Missing the playoffs was a tough pill to swallow for Middletown North last season, and seeing how the postseason ended was even more difficult.

The Lions needed a Week 7 win over Long Branch to qualify for the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs but lost to the Green Wave, 28-21 in overtime. Long Branch then went on to claim the CJ-4 championship with an overtime win over Freehold.

“Last year was heartbreaking with us losing to Long Branch on a short-yardage situation and them going on to win a state championship,” said senior running back/linebacker Connor Robbins. “That really stuck in our gut during the offseason.”

The good news is that many of the players that ended the season with a pit in their stomach are back to earn redemption. The Lions have one of the top quarterback-wide receiver duos in the Shore, a bruising running back and experience in the trenches as they look to contend for the title in the rugged Colonial Division and make up for lost time in the postseason.

“Coming in last year we lost over 11 seniors so it was a lot of young guys having to fill shoes, and this year it’s more of an experienced team,” said senior quarterback Sean Glenn. “

Middletown North had one of the Shore Conference’s best offenses last year in averaging 28.7 points per game, and there’s every reason to think the Lions can be even better in 2018. Eight starters return in Middletown North’s spread offense, led by Glenn, Robbins, senior wide receiver Aidan Campbell and senior offensive lineman Dominic Pianoforte.

Middletown North seniors Dominic Pianoforte (64), Aidan Campbell (13), Sean Glenn (10) and Connor Robbins (34). Photo by Steve Meyer.

Glenn finished seventh in the Shore in passing last season by throwing for 1,650 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Campbell also enjoyed a breakout season with 697 yards and seven touchdowns on an average of 24 yards per reception. The two have been teammates for many years and consider their chemistry together their greatest asset.

“With me and Aidan, what separates us is our timing,” Glenn said. “Obviously he’s faster than almost everyone else, but there were times last year where he was running a post and I couldn’t even see him but I just knew where he was going to be.”

“I’ll be running a route and won’t even see him and the ball will just come out and be right there,” Campbell said. “It definitely helps.”

“Sean is pretty calm and he understands where the ball should go and what the defenses are, and he’s been an accurate thrower,” said Middletown North head coach Steve Bush. “Aidan has very good speed and does a very good job getting off the press. He surprised me how well he did as a runner last year. He has the ability after he catches it to break it and make a big play.”

Also returning as starters in the wide receiver corps are junior Anthony Soto and senior Nick DeWise. Matt Spencer and Rob Higgins are competing for time and sophomore Quentin Soler is also in the mix. Senior Stephen Barry is the tight end.

Robbins split time with Connor Welsh last season, and the two formed a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield. Robbins excelled in short-yardage situations and scored 12 touchdowns.

“He’s a physical, downhill runner and also has decent speed,” Bush said. “He can make plays and also get the tough yards for us. He’s really been playing since he was a sophomore when Connor Welsh got hurt, so we expect big thigs from him.”

“You know when Robbins gets the ball he’s going to get 2-3 yards after contact and 4-5 yards every carry,” Glenn said. “

Pianoforte leads the offensive line at left tackle while junior Rob Kelly is a returning starter at left guard and senior David Rodriguez is a returning starter at right guard. Senior Steven Holler and junior Andrew Kanski are competing for the starting center position and junior Kaden Letual is the right tackle.

Middletown North’s 4-2-5 defense will feature a deep rotation along the defensive line. Robbins and Holler are returning starters and will be joined by Rodriguez, Kelly, Pianoforte and seniors Aaron Vanderhoof, Ryan Daunoras (6-3, 300) and Christian Bracken. Robbins had five sacks last year and Holler had four sacks.

The inside linebackers are senior Jacob Anderson, who was a starter before an injury derailed his season, and senior Patrick Connelly, who saw time last season. Barry is a returning starter at outside linebacker and had 79 tackles last season. Senior Joey Cavanagh started a few games and will see an increased role this year along with junior Travis Thompson. Cavanagh made 53 tackles last season.

The secondary has a pair of starters back with Campbell at free safety and senor Alec Zenker at cornerback. Soto and senior Brian Tanglao will see time at the other cornerback position while Spencer, junior Nick Ferreira and senior Mike Ancona could also see time at safety. Campbell made 60 tackles last season and Zenker had 58 stops.

On special teams, Cavanagh will be a four-year starter at kicker and will also handle punting duties for the first time. He converted 33 of 34 extra points as a junior.

Middletown North is no stranger to a tough schedule after playing in Class B North over the past two years with Manasquan, Wall, Middletown South, Long Branch, Red Bank Catholic and Ocean. This year, the Lions are in the Colonial Division with St. John Vianney, Rumson-Fair Haven, Brick, Brick Memorial and Freehold.

“There’s no one team you can say, ‘that’s a win’,” Bush said. “We’ll have to earn it every week. It’s going to be interesting but I think these guys are ready to step up and meet the challenge.”

“There’s no easy team on our schedule,” Campbell said. “We’re going to go out and play hard, and if we can beat the teams on our schedule we can beat the teams in the playoffs.”

At a Glance

Head coach: Steve Bush, sixth season (12th overall)

Career record: 70-51-1

2017 record: 5-5 (2-4 in B North)

Coaching staff: Geoff Massimini (def. coordinator); Randy Kalman, Justin McGhee, Justin Blosi, Larry McKnight; Danielle Kanski (athletic trainer).

Offense: Spread

Defense: 4-2-5

BIG SHOES TO FILL: The new defensive linemen

There will be several players in a rotation so it won’t be on any one player, but the line as a whole has to replace the production of standouts Austin DeWise and Nicko Cofone, who combined for 124 tackles and 15 sacks.

X-FACTOR: The schedule

Middletown North is one of the Shore Conference’s best teams on paper, but a division as tough as the Colonial ensures that nothing is guaranteed.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Jacob Anderson, Sr., LB

Anderson isn’t a newcomer in the true sense of the word, but having him healthy and playing in the middle of the defense is a major plus for the Lions.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 28 vs. Brick

With nondivisional games against Howell and Red Bank Catholic during the regular season, every week will be a test for the Lions. Their Week 4 home game vs. a senior-heavy Brick team could provide a turning point – or serve as a playoff preview.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.

 

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