NJSIAA Football Playoff Preview: Non-Public
The road to a state championship begins this weekend in New Jersey and 26 Shore Conference teams will begin their quest to win three games and be crowned NJSIAA state sectional champions.
Postseason action gets underway with the state sectional quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 10 and Saturday, Nov. 11. The semifinals are Friday, Nov. 17 and Saturday, Nov. 18. The sectional championship games will be played the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at MetLife Stadium, Rutgers University, Kean University and Rowan University.
The defending champions from the Shore Conference are: Rumson-Fair Haven (CJ-III), Manasquan (CJ-II), Asbury Park (CJ-I), Wall (SJ-III, now in CJ-III) and Mater Dei Prep (NP-II).
Below we'll preview the two Non-Public groups involving Shore Conference teams.
NON-PUBLIC GROUP III
1-DePaul (6-3) [bye]
5-Camden Catholic (7-1) at 4-St. John Vianney (9-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Red Bank Catholic (8-1) at 3-St. Joseph [Montvale] (6-3), Saturday at 1 p.m.
7-Donovan Catholic (3-5) at 2-Pope John (5-3), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Favorite: St. Joseph (Montvale)
The Green Knights, who won the title last season, have wins over the top two seeds with a 20-14 victory over Pope John in Week 6 and a 28-21 win over DePaul in Week 9. Senior quarterback Nick Patti is a tremendous playmaker with a knack for making plays in the clutch. He’s thrown for 1,681 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Senior Isaiah Hopkinson leads St. Joe’s in rushing with 742 yards and four touchdowns, while senior Matt Alaimo has 37 catches for 583 yards and seven touchdowns. St. Joe’s has won 18 sectional titles all-time.
Contenders: DePaul, Pope John, St. John Vianney, Camden Catholic, Red Bank Catholic
DePaul won this bracket in 2015 by beating St. John Vianney and is certainly capable of getting a rematch with St. Joe’s and reversing the regular season result. The Spartans have an impressive 35-0 win over Pope John in Week 8.
Like St. Joe’s, Pope John has also won 18 sectional titles in its history. After starting the season 5-3 the Lions have lost three straight, however. Those losses have come to St. Joe’s, Bergen Catholic and DePaul.
Camden Catholic began the season 6-0 before falling to Holy Spirit, 42-26, in Week 8. The Fighting Irish own wins over Camden and Shawnee.
Shore shots: St. John Vianney will get a home playoff game against Camden Catholic, whom they beat on the road in last season’s quarterfinals, 33-13. The Lancers have multiple offensive playmakers behind a standout offensive line, starting with senior running back Johnny Buchanan, who has rushed for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior Zyaire Sterling adds 516 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Senior quarterback Haaziq Daniels has thrown for 1,002 yards and 14 touchdowns while also rushing for 474 yards and seven touchdowns. HIs top wideout is senior Sam East, who has 20 catches for 318 yards and six touchdowns. Sterling has 10 catches for 214 yards and five scores.
Buchanan also leads the Lancers’ defense with 101 tackles to go along with three sacks and an interception. Senior linebacker Josiah Walker has 78 tackles, including 13 for a loss, while senior defensive end Nick Densieski has a team-high 10 sacks.
Red Bank Catholic enters the playoffs with an 8-1 record and its only loss coming to St. John Vianney. The Caseys have a very tough matchup in the first round on the road against St. Joe’s.
RBC has the Shore Conference’s No. 2 offense averaging 42.8 points per game, but in a game like this, they will sorely miss senior running back Zack Bair, who is out with an injury sustained in the loss to St. John Vianney in Week 7. Bair had 1,087 yards rushing and 18 total touchdowns through six and a half games. Sophomore Billy Guidetti has assumed the starting role and has 550 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior quarterback Steve Lubischer has enjoyed a breakout season with 1,628 yards passing and 17 touchdowns to go along with 400 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Senior wideout Brandon Lombana has 34 receptions for 679 yards and four touchdowns to lead the group of receivers.
Donovan Catholic was actually the No. 9 seed in the power point rankings but moved up to No. 7 because Pingry and Bishop Eustace, who each finished 5-3, opted out of the playoffs. The Griffins are playing mostly sophomores and freshman and are will be severely outmanned when they travel to Sussex County to play a Pope John team with multiple FBS recruits.
The road to a title is brutal for all three Shore teams and, with the exception of St. John Vianney in the first round, will all be major underdogs against the rest of the field.
Notes: Bishop Ahr, Bishop Eustace and Pingry all opted out of the playoffs, leaving just seven teams in the section and allowing Donovan Catholic to qualify as the No. 7 seed and giving DePaul a bye into the semifinals…Red Bank Catholic won the state title in 2014…St. John Vianney reached the final in 2015 and the semifinals last season…Donovan Catholic has only one playoff win in program history.
NON-PUBLIC GROUP II
8-St. Mary [Rutherford] (5-4) at 1-St. Joseph [Hammonton] (9-0), Saturday at 1 p.m.
5-Immaculata (5-4) at 4-Hudson Catholic (4-5), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Holy Cross (5-4) at 3-Mater Dei Prep (6-1), Saturday at 1 p.m.
7-Gloucester Catholic (5-3) at 2-Holy Spirit (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
Favorite: St. Joseph (Hammonton)
After an uncharacteristic 7-4 season the Wildcats are back playing dominant football with an undefeated record, which includes wins over Holy Spirit and St. Augustine. The combination of senior running back Qwahsin Townsel and sophomore running back Jada Byers lead the Wildcats offense. Townsel has 1,043 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns while Byers has 965 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Senior Sencere Tapp leads their defense with 52 tackles, including 20 tackles for a loss, but the player that jumps off the stat sheet is freshman linebacker Angelo Vokolos, who has 50 tackles with 18 hits for a loss plus a team-high five sacks.
Contenders: Holy Spirit, Mater Dei Prep
Holy Spirit’s one loss came to St. Joseph (Hammonton), 42-26. The Spartans have impressive wins over Delsea, St. Augustine and Camden Catholic and should have zero issue against Gloucester Catholic in the quarterfinals.
Shore shot: Mater Dei Prep is the only Shore Conference team in the bracket and enters as the defending champion. The Seraphs should have no problem getting past Holy Cross in the first round, but a likely date with Holy Spirit in the semifinals awaits. It would be a rematch of last season’s epic championship game which Mater Dei won, 26-20, on a hook-and-lateral on the final play of the game.
Mater Dei has the talent to win the title again, but the road looks more difficult this season. Both St. Joe’s and Holy Spirit look like better versions of last year’s squads, especially St. Joe’s, which has owned this bracket with 25 sectional titles and 33 finals appearances. The Seraphs also have to deal with head coach Dino Mangiero and offensive coordinator/athletic director Lance Bennet being banned from coaching on game days as part of a joint corrective action plan between the school and the NJSIAA, stemming from a violation of the state’s transfer rule.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.