Another season of Shore Conference football is in the books, and it was once again a successful fall season for area programs as five teams brought home NJSIAA sectional titles and a total of 10 teams in nine different sections reached championship weekend.

All 10 teams played on Saturday Dec. 3, and while the results of the championships provided some answers, they also raised plenty of questions thanks to some surprising results.

Top-ranked Toms River North was undefeated and the favorite to win the South Jersey Group V championship for the second straight season, but was stunned by Millville in the final. Manalapan, which was also undefeated and had already defeated Central Jersey Group V championship opponent Piscataway, lost in blowout fashion in the final. At the same time Mater Dei Prep won a last-second thriller over Holy Spirit to win its first state title and finish 12-0 as the Shore’s only undefeated team.

The battle for No. 1 suddenly wasn’t so clear.

Then there was the question of how to separate the four ranked teams in Class B North, who took turns beating each other throughout the regular season but did not meet in the playoffs. Wall and Manasquan won NJSIAA sectional championships, but Middletown South beat both and won the division title outright. Middletown North had wins over Wall and Middletown South, but lost to Manasquan.

State championships certainly factor into the rankings, but since all teams are separated into brackets that usually aren’t equal in terms of competition, the results within the Shore Conference carry more weight in determining our final rankings. It’s also about body or work, so a team’s entire schedule is factored in.

In the end, Toms River North playing one bad half that resulted in the loss to Millville was not enough to drop the Mariners from the top spot. From start to finish, Toms River North was the best team in the Shore Conference, and its loss came in a bracket that is routinely considered among the toughest public school brackets in New Jersey.

St. John Vianney has won 29 straight games against Shore Conference teams, and it took a meeting with New Jersey’s No. 1 team, St. Joseph (Montvale), in the Non-Public Group III semifinals to end the Lancers’ season.

Mater Dei dominated every opponent it faced before pulling off an epic win in the state championship, but it remains unclear just how good the Seraphs are considering were the elephant in the room among the small public schools in Class B Central. The Seraphs brought in a high-profile coach and had several transfers, including quarterback George Pearson, that changed the landscape of their program after a 3-7 season. That doesn’t take away from their accomplishments on the field, but those are the facts. They need to beef up their schedule, and that’s something that will surely be in the cards sooner than later.

As for sorting out the Class B North teams, Middletown South gets the nod. The Eagles finished 7-4, but won the division title outright and had no questionable losses. They had the toughest schedule in the Shore Conference with B North opponents Manasquan, Middletown North, Wall, Red Bank Catholic, Ocean and Long Branch, plus Rumson-Fair Haven, St. John Vianney and Toms River North in nondivisional games.

Without further adieu, we give you the final 2016 Shore Sports Network Football Top 10 as presented by T&T Coast.

 

1. Toms River North (11-1)

The Mariners won the Class A South division title outright and reached the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V final for the second straight year, but had their perfect season ended by Millville, 22-16, in the championship game. Toms River North’s offense was unstoppable up until that point and averaged a Shore Conference-best 44.3 points per game. Senior quarterback Mike Husni led the way by throwing for 2,027 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushing for 1,618 yards and 19 touchdowns. Senior running back Parker Day added 1,516 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns while seniors Darrion Carrington and Bryce Watts formed the most dangerous wide receiver duo in the Shore. Carrington caught 35 passes for 927 yards and a Shore-best 15 touchdowns while Watts had 33 catches for 798 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior linebacker Pete LaQuaglia led the Shore Conference in tackles with 168.

The Mariners scored 40 or more points in nine of 12 games, went over 50 points five times and topped 60 points twice. They beat Central Jersey Group IV finalist Brick 62-34 in Week 3 and topped South Jersey Group V semifinalist Howell 58-33 in the regular season and 62-34 in the playoffs. On October 21 the Mariners were ranked No. 2 in the Shore and headed to face No. 1 Middletown South in a marquee matchup, and North came away with a 41-21 win.

Toms River North graduates arguably its best senior class in history, but will try to keep its winning ways going with players like junior linebacker Daryn Blackwell, junior defensive back Mickey Maldonado Jr. and junior defensive lineman Billy Dowd.

 

2. St. John Vianney (10-1)

St. John Vianney was once again perfect in the Shore Conference to extend its winning streak versus local opponents to 29, but the Lancers could not get past one of the North Jersey powers in the playoffs. Their season came to an end with a 45-20 loss to St. Joseph (Montvale), the No. 1 team in the state, in the Non-Public Group III semifinals. Up to that point the Lancers were dominant in claiming the Class A Central division title for the third straight season. Their offense was No. 4 in the Shore Conference at 32.1 points per game and their defense was also fourth in the Shore allowing 12.7 points per game and recording two shutouts.

Senior running back Chris Chukwuneke was named the Class A Central Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,231 yards and 16 touchdowns, while senior Rutgers recruit Micah Clark led the offensive and defensive lines. Defensive end Nick Densieski tied for the Shore Conference lead in sacks with 15 and junior linebacker Johnny Buchanan had a breakout season with 139 tackles.

Among the Lancers’ victories were a 22-14 overtime win over Central Jersey Group IV finalist Brick, a 28-3 win over Central Jersey Group III champion Rumson-Fair Haven and a 23-20 win over Middletown South. They also defeated Camden Catholic, 33-13, in the playoffs in a battle of unbeaten teams.

The Lancers graduate several key players, but return Buchanan, Densieski, quarterback Haaziq Daniels and wide receivers Sam East and Zyaire Sterling as they look to continue their dominance over the Shore.

 

3. Mater Dei Prep (12-0)

The Seraphs won their first state championship and finished 12-0 with an ending straight out of Hollywood as senior wide receiver Eddie Lewis took a lateral from Kyle Devaney on a trick play hook-and-lateral and scored with three seconds left to give Mater Dei a 26-0 win over Holy Spirit in the Non-Public Group II championship game.

That was the first time Mater Dei has been tested all season. The Seraphs detonated every team in their path en route to reaching the final, including an eye-opening 26-0 shutout of seven-time defending champion St. Joseph (Hammonton) in the semifinals. The Seraphs had a 42-6 win over Central Jersey Group I champion Asbury Park and a 35-7 win over Central Jersey Group I finalist Keyport. They also defeated Shore 42-7.

Junior quarterback George Pearson threw for 1,426 yards and had 28 total touchdowns on his way to being named Class B Central Offensive Player of the Year. Senior linebacker Marvin Pierre led the No. 1 defense in the Shore at 5.8 points per game and as selected as the B Central Defensive Player of the Year. Lewis had 24 catches for 547 yards and 13 touchdowns and Devaney had 23 catches for 461 yards and eight touchdowns.

With a top-flight head coach in Dino Mangiero and a host of young talent with more transfers potentially coming next season, Mater Dei figures to only get better and continue its ascension to an elite program.

 

4. Manalapan (11-1)

The Braves captured the Class A North division title and reached the Central Jersey Group V final where they bid for the program’s first undefeated season, but were stunned by Piscataway, 34-13. The loss couldn’t completely tarnish what was an otherwise outstanding season for the perennial stalwarts, however.

Manalapan had the No. 3 offense in the Shore Conference averaging 36.2 points per game and also had the No. 3 defense allowing just 11.6 points per game and recording five shutouts. The Braves had wins over playoff semifinalists Howell, Old Bridge and Freehold during the regular season and also defeated playoff teams Neptune and Freehold Township. They also had a 21-10 regular-season victory over Piscataway and dethroned defending sectional champion South Brunswick, 34-20, in the semifinals.

Junior running back Naim Mayfield ran for 1,785 yards and 23 touchdowns and junior quarterback Luke Corcione threw for 1,699 yards and 26 touchdowns to power one of the Shore’s most balanced offenses. Junior wide out Scott Scherzer led the receiving corps with 40 catches for 690 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior linebacker Sal Tardogno made 120 tackles and was selected as the Class A North Defensive Player of the Year and sophomore Tommy Pearce made 97 tackles despite missing four games with an injury.

The Braves graduate some key seniors but return a large and talented junior class that should have them competing for more championships in 2017.

 

5. Middletown South (7-4)

One year removed from a 12-0 season, the Eagles took a step back in finishing 7-4 and falling to eventual champion Sayreville in the North 2, Group IV state semifinals, but a closer look reveals a solid season for one of the Shore’s all-time winningest programs.

Middletown South had the most difficult schedule in the Shore Conference that included a Class B North gauntlet of state champions Wall and Manasquan, sectional finalist Middletown North plus Red Bank Catholic, Long Branch and Ocean. In their nondivisional games they faced Toms River North, St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven. The Eagles won the Class B North division title outright, which went a long way in the decision to have them finish No. 5 in the Shore. They had wins over over South Jersey Group III champion Wall, Central Jersey Group II champion Manasquan and Central Jersey Group III champion Rumson. Their losses were to Toms River North, St. John Vianney, Sayreville and Middletown North.

The Eagles offense was No. 10 in the Shore at 28.1 points per game and had a 1,000-yard rusher in sophomore Anthony Summey and a quarterback in senior Aneesh Agrawal who threw for 1,618 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The Eagles wasn’t its usual dominant self allowing 19 points per game, but had some standout individual performances. Junior Jake Krellin had a monster season with 109 tackles, 45 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks, which tied for the Shore Conference lead. Senior linebacker Kevin Higgins had 81 tackles and four sacks and senior defensive back Maxx Imsho had 78 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. Senior Will Gulick had eight sacks.

Krellin leads the cast of returners next year as Middletown South graduates a very good and productive senior class. Given the Eagles’ pedigree they should still find a way to be in the thick of the division and sectional title pictures in 2017.

 

6. Wall (10-2)

The Crimson Knights returned to glory this season by going 10-2 and winning the South Jersey Group III title for the program’s first state championship since 2002. They dethroned four-time defending champion Delsea, 20-7 in the championship game, to complete a turnaround from consecutive losing seasons.

Wall posted wins over Central, Raritan and Red Bank Catholic during a 5-0 start and also had a win over Central Jersey Group II champion Manasquan on Thanksgiving. Their losses were to Middletown North and Middletown South.

The Crimson Knights’ offense was No. 7 in the Shore at 28.5 points per game and has senior running back Sean Larkin rush for 1,506 yards and a program-record 25 touchdowns to lead the way and be selected as the Class B North co-Offensive Player of the Year. Junior Chevesse Covin added 606 yards and four touchdowns as the Knights’ offensive line paved the way for nearly 3,000 yards on the ground. Senior linebacker Kyle Dallicardillo led the Shore’s No. 5 defense (13.1 points per game) with 92 tackles while a ballhawking secondary intercepted 14 passes, including four each by seniors R.J. Janeczek, Shane Richey and Mike Capra.

The driving force behind the state title run for the Crimson Knights was its senior class, so there’s work to be done next season. Quarterback Eddie Scott, Covin and linebacker Tim McKernan return to lead the way.

 

7. Manasquan (10-2)

After back-to-back 3-7 seasons, Manasquan got back to its winning ways of hoisting a championship trophy in December by winning the Central Jersey Group II championship and finishing 10-2. A focused and driven senior class combined with a talented group of underclassmen led the way and delivered the Warriors their Shore Conference-best 12th state championship and first since 2008.

The Warriors defeated Middletown North 31-21 during a seven-game winning streak that was halted only by a 21-3 loss to rival Wall, a fellow state champion, on Thanksgiving. Manasquan had arguably the toughest road to a state title of any Shore team with A.L. Johnson and Roselle in the first two rounds before crushing Bernards, 42-6, in the championship game. Roselle was undefeated and averaging over 50 points per game before the Warriors handed them a 31-27 loss in the semifinals.

Manasquan’s offense averaged 26 points per game and was led by a running game featuring junior Connor Morgan, who finished with 1,490 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sophomore Canyon Birch added 594 yards and six touchdowns and senior fullback Tommy Meyer had 469 yards and three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Jerry Maher threw for 703 yards and 10 touchdowns and senior wide receiver Damaso Jaime caught 18 passes for 438 yards and seven touchdowns.

Manasquan’s defense was No. 8 in the Shore allowing 16.2 points per game and recording one shutout. Senior defensive end Adam Schreck was second in the Shore with 13.5 sacks and Jaime was second in the Shore with five interceptions. Senior linebacker Jack Mallett led the team in tackles with 91 while recording three sacks and Meyer added 88 tackles and three sacks. Senior Dylan Pacetti finished with seven sacks and junior defensive back Tommy Antonucci had four interceptions.

Manasquan brings back Morgan, Antonucci, Birch and more from a promising sophomore class as they look to stay on the winning track next season.

 

8. Middletown North (9-3)

The Lions turned in their best season in 20 years by reaching a sectional final for the first time since 1996, recording their most wins since 1996 and beating crosstown rival Middletown South for the first time since 2000.

The 24-6 win over Middletown South on Thanksgiving and a 21-20 win over South Jersey Group III champion Wall highlighted Middletown North’s season. The Lions also had a 38-7 win over Howell team that reached the South Jersey Group V semifinals and had one of the Shore’s top offenses averaging 30 points per game. Their bid for a sectional championship was halted by Sayreville with a 41-14 loss in the North 2, Group IV championship game.

Middletown North had the most prolific passing attack and averaged  in the Shore as senior quarterback Donald Glenn led the conference in passing with 2,689 yards and 23 touchdowns and was selected as the Class B North co-Offensive Player of the Year. He finished his career as the Shore’s all-time leader in passing yards with 7,498 and passing touchdowns with 71. Senior wide receiver Brendan Kube is believed to be the first player in Shore Conference history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons after leading the Shore in receptions (62) and yards (1,149) for the second straight season to go along with nine touchdown catches. Senior Dwight Wilkerson had 1,214 yards and 10 touchdowns between rushing and receiving.

Middletown North’s defense was No. 13 in the Shore allowing 18.2 points per game. Senior linebacker Nick Kish had 115 tackles while Kube also had an outstanding year as a safety with 110 tackles. Junior Austin Dewise was one of the best pass rushers in the Shore with 12 sacks.

The Lions will lose numerous top players to graduation, but return running backs Connor Welsh and Connor Robbins, Dewise and defensive lineman Nicko Cofone.

 

9. Rumson-Fair Haven (9-3)

The Bulldogs entered a select group in the Shore Conference when they defeated South Plainfield, 27-22, to win the Central Jersey Group III title and become the third program in Shore Conference history to win fourth consecutive state championships.

Rumson’s calling card was a defense that finished No. 2 in the Shore Conference allowing just 9.8 points per game and recording four shutouts. Senior linebacker Mike Ruane was selected as the Shore Sports Network Defensive Player of the Year making 120 tackles with 15 hits for a loss and 3.5 sacks to lead the way. Senior safety Mike Murdock made 90 tackles and sophomore linebacker Keegan Woods finished with 84 stops. Chase Pfrang had 67 tackles and eight sacks along the defensive line while Liam Adams had 64 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Murdock, James Melia, Pat Russo and Ryan Tuorto each had three interceptions in the secondary.

Rumson’s run-oriented offense averaged 26 points per game with senior running back Matt Vecchiarelli rushing for 1,275 yards and 15 touchdowns and senior quarterback Mike O’Connor adding 736 yards and 11 touchdowns. O’Connor also threw for 456 yards and six touchdowns.

Two of Rumson’s losses came to top-five teams in St. John Vianney and Middletown South, but a loss to Shore on Thanksgiving Eve kept the Bulldogs from being ranked higher.

Rumson graduates most of its top players and will have to rebuild on the fly if it hopes to match Manasquan (1998-2002) and win a Shore Conference-record fifth straight state title next season. Pfrang, Woods and fellow sophomore linebacker Christian Lanzalatto return to lead the defense while lineman Nathan Raphan, running back Peter Lucas and fullback Alex Maldjian lead the offensive returners. The Bulldogs will also be able to welcome back 6-foot-6 wide receiver Elijah McAllister, and FBS recruit, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

 

10. Central (7-2)

In their first season under first-year head coach Justin Fumando, the Golden Eagles opened yes in their first season moving up from Class B South to Class A South by going 7-2 and playing in the division title game. Their only losses came to South Jersey Group III champion Wall and top-ranked Toms River North. Central’s best wins were over Central Jersey Group IV finalist Brick and Central Jersey Group IV semifinalist Jackson Memorial.

The Golden Eagles were ineligible for the playoffs, however, because of a fight in a Week 1 game against Toms River East that resulted in three ejections. NJSIAA rules state any team accumulating three disqualifications in a season will be ineligible for the postseason.

Central’s offense revolved around the running game and senior Mike Bickford, who was fourth in the Shore in rushing despite playing in just nine games. The Golden Eagles’ all-time leading rusher with over 5,000 yards ran for 1,785 yards and 17 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Joe Fowler threw for 722 yards and seven touchdowns as the Eagles averaged 22.9 points per game.

Bickford was also the leading tackler for a defense that was No. 14 in the Shore allowing 18.3 points per game.

Central graduates Bickford and other senior standouts such as Denis Corbin, Anthony Holloway and Jared Giamo, but have a good young nucleus to build around as Fumando looks to establish a winning tradition at the Berkeley Township school. Fowler, defensive backs Neil Harrington and Jonathan Gonzalez, running back Kavon Chambers, linebacker Ryan Emmetts, linebacker Blake Horgan and lineman Brandon Voss lead the cast of returners.

 

Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

Sign Up For The SSN Newsletter

Please fill out this form to sign up for the Shore Sports Network newsletter.