Football – What to Watch For: Week 1
After a three-game soft opening last week, the 2017 Shore Conference football season goes full throttle this weekend with 22 games across Friday and Saturday.
Throughout the offseason and the preseason there has been countless opinions, conjecture, predictions and questions for every team in the Shore. Now we’re about to find out what it all means.
There are several noteworthy games this weekend, including key divisional matchups in Class A North, Class A South, Class B North and Class B Central. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get right to it.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: WEEK 1
With No. 3 Red Bank Catholic traveling to No. 10 Middletown South on Friday night, you have two of the Shore Conference’s best programs over the past 10 years battling it out in a marquee Class B North game. It’s also the only matchup of top-10 teams this week, so it gets our nod as the game of the week.
Red Bank Catholic is coming off a 5-5 season in the return of head coach Frank Edgerly, and is loaded with talent as it looks to reclaim its spot as an elite program in the Shore. The Caseys have a pair of FBS recruits in senior defensive end Emmett McNamara, who is committed to Virginia, and sophomore tight end Kevin Bauman, who has an offer from Rutgers. Other key returners include senior running back Zack Bair, who had over 1,000 yards last season, senior All-Shore defensive back Matt Ansell, 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver Jade Key and do-it-all senior Nick Brusca, who lined up at quarterback, running back and linebacker last season.
Another player that has people excited about the Caseys is quarterback Steve Lubischer. The junior was hurt during last year’s game against Middletown South and missed seven games, which led to a domino effect where Brusca ended up starting at quarterback for half the season. Lubischer has plenty of weapons around him to have a big season.
The Caseys also have a sizeable and experienced offensive line that includes 6-foot-3, 280-pound senior Michael Griggs, 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior Conor Smith, 6-foot-2, 270-pound junior Tom Smith, 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior Brandon Dente and 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior Rich Christie.
With players like McNamara, Ansell and junior linebacker Gino Tartamella, the Caseys’ defense has the potential to be a top unit in the Shore.
Middletown South, meanwhile, is coming off a 7-4 division where it lost in the semifinals of the North 2, Group IV sectional playoffs, but won the B North division title outright among a group that included two sectional champions and another sectional finalist. Running back Chaz Alessi and offensive lineman Adam Markman are just about the only holdovers on the offensive side of the ball. Senior Ben Kinsella will step in to direct the Eagles’ spread pistol offense.
Middletown South will need to be led by its defense, at least early on. Fortunately, the Eagles return several quality starters for defensive coordinator Al Bigos, including Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jake Krellin. One of the state’s premier pass rushers, Krellin was a monster last season with 109 tackles, 15 sacks and 45 tackles for a loss. Markman, senior Jake Bancala and junior Matt Tardy are all returning starters along the defensive line, while senior Chris Patterson is back at inside linebacker. It will be up to those five to lead the way against a Red Bank Catholic offense figures to be able to attack teams on the ground and through the air with consistency.
Red Bank Catholic is expected to be one of the Shore’s best teams, while Middletown South is a team that has many new starters and question marks on offense. We’ll find what a year of experience and physical growth has done for the Caseys. We’ll also see if Middletown South can get its offense in gear right away.
If RBC takes it to Middletown South it would be a message to the rest of the division that the Caseys are back. If Middletown South can pull out the win it would show the Eagles are still a force to be reckoned with.
A Tide on the Rise
Another important Class B North has defending Central Jersey Group II champion Manasquan heading to meet a Long Branch team that enters the season with high expectations.
Long Branch went 2-8 last season, but the Green Wave return a very good collection of skill players that has them eying a big turnaround in 2017. Quarterbacks Juwan Wilkins and Marc Dennis have a big and athletic receiving corps at their disposal with 6-foot-4 senior T.J. Fosque, 6-foot-5 tight end Kaymar Mimes plus Pasa Fields, Matt Clark and Kevin Porch. An x-factor is sophomore running back Jermaine Corbett, who is the younger brother of the Shore Conference single-season rushing record holder, Dahmiere Willis. Long Branch also has four of five starters back on the offensive line, so if that group can play at a high level the Green Wave had a chance to have scary offense.
No. 6 Manasquan went 10-2 last season to capture the program’s 12th sectional title and erase the frustration of back-to-back losing seasons. A lot of key seniors left through graduation, but the Warriors have enough to make another championship run. Senior Tommy Antonucci takes over at quarterback with the tandem of senior Connor Morgan and junior Canyon Birch leading the charge on the ground. Morgan ran for over 1,400 yards last season while Birch added 594 yards and six touchdowns, and together they form one of the top backfield duos in the Shore.
A player to watch for Manasquan is junior James Pendergist. Committed to Rutgers for lacrosse, Pendergist is a wonderful athlete who will play wide receiver, defensive back and kicker for the Warriors. He received more and more playing time as the season progressed last year and made plenty of crucial plays, and the Warriors are expecting a big and impactful season out of him.
Manasquan is the favorite, but only barely. Long Branch showcased its offensive skill by winning the Shore Conference 7-on-7 championship, so the potential is certainly there for the Green Wave to put up points in bunches. How it all comes together in an actual game is obviously the key. A win for Long Branch would really set the tone for its season. Long Branch figures to get better as the season goes on, so a victory for Manasquan could be huge down the road in terms of the division race and NJSIAA power points.
No. 9 Toms River North travels down the Garden State Parkway to take on Southern in a very intriguing Class A South game on Friday night.
Southern was one of five teams to play in Week 0, and the Rams lost a heartbreaker to Central, 24-23 in overtime. Southern has a daunting early-season schedule that includes top-ranked Manalapan next week, so the Rams fully want to avoid a potential 0-3 start. They were able to make the playoffs after staring 0-3 last season thanks to a five-game winning streak, but the Rams certainly don’t want to be in that position again.
Southern’s season isn’t on the line in Week 1, but its game against Toms River North can be a major turning point. That puts Toms River North in a unique situation in that the Mariners need to match Southern’s intensity and determination while breaking in several new starters. That’s going to be a tall task. Southern also has the advantage of playing a game and being able to make adjustments.
Toms River North is young, but very talented, while Southern is senior-laden and will surely be a bit angry taking the field Friday night.
Battle of Brick
One of the Shore Conference’s best rivalries is renewed on Saturday afternoon when Brick Memorial heads down the road to take on Brick at Keller Memorial Field.
Brick Memorial is coming off a 2-8 season, but has several starters returning, led by senior running back Tony Thorpe. Over the past two seasons, Thorpe has rushed for over 2,300 yards and scored 30 touchdowns, and is one of the best running backs in the Shore. The Mustangs also have versatile senior Blaine Netterman, who leads the defense and will contribute on offense at running back. As usual, it all comes down to what Brick Memorial gets from its quarterback. Senior Justin Hans and junior Tyler Sindel were competing for the job in training camp, and whomever ends up being the guy needs to have a good year for Brick Memorial to turn things around.
Brick lost a very good senior class to graduation, so there are a decent number of new starters on both sides for the Dragons. Brick is led by a tremendous junior class that includes Jimmy Leblo and Cole Groschel. Outside of those two, it’s mostly a no-name roster, but that could change quickly. And that’s not a slight at the Dragons. They’re at their best when they play physical team defense and have multiple players on offense making an impact. Brick has the look of being that kind of team this season.
Brick has won the last four games in the series.
Looking for Revenge
Central Jersey Group I champion Asbury Park heads to West Long Branch to face Shore Regional on Friday night in a key Class B Central game. Come to think of it, all the games between the five public schools in B Central are going to be big ones this year.
Outside of Mater Dei Prep, the balance in Class B Central is exceptional with Asbury, Shore, Point Beach, Keyport and Keansburg - all playoff teams last year – figuring to slug it out on a weekly basis. Given the final four of the CJ Group I playoffs featured all Shore Conference teams, every meeting between them this year will factor into playoff seeding.
Asbury Park earned two major wins over Shore last season: a 14-7 Week 1 victory which snapped Shore’s 20-game winning streak, and a 39-19 win in the state semifinals. Shore has been geared up for a rematch ever since last November, so you know the Blue Devils will come out focused and ready to go. Asbury Park feels it has the pieces in place throughout the program to make a run at multiple championships over the next several years, so this will give us a look into all of that.
The Rest of Week 1
Marlboro at No. 1 Manalapan: The top-ranked Braves start their Class A North title defense against a Mustangs team that features standout running back Jonny Helff and play-making wide receiver Justin Marcus.
No. 2 St. John Vianney at Matawan: The Lancers start the season No. 2 in the SSN Top 10 and will try to run their winning streak against Shore Conference teams to 30 games.
No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven at Raritan: The Bulldogs quest for five straight sectional titles begins on the road against a Raritan team breaking in several new starters. RFH senior Elijah McAllister will take the field after missing last season with an injury.
Central at Toms River East: Coming off a thrilling overtime win in Week 0, Central looks to move to 2-0 against a Toms River East team looking for its first win under second-year head coach Kyle Sandberg.
Ocean at Wall: Our Jersey Mike’s Game of the Week features the a new-look Wall squad taking on an Ocean team trying to bounce back from a loss in Week 0.
Point Boro at Pinelands: The defending Class B South champion Panthers travel south to take on a Wildcats team looking to continue its progress under first-year head coach Matt Fuller.
Donovan Catholic at Barnegat: A new era of Griffins football begins with head coach Dan Curcione at the helm.
Lakewood at Manchester: A Piners team that could be without star quarterback Zyheir Jones faces a Manchester team that features senior running back Jalen Glenn.
Red Bank at JFK-Iselin: The Bucs will try to reverse a 21-3 loss to the Mustangs in last season’s opener.
No. 5 Howell at Colts Neck: The Rebels’ high-powered offense takes on a Cougars team looking to make strides in the second full season under head coach Darian Barnes.
Freehold Township at No. 8 Freehold: “The Duke” is on the line when Ashante Worthy and Freehold host a Freehold Township team that has almost an entirely new starting offense.
Holmdel at Monmouth: Both the Hornets and Falcons were surprise winners in Week 0, and now one of them will get to 2-0 heading into next week.
Point Beach at Keyport: This game carries just as much importance as the Asbury Park-Shore game. The Red Raiders reached a sectional final last season and have 1,600-yard rusher Devin Wollner among their returners. Point Beach has a veteran team that includes several three- and four-year starters eager to reverse a pair of losses to Keyport last season.
Mater Dei Prep at Keansburg: The Titans have some good returning players led by senior quarterback Danny Vital, but face a tall order against the reigning B Central and Non-Public Group II champion Seraphs led by senior quarterback George Pearson.
Toms River South at Lacey: The Indians will try to snap a seven-game losing streak when they go on the road versus a Lacey team that features quarterback Coleton Klaus and running back Jason Giresi.
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.