Neptune and Brick Memorial Set for Highly-Anticipated Showdown
There is not a championship at stake, but that barely diminishes the excitement leading up to a good, old-fashioned heavyweight showdown when Neptune travels to Brick Memorial on Friday night for a highly-anticipated nondivisional clash.
The Scarlet Fliers (4-0), No. 2 in the All Shore Media Top 10, bring a current Shore Conference-best 14-game winning streak to Brick when they face the No. 5 Mustangs (4-0). The winner will not only cement its place among the Shore Conference’s best but also secure a haul of power points toward a top seed in the state playoffs. Neptune is the defending Central Jersey Group III champion, while Brick Memorial is out to win the title in the newly-created Central Jersey Group V. All the exciting action can will be brought to you live by The Shore Sports Network on 105.7 “The Hawk’’ f.m.
“It’s a Friday night, and it’s two good teams that don’t see each other very often or really at all, so it should be an exciting and unique game,’’ said Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie. “We’re excited about the opportunity.’’
“You’re talking about a (Brick Memorial) program with a lot of tradition that has been there before and won state championships,’’ Neptune coach Mark Ciccotelli said. “We’re going to have our hands full.’’
There will be playmakers galore on the field for two of the Shore Conference’s most explosive offenses. Brick Memorial enters averaging 39 points per game in its no-huddle spread option, while Neptune is averaging 38 points per game in its own spread attack. The Scarlet Fliers have played a tougher schedule, as their first four opponents are a combined 8-8 compared to a combined 1-14 for Brick Memorial’s opponents. This is a particularly crucial stretch for Neptune, which will have played a tough Long Branch team, defending Central Jersey Group II champion Matawan and now Brick Memorial in successive weeks.
“I don’t think (Brick Memorial’s previous opponents) matter because you are talking about a program that is always one of the best around here and has played in so many big games,’’ Ciccotelli said. “We know these guys are very good.’’
Neptune’s offense is led by senior quarterback Ajee Patterson, who has burst on the scene in his one and only year at the helm after being stuck behind current Stony Brook freshman Jaheem Woods, the Offensive Player of the Year in the Shore Conference last season. Patterson has an army of weapons at his disposal in star wideout Geoff Fairbanks, who has several FCS offers, and 6-foot-5 senior Keith Kirkwood, a dynamic basketball player who came out for football this year. Senior Keyshawn Rice has been a home run threat as a running back, receiver and kick returner, and seniors Sekou Harris and Myles Martin are also rushing and receiving threats.
It’s not hard to imagine what Brick Memorial’s primary concern will be when it comes to defending Neptune.
“What scares me the most is speed, what concerns me the most is speed, and the main thing I’m worried about is, ‘How do we simulate their speed?’’ Currie joked. “It’s like we have to have our defense close their eyes for two counts in practice and then open them and go find the ball and run after it. Our scout guys work really hard, but if they were fast enough to simulate Neptune’s offense, they would be playing offense for us.”
Patterson is an outstanding passer who lit up previously unbeaten Matawan for 328 yards and four touchdowns in the first half in a 46-10 win last week, but Neptune’s running game also has to be respected in its veer offense.
“Martin is a great inside runner in the veer read,’’ Currie said. “It’s like he’s shot out of a cannon. Their O-line is using angle blocks, they have a hard inside runner, and they have receivers who can take the top off the coverage and run by you. Especially with Patterson’s arm strength, if you’re not defending from goal line to goal line, you’re in big trouble.’’
The Mustangs will need pressure up front from a defensive line led by senior Richie Kuhn, and their linebackers will have to get Neptune’s playmakers on the ground in space, which is easier said than done. This will also be the first major test for Brick Memorial’s secondary because of Fairbanks and Kirkwood on the outside. The Mustangs have a good-sized cornerback to match up with Kirkwood in 6-foot-2 sophomore Joe Hans and a playmaking safety in junior Mike Basile, who has two interception returns for touchdowns this season.
On the other side of the ball, Neptune will have its hands full with a diverse Brick Memorial offense that can count nearly as many weapons as the Scarlet Fliers. Senior quarterback Ryan Cieplinski is a two-year starter and is coming off one of the best games of his career, as he accounted for a combined 315 yards and six touchdowns between rushing and passing in a 52-28 win over Toms River East. His primary weapon is Basile, an all-around dynamo who has 11 touchdowns in four games. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Basile runs a 4.6 40 and is a threat as a rusher and a receiver.
“It’s a challenge, that’s for sure,’’ Ciccotelli said. “They have some kids who can play. Their quarterback is a veteran, Basile is tremendous, and their offensive line gets off the ball. They play the game the right way.’’
Basile isn’t the only weapon in the backfield as junior Nick Costa can get the hard yards at fullback and senior Cody Pinho has emerged as a rushing and receiving threat. Cieplinski also has two playmaking wideouts with size in Hans and 6-foot-3 sophomore Karl Kumm.
“It’s hard for defenses to think who they will key on,’’ said Brick Memorial senior center Tom Sindel. “Last week (against Toms River East), Karl Kumm had a touchdown catch and Cody Pinho had two touchdown grabs. There are so many different players that are explosive. Obviously, defenses want to key on Basile, but if you double cover him, I will take Hans in single coverage against any corner one-on-one.’’
Neptune will counter with a swarming defense featuring an outstanding secondary led by senior cornerback Kyle Lewis, who has three interceptions in three games and has returned a pick for a score in each of the last two games. Senior Shaquille Gittens anchors the defensive line, and senior David Calderon leads the linebackers. Junior Shakeem Richardson and Martin also have been playmakers in the secondary, so Cieplinski has to be precise with his passes or Neptune has several players who could turn it into six points the other way.
With those types of offenses going toe-to-toe, they might have to bring a few extra bulbs for the scoreboard.
“It’s definitely going to be a good one,’’ said Neptune senior center Peter Askew. “I hope it doesn’t end up like that Baylor-Washington (67-56) game last year. It’s going to be a great showdown, and I hope we can get it done on Friday night.’’