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Florence-Pt. Beach Playoff Showdown is the Game of the Week

When Point Beach looks at the one team standing between the Garnet Gulls and their first state final appearance since 1982, there are plenty of similarities.

Kyle Samaritano and Point Beach will square off against Florence in a Central Jersey Group I semifinal that will be live on the Shore Sports Network. (Photo credit: Cliff Lavelle).

Third-seeded Florence, which will come to Donald T. Fioretti Field on Friday at 7 p.m. for a Central Jersey Group I semifinal, has a veteran coach who has done his share of winning, employs the Wing-T offense and runs an attacking 4-4 defense. All three of those have been components in Point Beach’s best season in school history, which the Garnet Gulls (10-0) hope continues for another week after Friday. All of the action will be brought to you live on the radio by The Shore Sports Network’s award-winning broadcast team on 105.7 “The Hawk’’ f.m. and streamed online at 1057thehawk.com.

However, there are some subtle wrinkles that will make Florence (9-1) a challenge for a Point Beach team that has been nearly unstoppable all year as it seeks its first state sectional title in school history. Florence reached last year’s Central Jersey Group I final before falling 42-18 to Asbury Park, so the Flashes are not going to go quietly because they are intent on handling their own unfinished business.

“They’re not as much of a true Wing-T team as they used to be,’’ said Point Beach coach John Wagner. “They line up in an ‘I’ (formation) and come at you pretty heavy with those kids. They still run sweep and inside traps, but when they get into that heavy package, we’re obviously concerned with that. They have backs that complement each other like we do.”

Florence has long been a dangerous Wing-T team under head coach Joe Frappolli, who is in his 39th season and has led the Flashes to five sectional titles. The two backs they will occasionally line up in the I-formation and run downhill are junior Curtis Thompson and senior Rich Myers, the latter of whom is also a standout linebacker. The Flashes’ big-play threat is Jazmir Best, who has proven to be lethal returning kicks on special teams.

Point Beach, which also runs the Wing-T, just saw a Wing-T team last week on Thanksgiving when it knocked off Shore Regional, 19-7, to win the Class B Central title. The Garnet Gulls were impressive in victory against a team that is seeded No. 1 in Central Jersey Group I and could see Point Beach again in the championship game if the Blue Devils can beat fourth-seeded Asbury Park on Friday night.

“I think last week is an advantage to us going into this game,’’ Wagner said. “To come off a game against an opponent like Shore has to give you confidence you can play in a big game against a great team. That (regular) season is now behind us, and we look forward to this (playoff) season.”

Point Beach will counter that running attack with a fearsome front four of seniors Lucas Jordy, Timmy Morris, Nick Fiore and Andre Cochran, who accounted for six sacks against Shore last week and held the Blue Devils’ potent rushing game to 17 total yards. Linebackers Kyle Samaritano, Quinn Kusma and Joe Wegrzyniak and defensive backs Jake Fioretti and Danny Tighe are all playmakers behind that standout group.

Most of those players are better known for their explosiveness on offense, as Point Beach leads the Shore Conference at 42.3 points per game. Tighe is the Shore Conference’s leading rusher and scorer, having rolled up 1,551 yards and 26 touchdowns on 13.7 yards per carry. Samaritano and Cochran are each over 700 yards and touchdown threats on every play in their own right. Plus, those linemen earning accolades on defense also form a rugged offensive line. They face an attacking 4-4 defense from Florence that is intent on stopping the run that features Myers at linebacker and a quality defensive end tandem in Thompson and senior Nnamdi Njoku.

“We make subtle game adjustments in blocking schemes and just try to take advantage of things we see on film to exploit the defense,’’ Wagner said. “What I try to do is try to spread the wealth. Danny Tighe has had an exceptional year. He came to us with great speed mechanics from track, and he kind of came out of nowhere. We knew what we had with Samaritano and Cochran, so the question mark was at quarterback. Fioretti has done a magnificent job of directing our offense.

“What I have been saying all year is the people up front are what make you go. We have been good from tight end to split end, they have been able to quickly pick up any changes we make, and our backs block for each other.”

A program that had not won a state playoff game since 1982 before last year is now the favorite to take home its first sectional title since the state playoff system was created in 1974. The last state title for the Garnet Gulls was the Central Jersey Group I championship in 1949, when the NJSIAA awarded titles before the playoff system was created.

Point Beach has handled the pressure of being the strong favorite to do something it has never done in addition to carrying the emotion from the devastation wrought on its sending district by Hurricane Sandy.

“That’s our job as coaches is to keep everybody grounded,’’ Wagner said. “We got the tape out and got after the kids on some things we didn’t do well on Thanksgiving. The film never lies. We point that out as, ‘How are we going to play better next week?’ There’s no such thing as a perfect game, but we are always looking to give a full effort, and whatever happens, happens.”

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