Game of the Week: Jackson Memorial at Toms River North
Toms River North got right back into the Class A South race with an upset win last week. Now the Mariners find themselves on the other end of that scenario, as Jackson Memorial will try to do the same thing to them on Friday night in the Shore Sports Network Game of the Week.
The 7 p.m. game at Gernerd Field in Toms River will be live on 105.7 “The Hawk’’ f.m. and on 1160/1310 a.m. It features a Mariners team coming off a pivotal, 17-14 win over defending Class A South champion Southern, and Jackson Memorial trying to bounce back from a 34-7 loss to unbeaten Brick Memorial and become a factor in the Class A South race.
“Last week was a big character win for our team,’’ said Toms River North coach Chip LaBarca Jr. “But we know Jackson is a well-coached, physical and aggressive team, and they beat us pretty good last year so we have to be prepared.”
An important development for Toms River North last week was the ability of senior lineman Garrett Kroeger to step in at center in the Mariners’ shotgun spread offense. Junior Nick Silva suffered a career-ending injury in Week Two, creating a void at a crucial position in Toms River North’s offense. Kroeger had started at center as a junior but this year he had only played on the defensive line, where he is a three-year starter, in order to keep him fresh.
He stepped in and played every snap in the win over Southern. With Kroeger clearing the way up front, it allows sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani to be dangerous in running the ball on option plays and also makes sure there are no issues with the shotgun snaps that might slow things down or cause a turnover.
“It’s just so huge to have him be able to give us stability there,’’ LaBarca said. “We were worried that having him play both sides might hurt his effectiveness on defense, but he did a great job the whole way against Southern.’’
Two of Toms River North’s top playmakers also made an impact as junior wideout Kyle Carrington caught a touchdown pass from Sclafani and junior Joey Fields had a punt return for a score.
“We have a lot of playmakers,’’ LaBarca said. “The more we spread the ball around to them, the harder we are to defend.’’
Toms River North’s special teams are also a major weapon, as senior kicker Chris Gulla is one of the best in the state and nailed a 45-yard field goal to beat Southern.
That team will face a Jackson Memorial squad that will look to establish the run with Khani Glover and Justin Gullo out of the no-huddle, shotgun spread. The Jaguars were bottled up last week, as Brick Memorial held them to only 65 yards rushing on 42 attempts. There will be a renewed emphasis on getting off the ball for a veteran Jaguars’ offensive line.
“Whenever you’re facing Jackson, no matter what year it is, you know you have to stop the run first,’’ LaBarca said. “They are always a physical, downhill team, and you have to match that.’’
Sophomore quarterback Charlie Lombana continues to learn on the job as he tries to find tall targets like Nick Specht and Marcus Ademilola.
Defensively, the Jaguars are led by junior linebacker Ken Bradley and have to do a better job of getting a stalemate at the line of scrimmage than they did in surrendering 262 yards rushing to Brick Memorial last week. They also will have to play assignment football, as Sclafani continues to improve at running the option and also has junior tailback Trevon Bass as another playmaking option.