Forecast Friday: Week Ten
This is always one of my favorite weeks of the year because a good portion of the Shore Conference has playoff fever. It's like having "In the Air Tonight'' playing on loop for a week until the big moment arrives.
This is normally the spot where I make inane jokes, but it's been a long week, and it's not even over yet. I just would like to say good luck to the 20 Shore Conference squads that will be in action in the postseason.
This week I will pick my winners for the overall brackets, this week's games, and a quick lightning round of consolation picks for fun.
Last week's record: 20-5. Season record: 146-47.
Predicted state champions:
Central Jersey Group IV: South Brunswick over Manalapan. (South Brunswick has never won a sectional title, but looks awfully tough).
Central Jersey Group III: Neptune over Wall. (Scared to death picking against Middletown South).
Central Jersey Group II: Rumson over Manasquan. (Bulldogs repeat as champs).
Central Jersey Group I: Asbury Park over Shore. (Blue Bishops win fourth title in five years).
South Jersey Group IV: Pennsauken over Williamstown. (Don't have the guts to pick Southern over Pennsauken in semis but I think the Rams have a shot).
South Jersey Group III: Timber Creek over Hammonton. (Timber Creek has more Division I-A players than Memphis University).
South Jersey Group II: Haddonfield over West Deptford (Might not be a lot of suspense in this bracket).
Non-Public Group III: St. Joseph-Montvale over Delbarton. (The juggernaut rolls on).
Friday's Playoff Games
Central Jersey Group IV
Brick Memorial (4-5) at Manalapan (7-1), 7 p.m.: The good news for Brick Memorial is that junior quarterback Ryan Cieplinski is going to play after sitting out a loss to Howell last week with a knee injury. That gives the Mustangs a fighting chance considering he is the main cog in the offense. Manalapan beat Brick Memorial, 23-21, on a last-second field goal only two weeks ago, so these teams are familiar with one another. I know Brick Memorial has had the magic in these playoff games as a low seed on the road in recent seasons, but I just think Manalapan will widen the gap from that first game rather than have the tables turned. Senior tailback John Sieczkowski is an Offensive Player of the Year candidate, while junior quarterback Mike Isabella proved in the first game between the two that he can make big throws under pressure. The pick: Manalapan.
Sayreville (7-2) at Jackson Memorial (7-1), 7 p.m.: The Bombers are the defending CJ IV champions, while Jackson is seeking its first title since 2005. In a quirky stat, Jackson is 6-0 all time in state playoff quarterfinals on its home field, for whatever that's worth. Senior running back Delon Stephenson is the Rutgers-bound franchise for Sayreville, while Jackson has a defense that has been tough against the run all year. I definitely have respect for Sayreville and what it has accomplished in recent seasons, but this team is not as deep as last year's. If Jackson can hold down Stephenson, it can get this win. I am putting my confidence in Jackson's defense. The pick: Jackson Memorial.
Central Jersey Group III
Middletown South (6-2) at Northern Burlington (7-1), 7 p.m.: This might be the first 1-8 game in history where everyone picks the No. 8 seed to win. We all know Middletown South's history at this point, and the Eagles come in on a six-game winning streak. Northern Burlington hasn't played a team like the Eagles this year and squeaked out a lot of close wins that make that record a little deceiving. If Middletown South can just slow down star running back Tosin Adeyemo, like it has done to many standout backs in the playoffs in the past, the Eagles should be fine. They should move the ball on the ground consistently, keep it out of Adeyemo's hands, and set up a showdown with Neptune in the semifinals. The pick: Middletown South.
Neptune (7-1) at Allentown (6-2), 7 p.m.: This is Allentown's first state playoff game in school history. The Redbirds should pat each other on the back and savor the moment early because the highlights might end after the national anthem. Neptune's biggest enemy in this game is overconfidence. It still has to go out and execute because the longer it lets the Redbirds hang around, the more the home crowd will get into the game. Neptune's defense might get a shutout in this one, but this is just a warm-up for a possible main event vs. Middletown South in the semifinals. The pick: Neptune.
Steinert (6-2) at Wall (7-1), 7 p.m.: Wall has to be ticked off about how everyone went leaping off the bandwagon following the loss to Colonia last week, and it will probably take that out on Steinert. The most important thing for the Crimson Knights is getting the defense some confidence after being obliterated for 450 yards rushing and five touchdowns by Colonia's Greg Jones last week. Wall has had a history of blasting Mercer County teams in the playoffs, and this should be no different behind that high-scoring offense. The pick: Wall.
Central Jersey Group II
Rahway (5-3) at Rumson-FH (8-0), 7 p.m.: This is a little bit of a scary game for the Bulldogs because Rahway has some dangerous skill players, namely quarterback Hakeem Kornegay. Still, this Rumson defense is certainly of championship caliber, and the offense should be able to move the ball and keep it out of the hands of Rahway's playmakers. The pick: Rumson.
Matawan (6-2) at Carteret (8-0), 7 p.m.: I'm going with the upset here for one reason, plain and simple: defense. No one has really been able to score on Matawan's defense all year. Even Rumson had to grind out 21 points. The Huskies fly to the ball, and they all will be running at Carteret star Jerod Johnson. I think they will find a way to pull one out on the road. The pick: Matawan.
Central Jersey Group I
Point Beach (6-2) at New Egypt (6-2): New Egypt is a one-man gang - running back Jamel Smith. If Point Beach can stop him, it will win its first state playoff game since 1982. I think the Garnet Gulls can do it, and I also think they can run the ball effectively enough to keep it out of Smith's hands to get just their second playoff win in program history. Considering the Garnet Gulls have already seen the speed of Asbury Park up close, they won't be fazed by Smith. The pick: Point Beach.
South Jersey Group IV
Triton (7-1) at Southern (8-1), 7 p.m.: It should be rocking down in Manahawkin for the first home playoff game in Southern history. There seems to be a sentiment with Southern where people are waiting for the other shoe to drop and for them to come back to earth. I think they are a solid team that is not flashy and doesn't blow people out, but gets the job done. It helps that Triton standout running back Brian Woods is out with a knee injury as far as slowing down a potent offensive team. This one won't be easy, but I think the Rams will ride the adrenaline of the home crowd, hit a few big passes of play action, and move on to the semifinals. The pick: Southern.
South Jersey Group III
Lacey (4-5) at Timber Creek (8-0), 7 p.m.: This is a reversal of roles from last year, when Lacey was the 800-pound gorilla in the bracket. Timber Creek returns armed with a bevy of Division I talent, and it will be too much for the young Lions to overcome. The pick: Timber Creek.
South Jersey Group II
Point Boro (5-3) at Barnegat (5-3), 7 p.m.: Should be an electric atmosphere for Barnegat's first home playoff game in program history. Both of these teams enter on a roll, and it will be the team that imposes its style best that wins. Either Point Boro shortens the game and kills Barnegat four yards at a time with the option, or the Bengals use some big plays in the passing game to put Point Boro on its heels. I'll go with the home team. The pick: Barnegat.
Non-Public Group III
Pope John XXIII (5-4) at Red Bank Catholic (8-0), 7 p.m.: By no means will this be easy because Pope John is a storied program that plays a tough schedule, but RBC should end its 13-year drought of playoff victories. The Caseys have the size advantage up front, which is crucial in establishing senior tailback John DiStefano. I just think RBC wants this one so badly that it just won't be denied, while this is far from a vintage season for Pope John. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.
Saturday's Playoff Games
Central Jersey Group II
Red Bank (5-3) at Manasquan (8-0), 1 p.m.: Red Bank is in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and it's facing a team that includes a trip to the playoffs on its yearly schedule. The Bucs are dealing with some injury and disciplinary issues, and I don't know if they can muster enough offense to win this one. Red Bank's defense would have to play out of its mind. Manasquan and Tyler Saito should do enough to set up a big game with either Carteret or Matawan in the semifinals. The pick: Manasquan.
Central Jersey Group I
Middlesex (6-2) at Asbury Park (7-1), noon: The Blue Bishops are not going to be in a good mood after a 28-6 loss to Rumson and will look to take it out on Middlesex. Asbury Park's fierce run defense was built to stop rushing, or Rushing, attacks, as Middlesex is led by Al-Tarik Rushing, a talented back whom Point Beach jammed up earlier this season in a victory. This one should bring the good vibes back to Asbury Park and kickstart a run to the final. The pick: Asbury Park
Shore (6-2) at Florence (7-1), 1 p.m.: This should be a dogfight for Shore because Florence is a perennial playoff team that is not going down without a fight. I just think Shore is on a mission to get another crack at Asbury Park, so it will control the clock with the running game, bend but not break on defense, and leave with a hard-fought win. The pick: Shore.
South Jersey Group III
Central (5-3) at Woodrow Wilson (5-3), 2 p.m.: This is Central's first trip to the postseason in 10 years, and this is a bad match-up because Woodrow Wilson has the speed to match the state's leading rusher, Central senior Kalyph Hardy, who is on pace for a 2,000-yard season. The loss to St. John Vianney last week by Central just planted too much of a seed of doubt in my head. If any player could single-handedly win this game, it's Hardy, but I think Woodrow Wilson prevails. The pick: Woodrow Wilson.
Non-Public Group III
Monsignor Donovan (5-3) at Delbarton (8-0), 1 p.m.: The bus ride to the game will last longer than any suspense in this one, but Monsignor Donovan should savor its accomplishment and continue to build a solid foundation. The pick: Delbarton.
Friday's Consolation Games
Colts Neck (4-4) at Middletown North (4-4), 7 p.m.: Colts Neck is the best Shore Conference team that didn't make the playoffs and will show that against a Lions team that also went into the final weekend with a shot at the postseason. Too much offense for the Cougars. I believe this game also features the highest combined number of players whose last name ends in a vowel of any game this season. The pick: Colts Neck.
Howell (4-4) at Old Bridge (3-5), 7 p.m.: Howell quarterback Ryan Davies and senior wideout Brandon Yaegel have two more games to put some records into the stratosphere, so I think they will take full advantage. Yaegel is also trying to keep pace with Wes Welker's catch total. The pick: Howell.
Monroe (1-7) at Freehold Township (1-7), 7 p.m.: Monroe has taken a big step back since peaking with its first state title in 2009, while Freehold Township is a regular in the consolation games considering it only has one state playoff appearance in its history. Neither of these teams can score. This might be 3-0 in triple overtime. The pick: Monroe.
Marlboro (0-8) at Clearview (1-7), 7 p.m.: This is the way it has to go at Marlboro. Build up to a solid class like last year, go 4-6, then the bottom falls out and the building process starts again. This is one of the "bottom falls out'' years. The pick: Clearview.
Freehold (2-6) at Jackson Liberty (3-5), 7 p.m.: Jackson Liberty still has a chance at a .500 season, while a young Freehold team has lost four straight. I'll give the Lions the edge with Justin Billups. The added bonus is that if the fans are quiet enough, they might be able to hear updates from the Jackson Memorial-Sayreville playoff game on the other side of town so they can follow two games at once. The pick: Jackson Liberty.
Keyport (4-5) at Robbinsville (5-4), 7 p.m.: Robbinsville just missed out on the playoffs and is a decent team, but I'm not picking a Mercer County team over a Shore Conference team, especially one that is closing strong after two straight wins. The pick: Keyport.
Lakewood (2-6) at Raritan (2-6), 7 p.m.: I'm sure both of these teams are not thrilled to be playing in one of these games as both had higher expectations for this season. If Lakewood junior quarterback Tyrice Beverette can put nearly 400 yards of total offense on an undefeated Manasquan team, I think he can be the difference in this one. The pick: Lakewood.
North Plainfield (2-6) at Holmdel (1-7), 7 p.m.: North Plainfield is usually a playoff team, but not this year. The Canucks have more speed than Holmdel but their pass defense is not good and Holmdel runs the spread. This could be a wild one. The pick: North Plainfield.
Long Branch (3-5) at Hightstown (2-7), 7 p.m.: Long Branch star tailback Dwight Clark against a Mercer County squad has the potential for me getting a text or a Tweet that says, dead seriously, "Clark 560 yds, 8 TDs for LB tonight.'' The pick: Long Branch.
Keansburg (1-7) at Roselle Park (2-6), 7 p.m.: Every time I try to back the 'Burg, they burn me, like last week in the loss to a one-win South River team. Lesson learned. The pick: Roselle Park.
Toms River East (1-7) at Eastern (3-6), 6 p.m.: Hard to believe that these two quality programs are slogging it out in a consolation game and not in the playoffs. Toms River East has had trouble scoring this season, so I'll go with the home team. The pick: Eastern.
Manchester (4-4) at Delsea (5-4), 7 p.m.: Crazy to see Delsea, a perennial playoff contender, in a consolation game only one year after playing Lacey in the South Jersey Group III final with a young team that was supposed to be back this year. Guess not. Manchester full-on mailed in last week's game against Point Boro, so I'm going with the home team. The pick: Delsea.
Toms River South (2-6) at Winslow Township (2-7), 7 p.m.: Winslow was in the South Jersey Group III semifinals last season and now has tumbled to two wins in its first season under head coach Calvin Thompson, the former Point Boro coach. Toms River South's offense has come alive late in the season, and I think the Indians are building some momentum for next year. The pick: Toms River South.
Pinelands (0-8) at Middle Township (1-7), 7 p.m.: Middle Township was the team Pinelands beat for its one and only state playoff victory in school history in 2004. The Panthers haven't forgotten that and now are out for blood. Actually, they were like 9 years old at the time and don't even care. The pick: Middle Township.
Saturday's Consolation Games
Brick (5-4) at Hamilton West (5-3), 11 a.m.: Both of these teams were in playoff contention right down to the wire. Again, I am invoking the Mercer County rule and picking the Green Dragons. Plus, Brick has no Thanksgiving game, so it wants to end on a high note. The pick: Brick.
Ocean (2-6) at Princeton (3-6), 1 p.m.: Ocean has lost six straight to go from the euphoria of beating Middletown South in the opener to also-ran status. The good news is that the Spartans have been given a Mercer County squad to help them feel better about themselves. They have a chance to finish 4-6, which is still unacceptable by Ocean standards, but not as gruesome as it currently looks. The pick: Ocean.
Ewing (2-7) at Monmouth (0-8), 1 p.m.: I feel like Ewing and Monmouth have played each other in consolation games more than the Yankees and Red Sox have played each other in the playoffs. Monmouth is still looking to give first-year head coach Jason Morrell his first win. Even though Monmouth usually drills Ewing and I rarely pick the Mercer County squads, Monmouth hasn't really given me a reason to pick the Falcons. Looking at an 0-for-2011 for the Falcons. The pick: Ewing.
Toms River North (4-4) at Cherry Hill East (5-3), 1 p.m.: Cherry Hill East just beat Cherokee 57-56, so between these two offenses, it may go nuclear. Toms River North may win 70-68 on Scott Buxbaum's 10th touchdown. Both were in the running for playoff berths, so this is one of those games where you wonder which team will stay focused and which team will mail it in because it's mad that it missed out on the postseason. The pick: Toms River North.
Mater Dei Prep (0-8) at Gloucester Catholic (2-6), 1 p.m.: Injuries and ineffectiveness have made this a lost season for the Seraphs. The pick: Gloucester Catholic.
St. Joseph-Metuchen (3-5) at St. John Vianney (3-5), 1 p.m.: This is St. Joe's inaugural varsity season. If St. John Vianney is good enough to beat playoff-bound Central and Kalyph Hardy, it has to be good enough to be a first-year varsity program, right? The pick: St. John Vianney.
Weekend of 11/11/11