Scanning The High School Football Scene: Saturday Blues on the Gridiron
If you consider everything involved with championship Saturday, 5 out of 9 usually would be a successful day of football. Ten teams took the fields of Kean, Rutgers, and Rowan University in an attempt to win a State Championship. As stated above, five walked away with the trophy and five were denied their chance. Unfortunately, I must talk about the bad first.
2 of our best chances were favored and entered unbeaten with perfect 11-0 records. Both went down with bitter defeats as both Manalapan (11-1) and Toms River North (11-1) were beaten at Rutgers and Rowan respectively. Manalapan's defeat (34-13) to Piscataway, a team they had defeated during the regular season was one sided, as the powerful Manalapan offense was held without a first down until the closing seconds of the first half. It was obvious that Piscataway (10-2) had revenge on their minds from the Oct. 29th 21-10 loss to the Braves. They had no answer for RB Elijah Barnwell (185 yards rushing and 3 TDs), as the Chiefs built a 14-0 halftime lead and never looked back. Nima Mayfield did run for 167 yards, but the Chiefs held a 322-154 edge in yardage on the day. 314 of those yards came on the ground. With the loss, Manalapan falls to 1-5 in finals, having only won in 2014. Manalapan does return many key players on both sides of the ball, so expect them to make another run next year in 2017.
Toms River North/Millville was a tail of 2 halves. North won the second half 16-2, but Millville had built up a 20-0 halftime lead, which turned out to be too much of a hole for the Mariners to climb out of. North played their worst half of football, maybe ever, as they were held to just under 20 yards of offense in the first half. All-State QB Mike Husni was picked off twice in the first quarter, one returned for a pick 6. Still, with all things considered, North had the ball 3rd and goal on the Millville 3 yard line, down 21-14 with 5+ minutes to go, and the ground game looked unstoppable, but a false start 5 yard penalty pushed the ball back to the 8 where 2 pass plays didn't work and Millville took over on downs. The last of the 2 passes was an attempted QB throw back, which was played perfectly by the Thunderbolts, and North was in trouble. After a Millville planned safety, North set up to receive the free punt from Millville which was not handled by North and the Mariners took over on their own 20 yard line. They moved to the Millville 45, but a snap from center to QB went array and resulted in a 27 yard loss and North was doomed. A shocking outcome which saw North absorb their first loss in a finals (6 of 7 wins), while Millville won their first championship ever. TRN must now regroup with just a handful of returning players, as most players will be graduating this year. It was a great run by a great team and 1 bad half of football, out of 24, should not define this team. No one beat the Mariners in the Shore this year and to me they are still the #1 team of 2016.
Wall (10-2) won their first championship after 14 years (2002), with a dominating effort against 13 time winner Delsea. The final was 20-7, but it seemed like much more than that. Wall scored on 3 of 4 possessions in the first half as they ran for 213 yards, while holding Delsea to just 50 yards. Sean Larkin had 140 of his 171 yards in the first half. Wall was on cruise control and would have pitched a shutout if it weren't for a roughing the passer penalty, which aided a Delsea TD in the last quarter. Coach Dan Curcione has spent 3 years building this championship and the staff and players deserved this State title.
Mater Dei (12-0) won their first championship ever with a miracle last second hook and lateral play that will go down as the "play of the year" in the Shore. It was George Pearson to Kyle Delaney to Eddie Lewis for 45 yards and the game winner and the 26-20 victory. HC Dino Mangiero's play call was one that was run many times in practice, but to pull it off at that time, in that situation, was a classic call, even though he called it a low risk play. Whatever take you have on it, it was run to perfection and the Seraphs have their first championship. Holy Spirit (9-3) ran for 190 yards on the day and controlled the football until Mater Dei went to the end of the playbook and pulled it out. They now finish as the only unbeaten team this year in the Shore, and with QB George Pearson back, they have someone back to build around for 2017.
Other winners were Asbury Park (26-17 over Keyport), which avenged an earlier Keyport defeat in week 2. It was the ground game which carried AP to the title. Senior RB Namur Argilagisb completed quite a week in his life as he scored 3 TDs in the game, got his drivers license on Wednesday and got his acceptance letter from Notre Dame on Thursday. Now that's a week in the life of a high school 17 year old. Asbury wins their 7th title and first under HC Tim Fosque. Great year for the Bishops. Keyport finishes 10-2.
Rumson (9-3) won their 4th championship in a row with a 27-22 win over South Plainfield (8-4). It was a come from behind win, as they fell behind 14-0 and then had to hold off South Plainfield's run at the end to win their 5th overall title. They also join Middletown South and Manasquan as the only Shore teams to win 4 consecutive championships. Great accomplishment for HC Jerry Schulte in his first year.
Manasquan (10-2) powered past Bernards 42-6 in a CJ Group 2 final. That's 12 titles for 'Squan who come back from back to back 3-7 years and win a championship they last attained in 2008. It was the running game of Canyon Burch, Conner Morgan and Tom Meyer, and a powerful offensive line who provided the heroics on this day. Playing without their 2 studs Tommy Antonucci and Conner Morgan in the second half due to injuries incurred in the first half, the Warriors plugged in replacements and never skipped a beat. A total team effort. Congrats to Jay Price and the Warriors for #12.
Middletown North completes a 9-3 season with a 41-14 loss to Sayreville. Middletown North had to go to the air 38 times, as they could not get the running game going, despite jumping out to a 14-0 lead. Sayreville answered back with 41 straight points and the win. Nice year for HC Steve Bush, as they competed in the best division in the Shore (B-North). QB Donald Glenn and WR Brendan Kube provided the best combo in the Shore and have left their legacy at Middletown North.
Brick (8-4) was steamrolled by a very good Allentown team 41-6. Allentown won its first state title while running for 328 yards and had 3 different ball carriers over 100 yards. Brick just couldn't get anything working as they fell behind 27-0 in the first half and never got back into the game. Brick returns some key players and will be competitive in the A-South next year.
9 games, 5 winners. We'll take it, but it will be a Saturday of lost chances that I take away from Championship Saturday.
We'll get together one more time on Thursday night at Bum Rogers in Seaside Park at 7PM, as we discuss post-season honors. Guests will be in-house or listen on 105.7 The Hawk or online at ShoreSportsNetwork.com.