Forecast Friday: “SPECIAL WEDNESDAY EDITION” Week Twelve
Don't tell anyone, but I was one win away from the perfect weekend last week. Yes, I know there were only seven games played, but I have to take my small victories where I can get them.
As for this week, outside of the season openers, these Thanksgiving games are the hardest games to pick of the year. You never know which teams have just tuned out during this 2-week break and are going through the motions, which teams will be fired up, and which teams will give an unexpected great effort because it has hit the seniors that this is it, there is no going back.
There are always a few eye-opening scores on this weekend, and I expect this year to be no different. Even when players cry after losses or wins, I get a little envious because you get older and jaded and you forget what it was like to care so much about being part of a team and participating in athletics. It goes to fast, so soak in every moment you can.
Last week's record: 6-1. Season record: 144-48.
Freehold Twp. (2-7) at Freehold (2-7), 5:30 p.m.: Freehold is bringing out the portable lights on its home field for a nondivisional match-up with its next-door neighbor. The Patriots enter with some confidence after beating Monroe in their consolation game, while a young Freehold team has lost six straight after a 2-1 start. I think Freehold has the talent to make a jump next year with all of its linemen returning, so maybe the turnaround starts here. Freehold Township has been a hard team to figure out this season, showing flashes of giving good teams a battle for a half and then having tough losses in other spots. This is a really hard game to figure out, but I will give the home team a slight edge to end on a high note and build toward next year with a win in a low-scoring game. The pick: Freehold.
Marlboro (0-9, 0-4) at No. 6 Manalapan (9-1, 4-0), 5:30 p.m.: This will be an extended coronation for the Braves and a record-setting night. I believe this will get Manalapan to 10 wins for the first time in school history, and it will also wrap up their second straight outright Class A North title, which is also a first in Braves history. In addition, senior running back John Sieczkowski only needs 135 yards rushing to pass Josh Firkser's school record of 2,053 yards rushing set last year. He will make Shore Conference history by giving Manalapan back-to-back 2,000-yard rushers. All of that might be accomplished by halftime, as the Braves look to stay healthy and gear up for a run at their first Central Jersey Group IV title in program history. This would also mark Manalapan's 12th straight divisional victory. The pick: Manalapan.
Jackson Liberty (4-5) at No. 5 Jackson Memorial (7-2), 6 p.m.: Jackson Memorial has never lost to its cross-town rival in three meetings, and I don't see it happening here unless Lions senior Justin Billups goes off. The Jaguars are looking to polish off their comeback season by continuing their mastery of Jackson Liberty and should be able to run the ball effectively with the tandem of running back Brandon Winston and quarterback Jimmy Celidonio. The pick: Jackson Memorial.
Point Beach (7-3, 3-1) at Shore Regional (6-3, 3-1), 7 p.m.: This is for second place in Class B Central and it has more meaning to Point Beach in that the Garnet Gulls can set a school record with their eighth victory. Junior running back Andre Cochran will miss the game after being injured against Asbury Park, which is a dent in Point Beach's arsenal. Both teams are Wing-T running teams, so it will come down to which one executes better because they will know how to defend the other one's offense. After a disappointing shutout loss to Central Jersey Group I finalist Florence in the quarterfinals, Shore is out to show that B Central is Asbury Park, the Blue Devils and then everyone else. This has been a dream season for Point Beach, so I'm going with the hunch that it ends on a high note with a hard-fought victory against the always-tough Blue Devils. The last time Point Beach won a Thanksgiving game was 1996, according to The Asbury Park Press, and it was at Shore's expense, so we'll see if history repeats itself. The pick: Point Beach.
Pinelands (0-9, 0-4) at No. 10 Barnegat (6-3, 3-1), 10 a.m.: Much like the Manalapan-Marlboro game, this is an extended pat on the back for Barnegat, which will set a school record with its seventh victory and clinch its first outright division title by locking up Class B South with a victory. Pinelands is looking to hold the Bengals to 47 points or less to avoid crossing the dreaded 500-point barrier in points allowed (50 ppg) this season as its young and all-new starting lineup took its lumps. On the bright side, pretty much the entire lineup returns next year for Pinelands. For Barnegat, some great high school careers will be coming to an end like that of quarterback Mark McCoy, tight end Ryan Morris, wideout Jordan Salt, running back David Smithman and linebacker Matt Schofield. They will look to enjoy the moment. The pick: Barnegat.
Raritan (3-6, 1-3) at Holmdel (1-8, 0-4), 10 a.m.: The season hasn't gone the way either of these teams would have liked, but I liked what I saw from Raritan as far as playing a strong game to knock off Lakewood in its consolation game. Plus, the Rockets have owned Holmdel in their short Thanksgiving series, so until that changes, I am staying with the guys in green. The pick: Raritan.
Howell (4-5) at Colts Neck (5-4), 10 a.m.: This is always a fun game because a lot of these players played together in Pop Warner, and they all know each other well. A lot of this game will have to do with either extending or setting records. Howell senior quarterback Ryan Davies is 192 yards away from being the first Shore Conference quarterback and just the fourth in state history to ever throw for 3,000 yards in a season, while senior wideout Brandon Yaegel already has the conference record for catches in a season and can set the receiving yards record. Meanwhile, Colts Neck senior running back Victor Scalici already has the single-game and single-season rushing and touchdown school records, so he's looking to push those further out of reach. I think this will be a microcosm of the season. Davies and Yaegel will get their numbers, but Scalici and the Cougars' ground game will do the job to get Colts Neck the win. The pick: Colts Neck.
No. 3 Neptune (9-1) at No. 9 Asbury Park (9-1), 10:30 a.m.: One of the oldest Thanksgiving rivalries in this state, this is as competitive as it gets. To some followers of these teams, winning this game is more important than a state championship, which both teams will be playing for a week later in their respective brackets. It's also a great match-up: Neptune's pounding running game, which rolled up 521 yards rushing in a playoff win over Northern Burlington last week, against the Shore Conference's No. 1 run defense in Asbury Park. The main question is how well Asbury Park can move the ball against a tough Neptune defense. Two of the most electrifying offensive players in the Shore, Neptune quarterback Jaheem Woods and Asbury Park running back Armond Conover, will go at it. Neptune has been susceptible to the pass, and so has Asbury Park, so whichever quarterback, Woods or Robert Barksdale, can exploit that will go a long way toward determining the winner. I think Neptune is a little more battle-tested and will find a way to get it done to maintain its bragging rights. The pick: Neptune.
Mater Dei Prep (0-9, 0-4) at Keansburg (1-8, 0-4), 10:30 a.m.: This is essentially the game to avoid finishing in last place in Class B Central. Mater Dei beat Keansburg last year to complete a winless season for the Titans, so they are eager to repay the favor. Keansburg has been a weird team this year, challenging teams like Asbury Park and Dunellen to the wire and then falling way short against teams you would think they had a good shot to beat. Mater Dei's offense has picked it up dramatically in the last few weeks with a healthy Jesse Meyer at quarterback, so it could certainly find a way to win this game. Keansburg is a junior-laden squad that will look to build on a win here as springboard to next season, when nearly the entire lineup returns. The pick: Keansburg.
Ocean (3-6, 1-4) at Monmouth (1-8, 0-5), 10:30 a.m.: Ocean got some Mercer County fodder in the consolation and now gets the Falcons, who are coming off their first win thanks to another Mercer County opponent. This has been another disappointing season for Ocean, but the Spartans can at least end on a high note after a 2-0 start turned into a 2-6 slide. Senior Greg Moore and several others will conclude solid careers by continuing Ocean's dominance of Monmouth in this rivalry. The pick: Ocean.
Long Branch (4-5) at Red Bank (5-4), 10:30 a.m.: Long Branch has won four straight after an 0-5 start and will be a team receiving a lot of buzz heading into next season with the return of two-time, 1,000-yard rusher Dwight Clark, one of the Shore's most dynamic backs. Red Bank is coming off a 34-7 loss to Manasquan in the state playoffs and has struggled with injuries and disciplinary issues. Plus, Long Branch has not forgotten about its loss to the Bucs in last year's game, their first loss to Red Bank since 2003. Both of these teams have good junior classes, so it will be fun to see them slug it out before they both come back with championship hopes for next season. The pick: Long Branch.
Middletown North (4-5) at Middletown South (6-3), 10:30 a.m.: Middletown North has not beaten the Eagles since 2000. I started to think they had a real shot when they made a bid for the playoffs with a 4-3 start, but then they lost 28-0 to Southern and got blown out by Colts Neck in their consolation game. Middletown South, meanwhile, had its earliest exit from the state playoffs since 2000. Eagles fans must have been wandering the streets like zombies out of "The Walking Dead'' in the past week, wondering what to do with themselves because they haven't experienced this week off in so long. That just shows what an incredible stretch of football the Eagles have played, making nine state finals in 10 years prior to this season. It's easy to get spoiled with that kind of success. I do think Middletown North has a shot here if it gets back to playing the same football it did during its four-game winning streak, and I wonder how Middletown South will approach this one. Will the Eagles mail it in because they didn't make the state finals this year, or go out with a bang? I don't see them just giving up because losing to your cross-town rival is something you don't soon forget. The pick: Middletown South.
No. 8 Manasquan (9-1) at Wall (7-2), 11 a.m.: This game will be broadcast live on the radio on 105.7 f.m., and the winner will clinch the outright Class C Central title. Manasquan is the defending division champion after winning this game last year. The Warriors enter off a disappointing loss to Matawan in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals, while Wall took the hook in the first round to eventual Central Jersey Group III finalist Steinert, the No. 7 seed. Both of these teams got knocked all season for their schedules, and when they had to finally face tough opponents, the feeling that they were overrated came painfully true. That's what makes this such a huge game other than the fact that it's for a title and it's one of the Shore's best Thanksgiving rivalries. Essentially, whichever team wins this game, this will be that team's best win of the season. Somebody is staying in the Top 10 and somebody is going out after both spent much of the season as ranked teams. The trend in this rivalry has been that the home team has pulled out a thrilling victory, so I am giving the Crimson Knights, who have had two weeks to prepare, a slight edge. Also, Wall's Achilles' heel is its run defense, and Manasquan is more of a passing team this year, although I could see Kodie McNamara capping his career in style in this one. We'll see. One thing you can be sure of is that this is the only game every year in which I buy 50-50 tickets because it pays out like 2 or 3 grand. You better believe I will stop filming and taking notes mid-game if my winning number is announced. The pick: Wall.
Point Boro (5-3) at Central (5-4), 11 a.m.: This game could be pretty high-scoring given the offensive firepower. Point Boro has senior quarterback John Dunbar, who is coming off a 226-yard rushing performance in a state playoff loss to Barnegat in the opening round. Central senior running back Kalyph Hardy is just shy of 2,000 yards rushing, making him the first Golden Eagles back to cross the mark. Central has lost three of its last four with its defense not being able to stop anyone, so this could get wild. I think Point Boro has a few more weapons and can do enough to sit on the ball and keep it out of Hardy's hands. The pick: Point Boro.
Toms River South (2-7) at Lakewood (2-7), 11 a.m.: Both of these teams come in off losses in their consolation games. Lakewood has the best player on the field in junior quarterback Tyrice Beverette, but it still is on a four-game losing streak. Toms River South has a lot coming back next year, and I think will get this one to build momentum as the Indians try to resurrect their program. Lakewood is a team that rides momentum, and when things are going well, the Piners are tough, and when things aren't going so well, it gets away from them quickly. Plus, they have had a hard time stopping the run, and Toms River South has put up some big numbers in the triple option in a couple games this year. This is one of those ancient Thanksgiving rivalries that the Turkey Day purists want to preserve, so we'll see if they provide some excitement. The pick: Toms River South.
Toms River North (4-5, 1-3) at Toms River East (1-8, 1-3), 11 a.m.: Hard to believe these two strong programs limp into this game with nondescript seasons, but that's the way it goes sometimes at public school programs. Scoring points for Toms River North has not been a problem, while it has been a struggle for Toms River East. The Mariners also have the incentive of at least registering a .500 season and avoiding their first losing season since 2005. There also have a lot of dynamic skill players returning, so the future is promising for Toms River North. Toms River East has a solid sophomore class to keep an eye on as well. The pick: Toms River North.
No. 2 Rumson-Fair Haven (10-0) at No. 1 Red Bank Catholic (9-1), 7 p.m.: This is one of the more anticipated Thanksgiving games in recent memory across the Shore Conference. Rumson has not beaten RBC since 2002, and now both teams enter as the top two squads in the All Shore Media Top 10. Rumson will play Matawan for a shot at its second straight Central Jersey Group II title a week later, while the Caseys are coming off a 30-23, double-overtime loss to undefeated Delbarton in the Non-Public Group III semifinals. RFH head coach Shane Fallon can get his 100th career win with a victory, and the Bulldogs can add to their school-record 10 wins. RBC, meanwhile, can win a school-record 10th game of its own with a victory. In past years, RBC's brute force up front has been the glaring difference between these teams, but RFH is very tough up front this year. Also, RBC will be without 1,500-yard rusher John DiStefano, who was injured against Delbarton last week and is out for the season. He will be replaced by sophomore Larry Redaelli, who rushed for 95 yards in DiStefano's absence last week. Some of the best defensive linemen in the Shore Conference are in this game on both sides, so whomever wins the war in the trenches might not only decide the game, but things like Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Shore. Clearly Rumson has a shot, especially with DiStefano out. RBC can clinch the final No. 1 ranking in the Shore with a win, which would be the second time since 2008 that the Caseys have finished No. 1. It should be an all-out slugfest, and both quarterbacks, Ryan Spahr and Rumson's Danny Roberto, have shown they can make clutch throws under pressure if the run game is being slowed down. I am staying with RBC until Rumson finally gets one of these. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.
Matawan (8-2, 2-2) at St. John Vianney (4-5, 1-3), 11 a.m.: This game just got a whole lot more interesting with the news that five Matawan players, including three starters, have been suspended for a violation of school rules. If any of them are in the secondary, which I suspect, that could make it hairy for the Huskies because of St. John Vianney's aerial attack with quarterback Anthony Carlucci and wideouts Ishmael Hyman and Anthony Pante. However, as long as senior running back Larry Alston III is in the lineup, the Huskies can play keepaway on offense and pound St. John Vianney with the running game. Then it's a case of whether or not those players will return for the Central Jersey Group II final against Rumson-Fair Haven. Still, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that St. John Vianney could win this game. The pick: Matawan.
Total # Correct This Season
(as of 11/27/11)