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Monday Rewind: 11/21/11

Connor Walsh, Rumson-Fair Haven
Connor Walsh, Rumson-Fair Haven (Photo by Navesink Fitness)

Five Shore Conference football teams punched their ticket to the NJSIAA state sectional championships this past weekend, and the Shore has a chance to sweep the titles in all four Central Jersey brackets.

The conference is guaranteed to have at least one champion, as Rumson-Fair Haven and Matawan will meet in the Central Jersey Group II final for the second straight year. Last season, Rumson stunned the unbeaten Huskies, 13-7, to win its first state title in school history. This season, the Bulldogs are the undefeated top seed, and face a sixth-seeded Matawan team that has won six straight and has gone through a pair of undefeated teams to reach the championship game for a school-record third straight year.

The Huskies upended Manasquan, 24-14, to end the Warriors’ 23-game home winning streak and also eliminate them from the playoffs for the third straight season. Senior running back Larry Alston ran for a career-high 247 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching a touchdown pass and registering an interception as a safety on defense.

Alston, who grew up in Matawan, moved to Georgia and then transferred back late last fall, ran the ball seven straight times to cap a 12-play, 64-yard drive that iced the win. His 11-yard burst through a host of Manasquan defenders with 26.6 seconds left in the game sealed the win.

“”I wanted the ball so bad,” Alston said. “I didn’t want it in anybody else’s hands because I knew my line was going to block, so I knew I was going to make it. I’m glad (Matawan head coach Joe Martucci) called what he called.”

The Huskies are hoping for a reverse of last year, when they beat Rumson in the regular season before losing to the Bulldogs in the final. This year, Rumson beat Matawan, 21-9, in a Class A Central game in the regular season. The Bulldogs are coming off a 35-7 victory over fifth-seeded Delaware Valley that put them into their second straight final and fourth in school history.

Senior running back Connor Riley led the way with a rushing touchdown and an 85-yard punt return for a score as Rumson blew out to a 28-0 lead and never looked back. The defense continues to be dominant, as it has not allowed more than 16 points in a game all season.

Before Rumson can worry about Matawan, which it will face on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at Rutgers Stadium, it has a huge showdown with No. 1 Red Bank Catholic on Friday night in their annual Thanksgiving match-up. Rumson has not beaten RBC since 2001, and it can add to its school-record 10 wins and also make a bid for the No. 1 ranking in the Shore Conference. One other wrinkle is that head coach Shane Fallon is one win shy of 100 for his career in his 14th season with the Bulldogs.

In Central Jersey Group IV, second-seeded Manalapan beat third-seeded West Windsor South 21-20 in a double overtime thriller to reach its first sectional final since 2003 and the second one in school history. Thanks to a gutsy call by head coach Ed Gurrieri, the Braves will face fifth-seeded Sayreville on Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. at Rutgers Stadium in search of their first state title in program history. Sayreville beat Manalapan, 32-20, in last year’s semifinals.

The Braves were able to vanquish the Pirates on Friday night when Gurrieri elected to go for a game-winning two-point conversion in the second overtime. Senior tailback John Sieczkowski, who ran for 175 yards, had just rushed for a 21-yard score to bring Manalapan within a point. After a hard count by Manalapan junior quarterback Mike Isabella drew the Pirates offsides on the conversion try, Isabella handed the ball to Sieczkowski, who plowed up the middle for the two points to set off the celebration on Manalapan.

“We were very confident,” Sieczkowski said about going for two and the win. “We have a great fullback (Jesse McEnery), a great line, and all I had to do was follow them.”

“Izzy did a great job with the hard count, they went off, and once we got to the 1 1/2-yard line, I really felt at that point in time they were done,” Gurrieri said. “John was just imposing his will.”

Isabella also tossed a pair of touchdown passes to junior wideout Anthony Firkser, including the game-tying, 5-yard score with 57 seconds left in regulation.

Manalapan takes on winless Marlboro on Wednesday in their annual Thanksgiving game, and it should be a festive night. Sieczkowski is only 81 yards away from making Shore Conference history as Manalapan’s second straight 2,000-yard rusher, and he only needs 135 yards to pass Josh Firkser’s school record of 2,053 set last season. With a win, the Braves will also wrap up their second straight outright Class A North title.

In Central Jersey Group III, fifth-seeded Neptune earned its first trip to a state final since 1999 in emphatic fashion, burying top-seeded Northern Burlington, 60-27, thanks to 555 yards of total offense, including 521 on the ground. The Scarlet Fliers nearly had three 100-yard rushers in the game behind a dominant offensive line. Senior David Gutzmore ran for a career-high 203 yards and three touchdowns, senior quarterback Jaheem Woods had 109 yards and a touchdown, and senior fullback Jazzmar Clax finished with 96 yards and three touchdowns as Neptune won its eighth straight game.

“You have to give credit to the offensive line,” Woods said. “We came into the season and everybody thought that was going to be our weak point. Every year it’s always, ‘Neptune doesn’t have a line’ and ‘Neptune can’t block anybody.’ They have gotten better every game, and we feed off them.”

The defense also held Northern Burlington 1,400-yard rusher Tosin Adeyemo to minus-one yard on 13 carries.

The Scarlet Fliers will now seek their first state title since 1998 when they take on a seventh-seeded Cinderella squad in Steinert, which had never won a state playoff game in its history before this season but knocked off second-seeded Wall and third-seeded Woodbridge in succession. Those two teams will square off at 4 p.m. at Rutgers Stadium on Dec. 3. Neptune head coach Mark Ciccotelli seeks his third CJ III crown in the last four seasons after winning two with Freehold, and Clax, a Freehold transfer, is looking for his second straight title.

Just like Rumson, the Scarlet Fliers have a huge Thanksgiving game before they get to prepare for the state finals as they will face rival Asbury Park in a much-anticipated game. Both are playing in state finals a week later and are favorites to win titles, so the game looks to be a match-up of potential state champions.

Top-seeded Asbury Park routed fifth-seeded Point Beach, 54-6, for its second win of the season over the Garnet Gulls and its fourth trip to the Central Jersey Group I finals in the last five years. The Blue Bishops, who have won 11 straight playoff games, will try to win their fourth title in five years when they take on third-seeded Florence on Dec. 3 at 10 a.m. at The College of New Jersey.

Senior Armond Conover had a sensational all-around game against Point Beach, rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown, catching three passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns, throwing a 53-yard touchdown to his twin brother, Amir, and returning an interception 42 yards for a score.

“Before this year I had never even played in a state playoff game,” Armond Conover said. “For me to be able to put up five touchdowns in a state semifinal game is very good for me.”

Sophomore quarterback Robert Barksdale threw for 185 yards and three scores and senior running back Islam Joshua contributed 132 total yards and two touchdowns, while the defense limited Point Beach to 121 total yards. Despite missing out on its first trip to a state final since 1982, Point Beach can still end on a high note with a win over Shore Regional on Thanksgiving that would give the Garnet Gulls a school-record eight wins.

Two other Shore Conference squads gunning for state title berths fell short, one in a heartbreaker and the other in a convincing loss to a perennial state power. Red Bank Catholic lost 1,500-yard rusher John DiStefano to a dislocated kneecap in the first quarter and still nearly knocked off second-seeded Delbarton in a match-up of unbeaten, top 10 teams in the state in the Non-Public Group III semifinals. The Green Wave pulled out a 30-23, double-overtime when after a 5-yard touchdown run by Jamie Smith and then an interception by Will Reynolds denied RBC a trip to its first state final since 1980.

Senior quarterback Ryan Spahr threw touchdown passes to James Taylor and Greg Golden in the loss, while sophomore Louis Redaelli ran for 95 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in DiStefano’s absence. Golden had a huge game with 8 catches for a career-high 153 yards and a touchdown in the loss. RBC will now try to regroup and cement its status as the Shore Conference’s No. 1 team when it faces No. 2 Rumson on Friday night to try to continue its dominance over the Bulldogs, who have not beaten RBC since 2001.

In South Jersey Group II, Barnegat fell 49-10 to second-seeded West Deptford for its second lop-sided loss to the Eagles in the SJ II semifinals in two years. The Bengals can still end on a high note, as they can pick up a school-record seventh win and seal the outright Class B South title, their first division title in their six-year history, with a victory over winless Pinelands on Thanksgiving.

There was one regular-season game this week as Monsignor Donovan wrapped up its second winning season in the last three years with a 27-14 win over Manchester to finish 6-4. Grant Klimek ran for a pair of touchdowns to help the Griffins finish strong.

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