Rapid Reaction – Week Six in Shore Conference Football
The Class A South race gets interesting, Red Bank gets its first win in a thriller, and Monsignor Donovan head coach Dan Duddy hits a milestone to highlight Week Six in Shore Conference football.
Here is a look at some news and notes from the weekend:
Class A South becoming a free-for-all
Three teams entered the weekend unbeaten in Class A South, and all three exited with losses, yet all three are still tied for first place in the division. Brick, Lacey and Jackson Memorial all lost, but still held on to the lead. The difference is that there are now three other teams, Brick Memorial, Toms River South and Southern, breathing down their necks only one game off the lead.
If anything, this weekend showed that the home stretch of the divisional schedule should produce one exciting game after another, and six teams have a chance to take home a title. In addition, a rejuvenated Toms River East team that just beat Brick 42-35 and has scored 40-plus points three times this season lurks as a wildcard ready to throw a monkey wrench into someone’s division title plans. This is by far the most exciting division race in the Shore, as others seem to be foregone conclusions or will be decided in showdowns between the top two teams.
The biggest statement came from Southern in a 21-7 win over previously unbeaten Lacey that halted the Lions’ 15-game winning streak against Shore Conference competition. The Rams’ defense only allowed 123 total yards, including minus-7 rushing, to a team that has had one of the top offenses in the Shore for the past two seasons. Southern senior tailback Rob Yaiser had a career day with 158 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
The game was huge for Southern’s playoff hopes one year after the Rams made a run to the inaugural South Jersey Group V final. The Rams are one game off the division lead with games remaining against Brick Memorial, Jackson Memorial and Toms River East. The win over Lacey was the Southern formula to a tee – tough defense, a productive running game, and some big throws in key spots from Logan Sheehan to Mike Gesicki.
Toms River East has come alive in the last two weeks with two straight wins after an 0-4 start. A big reason has been the play of the offensive line and senior tailback Matt Gudzak. He went over 150 yards rushing and had two touchdown catches to give him four touchdowns on the night in the win over Brick. Inserting senior Paul Aliseo at quarterback also has given Toms River East a lift, and junior running back/linebacker Jeff Wood has emerged as a standout on both sides of the ball. While the Raiders have struggled defensively, they have shown they can win shootouts and look to be a dangerous team the rest of the way. They play Toms River South and Southern in the next two weeks and could have a dramatic effect on how the division race shapes up.
Brick Memorial took care of business against winless Toms River North in a 37-21 win thanks to three touchdowns by senior fullback Dwayne Gudge. The Mustangs have won three straight as they have overcome injuries and tinkered with the offense to build steam as the playoff cutoff approaches. They have Southern, Toms River South and a potentially huge game against Lacey before the state playoff cutoff, so they have a chance to greatly influence the race as well.
Finally, Toms River South came back from its bye week with a stellar effort to beat Jackson Memorial 33-14. The usual suspects, quarterback Tymere Berry, running backs Otis Kearney and Khaleel Greene, and wideout/defensive back Darrius Hart, all had big games. Perhaps the most optimistic sign for the Indians, who are one game off the lead in the division, was the performance of their defense. They registered a second-half shutout against the Jaguars after having been shredded by Brick and Lacey in two previous losses.
This team can score on anyone, so if its defense improves, it automatically makes the Indians a contender in South Jersey Group IV among the group chasing champion Timber Creek and will keep them in striking distance of a division title if the leaders slip up. They have Toms River East, Brick Memorial and Toms River North left on their division schedule.
Bucs do it to Neptune again
For the second straight season, Red Bank entered its Class B North game against Neptune at 0-4. For the second straight year, the Bucs exited with their first win in thrilling fashion.
Last year it was a 21-19 stunner over a Neptune team that went on to win a share of the division title and reach the Central Jersey Group III final. On Saturday, it was a 36-35 double-overtime win over the Scarlet Fliers, who dropped to 2-4 with the loss.
After Neptune took a 35-28 lead in the second overtime on the third touchdown run of the game for senior quarterback Shakeem Richardson, Red Bank pulled out a trick play in a huge spot. Running back Trevor Riley threw a halfback pass to sophomore wideout Sadiq Palmer to cut it to 35-34. Red Bank head coach Nick Giglio then decided to go for two and the win, and the Bucs converted it as Palmer ran around the left side and dove into the end zone for a 36-35 victory.
It concluded a breakout game for Palmer, who has been a buzzed-about talent since his freshman year and also is one of the Bucs’ top basketball players. He had a career-high six catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns and also had four carries for 21 yards. Defensively, he had 12 tackles and two forced fumbles in the win. Quarterback Joe Persico threw the other two scores for the Bucs, who had scored only 19 points all season until they put 36 on the Scarlet Fliers.
Three teams break into the win column
Red Bank was one of three teams to pick up its first victory this weekend, as Manchester and Middletown North also took home their first victories.
Manchester beat winless Point Boro 34-17 behind 154 yards rushing and a touchdown by Amani Richardson. The Hawks are a deceiving 1-5 given that three of their losses are by eight points or less. If they beat Pinelands and Central in their next two games, it’s not inconceivable that they could snag a state playoff berth at 3-5.
Middletown North knocked off winless Marlboro 41-12 to give new coach Steve Bush his first win with the Lions. Freshman quarterback Donald Glenn, who looks to be one to watch in the coming years, threw for a career-high 261 yards and four touchdowns, two of which went to wideout Jordan Pitts.
The Lions have had a psychotic schedule this year, the hardest in the Shore Conference, as their first four opponents before Marlboro are currently a combined 19-3. The grind continues this week with a trip to South Brunswick to face the defending Central Jersey Group V champions.
Dan Duddy hits 100 wins
Congrats to Monsignor Donovan head coach Dan Duddy, who picked up his 100th career victory in the Griffins’ 36-7 win over Pinelands on Friday night.
Duddy, who led Monsignor Donovan to its first division title since 1993 last year, has made the Griffins into a perennial contender in Class B South at a program that has only ever won two division championships. Previously, he had success at Central, where he led the Golden Eagles to the 1994 Central Jersey Group IV final, the only state final appearance in program history. His teams went 68-48-1 during his stint with the Golden Eagles from 1992-2003. He has a career record of 32-43 at Monsignor Donovan since taking over in 2006, and is 32-33 since 2007 after a winless season in his first year.
Duddy knows all about coaching greatness considering he played at Brick under Warren Wolf, whose 364 career wins are second all-time in New Jersey history.
Huge match-ups on tap
The Class A North title is going to all but be decided on Friday night in a showdown between two undefeated teams as Colts Neck travels to Manalapan for one of this fall’s most anticipated regular-season games.
Colts Neck rolled past St. John Vianney 35-7 to improve to 5-0 and has now outscored its opponents 209-7 after allowing its first points of the season against the Lancers. Junior quarterback Christian Sanchez ran for one touchdown and threw a pair of touchdown passes to senior tight end Nick Volpe, and senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo ran for a pair of scores as the Cougars continue to dominate.
Now comes their chance to validate their tremendous start by taking down Manalapan, a team that has won 19 straight divisional games and 20 straight games against Shore Conference competition. Colts Neck’s first five opponents have a combined record of 4-23, so this will be a big jump up in competition for the Cougars. However, with a shutdown defense, a strong running game with Gargiulo, and an athletic quarterback who has been productive with his running and passing, they certainly have the ingredients to end Manalapan’s reign atop Class A North.
The Braves also continue to dominate as they rolled past East Brunswick 42-7 in a nonconference game. One of the biggest challenges to their winning streak against local competition came last season in a 24-21 comeback win over the Cougars. They trailed at halftime but owned the second half, and this is a veteran group that does not get frazzled by any situation. This looks to be the best team the Braves have faced so far this season, so they will look to make a statement that nothing will change in the hierarchy of Class A North, which they have won the last three years.
This game also has major power-point implications for the winner, whether it’s Colts Neck in Central Jersey Group IV or Manalapan in Central Jersey Group V. A win goes a long way toward a top-two seed and two home games.
In Class B North, two old rivals will square off on Friday night with major division title implications when Long Branch heads to unbeaten Ocean.
The Spartans have had two weeks to prepare for the Green Wave, as Ocean was on its bye week this past weekend. Meanwhile, Long Branch is coming off its best offensive performance of the season, as its running game continues to improve. Junior tailback Dahmiere Willis exploded in a 48-23 win over Freehold, rolling up a career-high 276 yards, the highest total of any rusher in the Shore this year, and tying a school record with five touchdowns.
From the outset, it appeared as if the division title would come down to these two teams. While both will have to handle their business down the stretch, they will be favored in all of their remaining divisional games. Long Branch shared the division title with Neptune last year, and this would be the first time since 1986-87 that the Green Wave captured back-to-back division championships. Ocean’s last division title came in 2006 when it won the Federal Division crown by ending Middletown South’s Shore Conference-record 43-game winning streak.
Both defenses feature excellent front sevens and have been outstanding against opposing running games, so something will have to give. Ocean features sophomore tailback Tyler Thompson and junior quarterback Royal Moore, who have a combined 970 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. Long Branch counters with Willis and seniors Deon Williams and T.J. Covin in a punishing, physical attack. Williams has been steady all season, while Willis showed that he is capable of taking over the game in his performance against Freehold.
This might also only be Round One, as both teams are strong contenders in Central Jersey Group III.
Former Shore Conference standout dies in car accident
Terrible news to hear about the death of former St. John Vianney football and wrestling standout Ricky Vesce, 30, in a car accident in Freehold during the early hours of Sunday morning.
The one-car accident occurred at approximately 1:58 a.m. Sunday on Route 79 north just past Dutch Lane, according to a report by the Freehold Patch. The Freehold Borough Police Department has confirmed that it was Vesce. The accident is still being investigated, according to police.
A 2001 graduate, Vesce also had served as an assistant coach on several teams at St. John Vianney, including the football team. As a wrestler, he took third in Region VI at 189 and won a District title for the Lancers in 2001.
Information on Vesce's wake and funeral and a place to leave tribute messages for him can be found here.
I covered Ricky back when I used to cover wrestling for The Asbury Park Press (yes, I know, difficult to believe I once was the wrestling beat writer, but it's true), and he always had a big smile and was great to interview. A very hard-nosed competitor.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Vesce’s family and the St. John Vianney community.
Help out a former Shore Conference athlete
This isn’t football-related, but it is Shore Conference-related, so I just wanted to get the word out. Samantha Franco, 22, a former soccer and lacrosse player for Barnegat, has been diagnosed with Stage IV synovial sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer.
Her sister, Sandra, has set up a fund-raising page to help raise money to help Samantha pay for an alternative treatment.
“Sam, with the help of my parents, has looked into many different health and wellness centers that treat people just like her,’’ Sandra wrote on her fund-raising page. “Unfortunately, the best places seem to be far from us, very expensive and not covered by insurance. With much research, she has narrowed it down to the one she believes is the best match for her- Oasis of Hope, located in Mexico. This center combines conventional and alternative treatments, which is what Sam is ultimately hoping for. A large down payment is Samantha's ticket in the front door. My biggest fear is time. Time is precious. With every day that passes and my sister is not getting treatment, the cancer is growing.”
The fund-raising effort has already brought in $61,000, which has helped cover Samantha’s first round of treatment. You can read more about her story and donate here.
Random Fact Dept.
--- Southern senior running back Rob Yaiser, who is also the team’s placekicker, became the Rams’ all-time leading scorer with 141 career points in their 21-7 win over Lacey. That record hasn’t been safe for long at Southern, considering 2011 starting running back T.J. Bellissimo had it, then last year’s starting tailback Abe Gonzalez tied it with 138, and now Yaiser owns the record a year later.
---Barnegat senior tailback A.J. Opre became the school’s all-time leading rusher in the program’s eighth year of existence with his 124 yards in a win over Central on Friday night, according to coach Rob Davis. Opre now has 1,621 career yards, passing the mark of 1,552 yards by Bob Fitzpatrick set during the 2006-07 seasons.
Senior defensive end Greg Moran also set a school record, as he now has 17 hits for a loss this season. He also has the school career sack record (9.5) and the career record for tackles for a loss with 40.
---Colts Neck's kicker, senior Abby Letson, is the daughter of Cougars defensive coordinator Tom Letson. In her first and only season as Colts Neck's placekicker, she is 22-for-23 on extra points and has booted a 35-yard field goal.
---When the Indianapolis Colts handed the Denver Broncos their first loss on Sunday night, it marked a meeting of two old Pop Warner teammates. Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (Middletown South) and Colts running back Donald Brown (Red Bank Catholic) played together on the Atlantic Highlands Tigers in the early 2000s. Their other teammate was former Keyport star Ken Cattouse, who is the Shore Conference’s all-time leading rusher. All three are the all-time leading rushers at their respective high schools, and Moreno has the state record for career touchdowns.
That team has grown more mythical by the year, especially since Atlantic Highlands’ Pop Warner program is now defunct. It was coached by Frank Keenan, the father of one of my old classmates from high school, and he still jokes to this day about how he must be the worst coach in the world to not have taken them all the way to Florida for the national championships. They were actually a .500 team because they had small numbers and struggled on the line. Moreno actually used to play noseguard on defense because he was so quick he would be in the backfield before the other team’s center could react.
---After a loss to Southern, Lacey will try again this week at Jackson Memorial to get head coach Lou Vircillo win No. 264, which would move him past the late Vic Kubu into second place by himself behind Warren Wolf (364) for career victories in Shore Conference history.
---For those fans of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire,'' the cop who was shot by Al Capone in the opening scene of Sunday night's episode was none other than former Red Bank Regional football player Casey Webb, a 1994 graduate.
---Matawan senior punter/kicker Mike Creamer now leads the Shore with eight field goals in five games after booting three, including the game-winner inside the final minute, in a 9-7 win over Wall. Matawan has scored 73 points this season, and Creamer has accounted for 31 of them.
---Point Beach senior defensive back Noah Yates had four interceptions in a 42-14 win over Keansburg. I can’t remember the last time a Shore Conference defensive back had that many in one game. I’m assuming that’s a school record, if those records are even kept.
---Red Bank Catholic senior tailback Larry Redaelli, who leads the Shore Conference with 924 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, is averaging 11 yards per carry.