Football – Central Jersey Group I Championship Preview: Point Beach vs. Middlesex
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP I FINAL
WHO: 7-Point Beach (7-4) vs. 4-Middlesex (10-1)
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 2, 4 p.m.
WHERE: Kean University
POINT BEACH ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated No. 2 Manville, 22-14 in the quarterfinals; defeated No. 3 Bound Brook, 22-19, in the semifinals.
MIDDLESEX ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated No. 5 Shore, 28-6, in the quarterfinals; defeated No. 1 Burlington City, 41-20, in the semifinals.
POINT BEACH'S BEST WIN: 22-19 over Bound Brook in the semifinals.
MIDDLESEX'S BEST WIN: 28-12 vs. Point Beach on Sept. 29
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Point Beach has a 7-13 all-time postseason record in 14 playoff berths with one sectional title and one other appearance in the final. The Garnet Gulls only state title came in 2013...Middlesex is 8-8 in 12 playoff appearances but is a perfect 4-for-4 in sectional championship games.
After an up-and-down regular season, Point Beach has made a run to the program’s third sectional championship game as the No. 7 seed. The Garnet Gulls staged a pair of second-half rallies in the first two rounds to defeat second-seeded Manville, 22-14, and third-seeded Bound Brook, 22-19.
The Garnet Gulls started the season 3-0 before losing three straight and losing standout senior running back/defensive back/kicker Sean Gould to a season-ending leg injury. A critical 11-0 win over Shore in Week 7 followed by a 41-6 win over Highland Park clinched a playoff spot. Now they're one win away from securing the program’s second-ever state championship. To do so they’ll have to defeat a Middlesex team they lost to in the regular season, 28-12.
Point Beach’s multiple Wing-T offense averages 22.7 points per game and has been much more balanced than seasons past. Senior quarterback Luke Frauenheim has thrown for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns while also rushing for a team-high 760 yards and three touchdowns. Senior running back Chris Webber has 595 yards and seven touchdowns and senior John Nista has 456 yards and four touchdowns.
Senior wideout Josh Yates is among the Shore Conference’s top receivers with 45 receptions for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior Jean Verrier has just three catches on the season, but all have gone for touchdowns, including a 79-yarder that was the go-ahead score in the semifinal win over Bound Brook.
Defensively, the Garnet Gulls allow an average of 19.8 points per game and have recorded two shutouts. Nista leads the Shore Conference with 16 sacks and has a team-high 61 tackles. Frauenheim has 59 tackles and two interceptions and Webber has 39 tackles and six sacks despite missing a few games.
Brad Parry has been a dangerous special teams player with two kick return touchdowns. After Gould’s injury, freshman Jeff Wall stepped in and has converted 11 of 14 extra points and kicked a 20-yard field goal.
Middlesex has a nine-game winning streak entering the championship game. The Blue Jays’ only loss of the season was a 26-20 overtime defeat to South River in Week 2.
The Blue Jays run the triple-option offense and average 30 points per game. Quarterback John Kressbach leads the way with 967 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns and 316 yards passing and four touchdowns. Slotback Devin Lanza has 908 yards rushing and six touchdowns on an average of 10.3 yards per carry. Fullback Tom Rau has 741 yards and six touchdowns. Anthony Mason (330 yards and 5 TDs) and Josh Ramirez (310 yards and 3 TDs) are also regular contributors.
Middlesex has attempted just 35 passes all season, an average of three per game, and completed 12 of them. Brad Kaplan has three touchdown catches and Zach Godfrey has two.
Jose Andujar is the Blue Jays’ top defender with 80 tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. J.T. Roberto and Jordan Campbell each have three sacks. Lanza has made 74 tackles and Ahmaad Rawlins has 55 tackles and three interceptions, including a pick-6 and a fumble return for a touchdown.
Matt Semon is 33 of 37 on extra points and 1-for-5 on field goals, connecting on a 25-yard field goal.
It will be interesting to see what adjustments Point Beach makes against Middlesex the second time around. Rau gutted Point Beach’s defense for 216 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting while the Garnet Gulls were never able to get their running game going. Frauenheim did throw for 219 yards in that game with Yates catching 10 passes.
On paper, this looks like a clear advantage for Middlesex. The Blue Jays are 10-1 with their only loss coming in overtime to a South River team that finished the season with one loss, and they already have a win over Point Beach this season. Garnet Gulls head coach John Wagner is a Hall of Fame coach for a reason, however, and you can bet he'll have some new wrinkles for Middlesex the second time around. Point Beach also didn't have Webber and two other starters in the regular season, so that's another factor to consider.
This could be labeled a homer pick, but I like Point Beach to complete its Cinderella run through the playoffs with a state title.
Prediction: Point Beach, 26-20.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.