Erskine’s Debut Highlights Barnegat-Central Clash in the Game of the Week
The anticipation has been brewing ever since it was made official last winter that Cinjun Erskine was transferring from Holy Spirit to his local public school of Barnegat.
The highly-touted sophomore quarterback has had to sit out the first four games this season because of the NJSIAA transfer rule, but the wait is over.
He will make his debut in the Shore Sports Network Game of the Week on Friday night when the Bengals travel to Central for a 7 p.m. game in Class B South that will be live on 105.7f.m. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds with a strong arm and good running ability, Erskine should give the Bengals’ offense an immediate boost. He already has drawn preliminary interest from FBS schools like Penn State and Miami and started one game at quarterback at Holy Spirit as a freshman before serving primarily as the punter on a team that won the Non-Public Group II title.
“I don’t know what the expectations are, but I do know he’s still just a sophomore and a 15-year-old kid starting his first game for us,’’ said Barnegat head coach Rob Davis. “It’s been a smooth transition because everyone has known he is our guy. He’s a good leader, a good kid and a very hard worker. He’s in here every day after practice looking at film and making sure he’s making the right reads.’’
Barnegat (2-2) also had the bye week to help the transition from fellow sophomore Ricky Gerena to Erskine behind center. Gerena did an admirable job filling in, including helping the Bengals hand Jackson Liberty its only loss with a 14-13 overtime victory in Barnegat’s last game. Gerena will now start in the secondary, where the Bengals planned on playing him all along before holding him out on defense because they couldn’t risk him getting hurt while he was at quarterback.
“Ricky didn’t even take any snaps in our 7-on-7s over the summer, but he still stepped in and did a great job for us,’’ Davis said.
Erskine’s return also allows senior standout Pat Moran to focus on playing receiver, as he started at quarterback in a season-opening loss to Holmdel and has played all over the field. In the last two games, he set Barnegat school records for career catches (111) and career receiving yards (1,744) and is now third all-time with 14 receiving touchdowns in his three-year varsity career.
Also making his debut is another prospect to watch, 6-foot-5, 300-pound sophomore lineman Sam Madden, who also transferred from Holy Spirit. Madden arrives just in time, as the Bengals lost three-year starter Nick Anderson, a two-way lineman, to a dislocated elbow that will put him out six weeks. Madden will slide into that void and hope to keep the production going for a physical offensive line. Injuries have become an issue for Barnegat, as starting running back A.J. Opre is still recovering from a concussion and starting wideout Matt Knierim is out with an ankle injury. Six sophomores will be starting on defense.
While Barnegat is excited for Erskine’s debut, it conversely presents an interesting issue for Central. The Golden Eagles have no film on Erskine because he hasn’t played yet, although he did see some time in preseason scrimmages.
“All we hear is great things about him,’’ said Central coach Vinnie Casale. “He’s a really good athlete, and we know from middle school that he’s not only a great thrower but also the fastest kid on the team. We don't know what to expect, so we will do the best we can against him.’’
Central (2-2) also is coming off its bye week following a 47-7 win over Pinelands that got the Golden Eagles back to .500.
“During the (bye week) we went back to basics of blocking, tackling and just basic stuff,’’ Casale said. “We used it as a preseason-type of camp.’’
The Golden Eagles are led by junior running back/wideout Javon Hardy, who has 271 yards rushing and 56 receiving with a combined five touchdowns in the first four games. Vinnie Davis is right behind him at 201 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns, and junior quarterback Marquis Drumright has thrown for 290 yards and a touchdown in four games. They will face a Bengals team that has good size up front on both sides of the ball.
“I think our line is improving, but then again we're going against a very good defense that year in and year out has tough kids, so it will be a major test for us up front,’’ Casale said. “In order for us to win, we have to be very good up front.’’
“(Central) is probably the most talented team in the B South,’’ Davis said. “They have a lot of speed. They're a dangerous team, but everybody in our division has someone you have to be nervous about. Anybody can beat anybody.”
Both teams are chasing first-place Monsignor Donovan in Class B South. The Bengals, who are the defending division champions, are one game behind, while Central is two games out. The loser of this game is most likely out of the race for a title.
“Unfortunately, we lost to Mon Don at our place to give us a loss in the division, and we’re now in the same predicament we were in last year,’’ Davis said. “We're a young team so I try to keep it at a one-play-at-a-time philosophy.”
“We don't look at (the division standings),’’ Casale said. “We just want to get better each week and at the end, whatever our record is, it is. We’re just trying to improve each week.’’