Football – Central Jersey Group V Championship Preview: Manalapan vs. South Brunswick
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP V FINAL
WHO: 1-Manalapan (11-0) vs. 2-South Brunswick (10-1)
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 2, 1 p.m.
WHERE: High Point Solutions Stadium Rutgers University
MANALAPAN ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Perth Amboy, 42-0, in the quarterfinals; defeated Freehold Township, 63-22, in the semifinals.
SOUTH BRUNSWICK ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Hillsborough, 42-7, in the quarterfinals; defeated Old Bridge, 21-10, in the semifinals.
MANALAPAN'S BEST WIN: 49-28 over Howell on Oct. 13.
SOUTH BRUNSWICK'S BEST WINS: 35-6 over Old Bridge on Sept. 8 and 21-10 over Old Bridge on Nov. 17.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Manalapan has a 17-16 all-time postseason record in 16 playoff appearances. The Braves will be playing in their seventh sectional final, including their sixth in the last seven years. Their only sectional title, however, came in 2014 when they defeated South Brunswick, 21-7, in the Central Jersey Group V final...South Brunswick has made just nine playoff appearances in program history, holding a 12-7 record. The Vikings have two sectional championships in their trophy case in three appearances in the final. Their last title came in 2015 and that playoff run included a win over Manalapan in the semifinals.
Manalapan is one win away from a wire-to-wire run as the No. 1 team in the Shore and, more importantly, from immortality as the program’s first 12-0 team and second sectional champion. Standing in the Braves’ way is a South Brunswick program they’ve had plenty of postseason battles with over the years.
This will be the fifth meeting in the last six postseasons between Manalapan and South Brunswick. The teams have split the first four meetings, including both gaining victories over each other to win state championships.
The Braves have been absolutely dominant this season with the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense in the Shore, headlined by record-setting senior running back Naim Mayfield and Defensive Player of the Year candidate, junior linebacker Tommy Pearce. Manalapan reached the final via a 63-22 wipeout of Freehold Township and will be playing in their sixth sectional final in the last seven seasons. The Braves are averaging 45 points per game through 11 games, and while they are talented and productive at multiple positions, the player who has led the way has been Mayfield.
Coming into the season Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri said Mayfield could already be the greatest running back in Braves history. There’s no question about it now after an unreal season that still has one more chapter to be written. Mayfield has rushed for 2,546 yards and 45 touchdowns this season on a mind-boggling 14.2 yards per carry. His 45 rushing touchdowns and 46 total touchdowns are Shore Conference and state records, as his five touchdowns against Freehold Township set New Jersey’s all-time single-season scoring record with 276 points and counting. He is 44 yards away from breaking the Shore Conference single-season rushing record of 2,589 set by Long Branch’s Dahmiere Willis in 2014. Nobody has been able to stop Mayfield this season, and the Braves are counting on another big game in their finale.
Paving the way for Mayfield is an outstanding offensive line led by senior Trevor Radosevich at right tackle and also featuring senior Jack McLaughlin at right guard, senior Joe Ciraola at left guard, senior Matt Mazza at left tackle and sophomore Nick Cavallaro at center. Senior fullback Chris Maksimik, a devastating blocker as well as a short-yardage specialist and a pass-catching threat, clears many a path for Mayfield.
With Mayfield running wild every week Manalapan hasn’t needed to throw the ball much. The Braves do, however, have one of the Shore Conference’s top quarterbacks in senior Luke Corcione, who has thrown for 1,317 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior wideouts Symir Blacknall and Scott Scherzer each have a team-high 22 receptions with Blacknall amassing 489 yards and two touchdowns and Scherzer totaling 342 yards and three scores. Blacknall also has four rushing touchdowns and a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Manalapan’s defense has yielded just 10.9 points per game this season and recorded four shutouts. The Braves have playmakers at all three levels of their defense and are lead by Pearce and senior Sal Tardogno at linebacker. Pearce is second in the Shore Conference with 129 tackles (eight for a loss) and also has three sacks and a team-high four interceptions. Tardogno has 101 tackles and two sacks. Senior defensive lineman Antonio Deieso has made 93 stops and recorded a team-leading 14 hits for a loss and eight sacks. Junior defensive lineman Da-shon Taylor has 69 tackles with nine hits for a loss and four sacks.
David Gelb hasn’t attempted a field goal this season because Manalapan’s offense has been so efficient, but the junior has a big leg that can be a weapon. He’s converted 65 of 67 extra points and boomed 33 touchbacks this season.
South Brunswick will be seeking its third state title and first since 2015 and enters on a seven-game winning streak. The Vikings top player is 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior wide receiver Justin Shorter, a Penn State recruit. South Brunswick’s offense is geared around running the ball with multiple backs and airing it out to Shorter, who has 522 of the team’s 723 receiving yards and seven of its 12 receiving touchdowns through 10 games. He is also the team’s third-leading rusher with 322 yards and four touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Felix Quinones is a shifty playmaker who leads the team in rushing with 749 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing for 542 yards and nine touchdowns with only one interception. Seniors Jaylan Lawson, Jayvon Palmer, Dylan Kirz and junior Thomas Joe-Kamara are each regulars in the running game, but Quinones has been the one to run a third of the time the Vikings keep it on the ground.
The Vikings don’t have one particular dominant player on defense but get it done with a cohesive unit that has allowed 14 points or fewer in nine of 11 games this season. Joe-Kamara has a team-high 66 tackles while Kirz has 62 stops and a team-leading seven hits for a loss. Junior Jalen John and senior Xavier Cargile each have three sacks. Lawson has four interceptions while Joe-Kamara, Quinones and Shorter each have two picks.
Kicker Evan Sooby has converted 29 of 33 extra points but has not attempted a field goal this season.
The teams have two common opponents this season in Piscataway and Old Bridge. Piscataway handed South Brunswick its only loss of the season, 28-14, while Manalapan shut out Piscataway, 28-0. South Brunswick beat Old Bridge 35-6 in Week 1 and 21-10 in the semifinals last week. Manalapan defeated Old Bridge, 34-13, in Week 3.
Manalapan had two weeks to prepare while South Brunswick played rival North Brunswick on Thanksgiving Eve, coming away with a 42-20 victory. The Vikings were without Quinones on Turkey day as he injured his throwing elbow against Old Bridge. The Home News Tribune’s Greg Tufaro reported x-rays were negative and it appears to be a hyperextension and not a dislocation as was initially feared. Following the game against North Brunswick, South Brunswick head coach Joe George told the HNT that Quinones is "very questionable" for the state final, but may be able to play. You'd like to take George at his word, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Quinones starting on Saturday afternoon. Sophomore Gage Katzenell-Hall made his first career start in the win over South Brunswick and had a touchdown run and a touchdown pass, but it would be a tall order for him against Manalapan if he has to again fill in for Quinones.
The uncertainty at quarterback for South Brunswick has to be impacting how Manalapan formulates its gameplan against the Vikings. If Quinones can't play there could also be a scenario where another player besides Katzenell-Hall steps in at quarterback with a totally new look on offense.
Both teams have a dynamic player at their disposal, but Manalapan is the favorite to win the title. The elephant in the room is that the Braves are just 1-5 all-time in sectional finals. They have been nearly untouchable in the regular season over the last seven years, but have closed it out with a state championship only once. This is a special senior class with a running back having one of the greatest seasons in state history. They’re solid everywhere, and if they play their game they’ll be hoisting the hardware to end a perfect season.
Prediction: Manalapan, 35-21
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.