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Monday Rewind: 11/14/11

Andre Cochran, Pt. Pleasant Beach
Andre Cochran, Pt. Pleasant Beach (Photo by Bill Normile, All Shore Media)

While the Shore Conference faltered as a whole in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs, there were several teams that enjoyed memorable weekends by ending significant playoff droughts.

In games not involving Shore teams going head to head, the conference finished 6-8, including surprising losses by Middletown South and Wall in Central Jersey Group III. However, there were plenty of bright spots, as Red Bank Catholic won its first state playoff game since 1998 in resounding fashion, and Point Beach wrapped up its first postseason victory since 1982 and just the second playoff win in its program history.

Third-seeded RBC rolled 42-6 over sixth-seeded Pope John XXIII at Count Basie Field to exorcise 13 years of demons and advance to the Non-Public Group III semifinals. The Caseys will travel to second-seeded Delbarton, which beat Monsignor Donovan 49-7 in the first round, on Saturday for a showdown of unbeaten teams ranked in the top 10 in the state. Senior tailback John DiStefano continued his brilliant season with a career-high 275 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 30 carries to lead the way in the victory. RBC also came up with four turnovers, including three interceptions to jumpstart what the Caseys hope is a run to their first state final appearance since 1980 and their first state championship since 1976, when the school won its only title.

“It feels great to break the streak of losing in the first round, and it’s big for the school, but we’re definitely not satisfied with this win,” DiStefano said.

Point Beach set up a rematch with top-seeded Asbury Park in the Central Jersey Group I semifinals with a 32-14 victory over fourth-seeded New Egypt powered by three touchdowns from running back Andre Cochran. That ended a 29-year drought of playoff victories, and it put Point Beach one win away from its first final appearance since that 1982 season. The Garnet Gulls (7-2), who now have their most wins since 1997, have never won a state title. They will try to reverse the result of a 24-8, regular-season loss to Asbury Park when they travel to Asbury Park Stadium on Saturday.

The top-seeded Blue Bishops cruised to a 32-7 win over eighth-seeded Middlesex as sophomore quarterback Robert Barksdale threw three touchdowns and senior running back Amir Conover ran for a touchdown and caught a pair of touchdown passes. Asbury Park has now won 10 straight playoff games dating back to 2007, which is tied for the 11th-longest streak in state history.

There is guaranteed to be a new winner in CJ I crowned, as defending champion Shore Regional, the No. 6 seed, was blanked 23-0 by No. 3 Florence to end the Blue Devils’ shot at a repeat.

Another team on a mission to win its first state title in school history is Manalapan. The second-seeded Braves beat Brick Memorial, 28-21, for their second victory over the Mustangs in three weeks in order to advance to the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals. They will host sixth-seeded West Windsor South on Friday night, and hope to give the Pirates a large dose of senior tailback John Sieczkowski, who exploded for another huge game when he rolled up 331 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the win over Brick Memorial. Manalapan is seeking its first trip to a sectional final since 2003, which is the school’s only appearance in a state championship game.

The Braves are the last Shore team standing in CJ IV, as fourth-seeded Jackson Memorial lost 21-13 at home to defending sectional champion Sayreville, marking the first time in school history the Jaguars ever lost a playoff quarterfinal on their home field after being 6-0 in those games all time.

The favorites in Central Jersey Group II held up their end of the bargain, as top seed and defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven rolled to a 29-0 victory over eighth-seeded Rahway to set up a semifinal meeting at home against fifth-seeded Delaware Valley. Second-seeded Manasquan also remained undefeated with a 34-7 victory over seventh-seeded Red Bank Regional, which was making its first state playoff appearance since 2004. Senior quarterback Tyler Saito threw for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns to set up a much-anticipated semifinal game at Vic Kubu Warrior Field Saturday against sixth-seeded Matawan, which has beaten the Warriors in the playoffs the last two years.

“They show us no respect, and we just want that second chance,” said senior linebacker Zack Vasilenko, who had a fumble return for a touchdown in the win over Red Bank.

Matawan went on the road and knocked off previously undefeated Carteret, 28-14, thanks to big games by senior running back/safety Larry Alston and defensive back Juwaan Bellamy. Alston had 105 yards rushing, three touchdowns, a sack and an interception, while Bellamy had a pair of interceptions. Matawan’s defense limited Carteret’s Jerod Johnson, a 1,600-yard rusher, to 37 yards. Matawan now looks to advance to the CJ II final for the third straight time, which would be a school record for consecutive championship game appearances.

It was a tough weekend for the Shore’s perennial powers in the Central Jersey Group III bracket, as second-seeded Wall was stunned 19-7 by seventh-seeded Steinert, which won its first state playoff game in school history. Eighth-seeded Middletown South, which has reached three straight CJ III finals and advanced to a sectional championship game in nine of the last 10 years, fell 35-27 to top-seeded Northern Burlington on the road. It marked the first time since 2000 that the Eagles did not at least reach the sectional semifinals.

The only local team to survive in CJ III was fifth-seeded Neptune, and the Scarlet Fliers had to work overtime to do it. They held on for a 41-33 overtime win over fourth-seeded Allentown, which was playing in its first state playoff game in school history. Neptune senior quarterback Jaheem Woods was sensational as usual, throwing three touchdown passes, including the 5-yard game-winner to senior David Gutzmore in overtime, and also running for a touchdown. Neptune will now travel to Northern Burlington for a semifinal game on Friday night in search of its first appearance in a state final since 1999.

The only bright spot in South Jersey from the Shore Conference was Barnegat, which won a wild, 35-31 game against another Shore team, Point Boro, to advance to the South Jersey Group II semifinals for the second straight year. Senior quarterback Mark McCoy was outstanding in the Bengals’ first home playoff game, throwing for a career-high 360 yards and three touchdowns and also running for a touchdown. Senior wideout Jordan Salt had three catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, junior wideout Pat Moran had five catches for 171 yards and a touchdown, and senior running back David Smithman had a 2-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter that won the game.

“I didn’t want to lose possibly our last game under these lights,” McCoy said. “I didn’t want to have that bitter taste in my mouth. These guys are like my brothers, and I couldn’t let them down.”

Those heroics helped overcome a huge night from Point Boro senior quarterback John Dunbar, who ran for a career-high 226 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 138 yards and a touchdown by senior fullback Jack Vitale. Barnegat now heads to second-seeded West Deptford, which beat the Bengals 56-7 in the playoffs last year, in search of its first trip to a state final in its six-year program history.

Southern suffered a disappointing end to one of its best seasons in school history, losing 26-7 to fifth-seeded Triton in South Jersey Group IV in the first home playoff game in Rams history. It concluded a season in which Southern won its first division title since 1972 and first outright title in school history while also setting a school record with an eight-game winning streak. It marked a brutal end for Class A South, whose teams (Brick Memorial, Southern, Jackson Memorial) were all eliminated in the opening round, making it the only one of the Shore Conference’s seven divisions that did not advance at least one team to the sectional semifinals.

Defending South Jersey Group III champion Lacey, the No. 8 seed, was blanked 23-0 by top-seeded and undefeated Timber Creek to end its bid for a repeat. Fifth-seeded Central, which was making its first playoff appearance since 2001, lost 39-0 to fourth-seeded Woodrow Wilson in South Jersey Group III.

In the consolation games, the Shore Conference finished 10-12 overall, but in games not pitting two Shore Conference teams head to head, the Shore finished 7-10. Between the consolation games and South Jersey playoff games that didn’t involve two Shore teams playing one another, South Jersey teams went a combined 10-0 against the Shore.

Colts Neck senior running back Victor Scalici set multiple school records in the Cougars’ 47-13 win over Middletown North in a consolation game. He ran for a school-record 346 yards and scored a school-record five touchdowns, including an 80-yard kickoff return for a score that helped him finish with 436 all-purpose yards. His performance also gave him 1,351 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, both single-season school records.

Long Branch junior tailback Dwight Clark rushed for a career-high 269 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-14 win over Hightstown in a consolation game for the Green Wave’s fourth straight win after an 0-5 start. Fullback Joscil Jackson added 131 yards rushing and two scores, marking the second straight game in which Clark and Jackson have both gone over 100 yards rushing.

Monmouth Regional gave new head coach Jason Morrell his first career victory with a 33-12 win over Ewing in a consolation game. St. John Vianney quarterback Anthony Carlucci threw for touchdowns and also ran for one to help the Lancers beat St. Joseph-Metuchen 41-7. One notable performance in a loss was by Mater Dei Prep senior quarterback Jesse Meyer, who rolled up a career-high 226 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 34-21 defeat at the hands of Gloucester Catholic.

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