for everybody.”
Even with the loss, the Indians are still in the state playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Indians are the No. 7 seed in South Jersey Group IV and will have a rematch with undefeated Lacey, the No. 2 seed, which beat Toms River South 42-20 in a regular-season game. Lacey improved to 9-0 with a 42-0 rout of Brick Memorial thanks to three touchdowns by junior Christian Tutela. Brick Memorial is the No. 5 seed in Central Jersey Group V and will travel to No. 4 Hunterdon Central in the first round.
Another team that snagged a playoff spot on the final weekend was Ocean, which scored 28 unanswered points to knock off Freehold, 28-14, to secure the No. 8 seed in Central Jersey Group III. The Spartans, who got two rushing touchdowns from senior quarterback Andrew Mehr in the win, will head to top-seeded Allentown in the first round.
Two teams that locked down top seeds are undefeated Manalapan and Shore Regional. The Braves rolled 31-3 over Howell thanks to three touchdown passes by senior quarterback Mike Isabella to grab the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group V. They reached the Central Jersey Group IV final last season, and are out to finish the job and win their first state sectional title in school history this year. The victory over Howell also clinched no worse than a tie for Manalapan’s third straight Class A North title, which they can wrap up all for themselves by beating Marlboro on Thanksgiving.
Shore Regional has now won seven straight after a 49-14 win over Keyport in which senior Mark Costantino had 170 yards rushing and two touchdowns on only five carries as well as a 55-yard touchdown catch. Shore is the top seed in Central Jersey Group I, where it is trying to win its second title in three seasons, and will host No. 8 seed Keansburg after having beaten the Titans 35-18 in a regular-season game.
Their main competition looks to be second-seeded Point Beach, which had a bye this week and will host No. 7 South River in the first round in their first game in three weeks. Asbury Park is also in the field and will host No. 5 South Hunterdon, while Keyport got the sixth seed and will travel to No. 3 Florence.
Top-ranked Red Bank Catholic is the No. 4 seed in Non-Public Group III and will host No. 5 Monsignor Donovan in the first round. The Caseys took care of Monmouth Regional, 41-6, for their 22nd straight win over Shore Conference competition. Their victory, coupled with the loss by Rumson-Fair Haven, clinched no worse than a tie for the Class A Central title, RBC’s fifth division title in six years and third in a row. The Caseys can win the title outright by beating Rumson on Thanksgiving.
A team that is back in the postseason for the first time in a decade is Lakewood, which blanked Point Boro 18-0 to lock up the No. 5 seed in Central Jersey Group III thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns and a touchdown pass by senior quarterback Tyrice Beverette. The Piners have one of the juiciest first-round match-ups in the Shore as they will travel to face defending CJ III champion Neptune, which is coming off a 54-17 win over Wall. Senior quarterback Ajee Patterson threw for a school-record 440 yards and five touchdowns on 18-for-22 passing and also ran for a touchdown in the victory, and senior wideout Keith Kirkwood had four catches for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Patterson’s passing total was 37 yards shy of the single-game Shore Conference record of 477 set by St. John Vianney graduate Anthony Carlucci.
While Neptune is the defending CJ III champion, Matawan is the defending CJ II champion and is now realigned into CJ III. The Huskies will have a rematch with Long Branch on the road in the 3-6 game in the first round after losing 24-21 to the Green Wave on a last-second field goal in the regular season. Neither team will have played a game in three weeks, as Long Branch had a bye this week and expects the return of standout tailback Dwight Clark from a broken ankle in the preseason, and Matawan’s game against New Brunswick this week was cancelled. New Brunswick told Matawan it could not field a competitive team, and the NJSIAA informed Matawan that the game goes down as a tie because it is not awarding forfeits when teams can’t play in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
St. John Vianney is back in the state playoffs for the first time in six years and picked up a 19-13 overtime victory against Raritan on Saturday morning thanks to a 25-yard touchdown catch by senior wideout Ishmael Hyman in overtime. The Lancers will play at second-seeded Delbarton in the first round of the playoffs in Non-Public Group III.
There are three Shore Conference teams qualified in Central Jersey Group IV, including a Colts Neck team coming off a 28-9 win over fellow playoff qualifier Middletown South on Sunday afternoon. The Cougars beat the Eagles for the first time in program history, as senior quarterback Mike Campbell threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, and junior tailback Anthony Gargiulo had a touchdown run and a 38-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass. The Cougars will host sixth-seeded Steinert in Colts Neck’s first home playoff game in program history, while Middletown South will travel to second-seeded West Windsor South.
The other qualifier in CJ IV is Jackson Liberty, which is in the playoffs for the first time in school history and will head to fourth-seeded Colonia. The Lions guaranteed themselves the first winning season in the program’s six-year history when they handed Monsignor Donovan a 21-0 loss for the Griffins’ first loss within Class B South.
In South Jersey, Southern picked up the sixth seed in South Jersey Group V and will travel to third-seeded Washington Township. It was about more than football this week for Southern when it picked up 41-20 win over Toms River East, as the Rams’ sending district includes storm-ravaged Long Beach Island, and the Raiders’ district includes a devastated Seaside Heights. The two schools and their fans came together to raise $3,567 for storm relief to be divided evenly between the two schools. As far as on the field, Southern senior quarterback Dan Higgins threw for a school-record 266 yards and three touchdowns, two to wideout Mike Gesicki.
Barnegat lost 13-0 to non-playoff qualifier Red Bank Regional on Friday night, but the Bengals are in the postseason as the No. 3 seed in South Jersey Group III and will host sixth-seeded Bridgeton. Point Boro, which is also coming off a shutout loss, is the No. 5 seed in SJ III and will travel to fourth-seeded Northern Burlington.
As for teams that will not be heading to the postseason, Marlboro had its state playoff hopes dashed in a 28-7 loss to Edison and will host Trenton in an NJSIAA consolation game. Central ended a three-game losing streak with a 28-6 win over Manchester and Freehold Township picked up a 21-17 comeback win over Middletown North thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns and a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Dan Bloodgood.
Also, Jackson Memorial ended a five-game losing streak with a 21-14 win over Brick in Class A South. As far as the Green Dragons, the inspiring story of senior kicker Anthony Starego, who has autism, is expected to be featured in an upcoming ESPN segment, according to Starego’s father. ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi is in Brick for the next four days to work on the segment involving Starego, who has already appeared on NBC’s TODAY Show with his parents.
Finally, a game that was not significant on the field but very emotional off it showed the type of cooperation and resilience of the Shore Conference and Greater Middlesex Conference communities. Spotswood defeated Mater Dei Prep, 37-6, in a nonconference game, but the Spotswood community donated supplies and money to residents badly affected by the storm in Union Beach, which is part of the Bayshore area where many Mater Dei players and coaches reside. Spotswood head coach Andy Cammarano is a Shore Regional graduate who lives in Long Branch and was intent on having the Spotswood program reach out to help another team in need.
Mater Dei Prep may be 1-8, but the Seraphs are in the state playoffs for the first time since 1999. The NJSIAA now allows sub-.500 teams to qualify in order to fill out an eight-team bracket in each section, and the Seraphs are the No. 7 seed in Non-Public Group I and will play at No. 2 St. Mary’s-Rutherford.