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Shore Conference Football Week Four Picks

I am declaring my Week Three picks “not terrible,” which is an upgrade from the previous week.

Manalapan senior quarterback Mike Isabella and his army of playmakers will invade The Swamp at Middletown South on Friday night in a huge Class A North game. (Photo credit: Cliff Lavelle).

Toms River North got Southern in a game everyone knew would come down to the fourth quarter, and just like last year, I will never figure out Class B South. The difference between first and fourth in that division could be about 10 points. Those games might be on “picking names out of a hat while blindfolded” status pretty soon.

Two biggies this week with Manalapan heading to Middletown South, and Neptune traveling to Matawan, both on Friday night and featuring four undefeated teams ranked in the top eight in the All Shore Media Top 10.

One other note before I get to the picks – Friday night’s Jackson Memorial at Toms River North game will be live on 105.7 “The Hawk” f.m. as the Shore Sports Network Game of the Week.

Last week: 20-3

Season: 55-14

Friday’s Games

Jackson Memorial (1-2, 1-1) at No. 9 Toms River North (2-1, 1-1), 7 p.m.: Toms River North comes in with plenty of momentum off the big win against Southern while Jackson Memorial is trying to shake off a 34-7 loss to unbeaten Brick Memorial. Now that senior Garrett Kroeger has stabilized the center position for Toms River North, I think this team’s offense should only get better. The more that Kyle Carrington and Joey Fields touch the ball, the better. Sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani has proved to be a threat as a runner in the option scheme, and senior wideout Damien Singleton and junior tailback Trevon Bass are other weapons. I saw Jackson last week and this team has ability, but is young and inexperienced in some key spots. Running back Khani Glover showed flashes of being able to break some big runs, and the Jaguars were a missed pass here and there from breaking some big plays. Jackson’s line is going to have to play better than last week to try and pull the upset here. I see Toms River North’s underrated defense keeping Jackson at bay and the offense doing its thing. (Click here for a full preview) The pick: Toms River North.

No. 10 Southern (2-1, 1-1) at Brick (0-3, 0-2), 7 p.m.: Southern is going to be in an ornery mood after losing a tough one to Toms River North last week. Plus, the Rams are far from out of the Class A South race with plenty more to go, so they need this one to keep pace with the front-runners. Brick is young and struggling badly at this point, having been blown out 40-13 by a previously winless Toms River South team last week. Southern needs to get its passing game going, as tailback Abe Gonzalez has been consistently productive on the ground this season. The pick: Southern.

Toms River East (0-3, 0-2) at No. 5 Brick Memorial (3-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.: This looks like Toms River East’s last stand, as an 0-4 hole is too much to recover from with any hope of a state playoff berth. The bad news is that Brick Memorial is on fire right now. Junior Mike Basile has 10 touchdowns in three games and can score from anywhere on the field with his legs or as a receiver or punt returner. He also has two defensive touchdowns on interceptions. The Mustangs have been consistently explosive on offense, having scored 30-plus points in every game, while Toms River East’s defense has given up 75 points in the last two weeks. Their offense has also not cracked 20 points yet this season. Brick Memorial has a monster nondivisional game against Neptune looming next week, but it wants to stay at the top of the Class A South standings, so I can’t see the Mustangs getting caught looking ahead. The pick: Brick Memorial.

No. 3 Manalapan (3-0, 2-0) at No. 8 Middletown South (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.: I will be covering this game and am looking forward to a fun night at The Swamp. Manalapan brings senior quarterback Mike Isabella and one of the most explosive wideout tandems in the state in senior Anthony Firkser and junior Saeed Blacknall. The Eagles counter with a defense that has only given up seven points in two games, but it was against two teams that are a combined 0-6. Manalapan’s three wins are over teams that are a combined 1-6. This is the first major test for each team and there is plenty at stake. Manalapan is the two-time defending Class A North champion, while Middletown South is seeking its first division title since 2009. Manalapan has won 14 straight divisional games, including two against Middletown South during that span. Talking to opposing coaches that have scouted or played these teams, they seem to think that it will come down to whether Middletown South’s offense can score enough on Manalapan to pull it off. The Braves’ defense has been solid, but the offense has garnered the headlines. The interesting thing is that this is a much different Manalapan team to defend. When they had 2,000-yard rushers Josh Firkser and John Sieczkowski rampaging across the Shore the last two years, you had to put eight in the box or you were dead. Now you have to go seven in the box with help over the top against Firkser and Blacknall and almost dare the Braves to consistently run the ball well enough to beat you while preventing the big play to one of those wideouts. The other key is putting heat on Isabella and forcing to make throws under pressure, and Middletown South’s defense has always been known for bringing pressure from every angle. If the Eagles can get a rush from their front four, led by junior Taylor Hendrickson, they should be right in it. A huge key for the home team is not to get behind early. Middletown South’s offense is not built to come from behind quickly. It’s built to get a lead, sit on it, and pound the ball. In my mind, Manalapan has more than earned the benefit of the doubt in this game, so it’s up to Middletown South to prove people wrong. Plus, you can put two or three guys on Firkser and Blacknall and they still might leap over all of them and make a game-changing play. A major X-factor could be the weather. If it really starts pouring, that could negate the ability of Manalapan to make plays in the air and favor Middletown South. The pick: Manalapan.

No. 1 Red Bank Catholic (3-0, 2-0) at Raritan (0-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.: RBC has now won 17 straight games against Shore Conference competition and after Friday, it should be 18. Raritan has been overmatched so far, surrendering 40-plus points in all three of its games. The Caseys’ dominance should continue, while Raritan will look to make it out healthy and try to get something going against Monmouth a week later. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.

Monmouth (0-2, 0-0) at Holmdel (2-1, 0-1), 7 p.m.: Holmdel suffered its first loss when it fell 27-6 to Rumson-Fair Haven, while Monmouth has had two weeks to prepare thanks to its bye week. This game has some upset potential. Monmouth was right in the game with unbeaten Point Boro in the opener before starting quarterback Jeff Farrah had to leave the game with dehydration. Holmdel’s defense had been pretty solid before running into Rumson last week, and this is an opportunity to get back on track. This has the look of a 21-14 type of game to me. The pick: Holmdel.

Manasquan (1-2, 1-1) at St. John Vianney (1-2, 0-2), 7 p.m.: This gets this week’s Hardest Game to Pick award. Manasquan probably hasn’t lost to St. John Vianney since the early 1980s or maybe ever. However, this Lancers team is good enough to make it happen. If you’re going by common opponents, Manasquan lost 10-0 to RBC, while St. John Vianney is coming off a 45-14 setback against the Caseys last week. However, RBC is a brute force running team, which is a favorable matchup for Manasquan’s defense. The real question is if Manasquan’s secondary can handle the St. John Vianney passing attack led by quarterback Billy DeMato. Conversely, the question is whether St. John Vianney’s defense can stop the Manasquan rushing attack featuring Joe Murphy and Joe Fittin. This is one of those games where if you pick St. John Vianney and they win, you look like a genius for nailing the moment when the Lancers finally rose up and beat the Warriors. If Manasquan wins, it’s the, “C’mon Stump, Manasquan never loses to St. John Vianney, what were you thinking?” argument. This is another game where rain could potentially be a huge factor because it could disrupt St. John Vianney’s plans to throw the ball a majority of the time. The pick: Manasquan.

No. 6 Rumson-FH (3-0, 2-0) at Red Bank (0-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.: First off, just FYI, this game will not be played at Red Bank Regional but on the artificial turf at Count Basie Field in Red Bank, which is usually RBC’s home field. The Battle of Ridge Road wasn’t much more than a skirmish last year, as Rumson rolled to a 30-0 victory. Red Bank has had two weeks to prepare and really needs this game to jumpstart a tough season thus far. Red Bank coach Nick Giglio has been known throughout his career to emerge from bye weeks with wholly different defensive and offensive schemes to throw off opponents, so Rumson has to be ready for anything. In almost every big game in the last two years, Red Bank’s offense has sputtered, so the Bucs will have to prove they can consistently score against good teams before they will be taken for real. The Bulldogs are playing with a million injuries, but the stars have held the fort while some new faces have stepped up. Senior quarterback Danny Roberto has thrown three touchdown passes in each of his last two games, including four of them to senior wideout John Ryan. Never underestimate the emotion that goes into this game, as the players on these teams know each other well. Still, Rumson should handle its business. The pick: Rumson-FH.

Central (1-2, 0-2) at Pinelands (0-3, 0-2), 7 p.m.: Central has lost its last two games by a combined 13 points, so it will take out its frustration on a Pinelands team that is in the midst of a 15-game losing streak. The pick: Central.

Barnegat (1-2, 1-1) at Jackson Liberty (3-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.: Barnegat is one of the most maddening teams in the Shore, able to look great one minute and have you scratching your head the next. Granted, this is not the team the Bengals will take into the second half of the season, as they eagerly await the return of sophomore quarterback Cinjun Erskine and 300-pound lineman Sam Madden next week after they become eligible from having sat out via the NJSIAA transfer rule. Jackson Liberty is off to its best start ever, and its defense has dramatically improved while its offense has some great young skill players around senior quarterback Bob Davies. Using B South logic, everyone will pick Jackson Liberty and Barnegat will pull out some crazy win to throw the whole race up in the air again. Barnegat is the defending champion, and if it doesn’t get this one, a two-game hole might be too much to make up to try and secure a second straight title. I might be walking right into a trap, but I’ll go with the Lions. The pick: Jackson Liberty.

Long Branch (2-1, 0-1) at Wall (1-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.: Long Branch is trying to shake off the disappointment of a 27-14 loss to Neptune, while Wall was beaten in the final minutes of a 17-14 setback to Freehold. Long Branch’s inside run game is nasty with the tandem of seniors Joscil Jackson and Deon Williams. The Green Wave will try to get their passing game back in sync after senior Avry Griffin threw a pair of pick-sixes last week. Wall’s running game has been solid, but Long Branch’s defense swarms the ball behind Jackson and defensive end Hunter Baillie, so the Crimson Knights are going to have to do something in the air to think about an upset. The pick: Long Branch.

No. 2 Neptune (3-0, 2-0) at No. 7 Matawan (3-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.: This is the other monster game of the weekend. Neptune brings the Shore Conference’s longest current winning streak, 13 games, into a matchup of defending state champions. There will be speed and skill players galore on this field, as well as fast and swarming defenses. Both teams have plenty of home run hitters capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Matawan will look to jam up Neptune’s running game and force the Scarlet Fliers into obvious passing downs. The key is not to get too far upfield when rushing Neptune senior quarterback Ajee Patterson, who is a dangerous running threat if he gets a lane. Patterson has a rocket-launcher arm and will take shots down the field to seniors Keith Kirkwood and Geoff Fairbanks, so Matawan’s secondary will be tested. However, Patterson’s accuracy has been shaky, and he often goes for the longball rather than the underneath stuff, so Matawan wants to take advantage to get turnovers on the deep throws. On the other side, Neptune faces a similar quarterback to their own in Matawan junior Kashaun Barnes. He is the most dangerous on rollouts and broken plays, when he can just improvise and make a big play. Senior John Alston is the other player that Neptune has to slow down in the run game while also limiting his damage as a receiver out of the backfield. These teams play fast and loose, so winning the turnover battle will be key. Matawan also has a special teams advantage that could be huge. Whereas Neptune struggled just to make extra points in a win over Long Branch last week, Matawan has one of the best kicker/punter combos in the Shore in junior Mike Creamer. His ability to change field position and consistently make extra points could be crucial. Matawan has had a habit of falling behind early in games this year and having to rally back. That is a bad idea against Neptune. You know emotions will run high in this old-school rivalry, so the team that avoids the late hits and other extracurricular plays that can result in dumb penalties will have the advantage. If the Scarlet Fliers get this one, the Class B North title is all but in the bag. The pick: Neptune.

JFK-Iselin (0-3) at Ocean (1-2), 7 p.m.: The Spartans will look to get back to .500 after having Matawan down by 13 early but not being able to put away the Huskies last week. JFK has had trouble scoring in most of its games while allowing 27 or more points in all of them. The Ocean offense led by senior quarterback Andrew Mehr and a group of young standouts will look to get it back in gear after being shut out in the second half by Matawan last week. The pick: Ocean.

South River (3-0) at Shore (3-0), 7 p.m.: Two old Central Jersey Group I rivals duke it out in a game with key power-point implications for the winner. South River pulled out a 33-31 win over Keansburg last week, while Shore mauled Metuchen 45-0. Shore’s diversified running attack in the Wing-T has achieved some balance with quarterback Matt Muh throwing for at least one score every week. The real strength for the Blue Devils has been a defense that has not given up more than 13 points in a game this year, and that was to undefeated Rumson in overtime. South River’s offense has been prolific early on, but it has not faced a defense like Shore yet. If it starts raining and becomes a slugfest in the mud, you’ve always got to like Shore in a game like that. The pick: Shore.

Saturday’s Games

Point Boro (3-0) at Asbury Park (1-1), noon: This is an intriguing nondivisional matchup between a Point Boro team that has been grinding out wins and an Asbury Park team that has had two weeks to prepare because of its bye week. The Blue Bishops were routed by Shore in their last game but that extra time to prepare always helps against a triple option team. The real question is if Asbury Park’s offense can clean up the sloppiness from the Shore game and get back to making explosive plays, particularly in the passing game, which was completely shut down by Shore. Point Boro’s defense is similar to Shore’s, so I’ll give the Panthers the benefit of the doubt on the road. The pick: Point Boro.

Middlesex (1-2) at Keyport (2-1), noon: Do Group I teams from the Shore play Shore Conference teams anymore? I feel like this GMC-Shore crossover boredom is going on forever. Anyway, Keyport has gone back to its old-school Wing-T, and it pounded Cardinal McCarrick last week, which, honestly, isn’t saying a whole lot. This is a little bit more of a test to see if the Red Raiders are gaining momentum. Holmdel already shut out Middlesex 28-0 earlier this year, and it’s all about stopping tailback Al-Tarik Rushing. He got benched for the first half last week and still ran for 156 yards and a touchdown in a 32-8 win over a Highland Park team that Keyport had to rally to beat by 25-23 in Week Two. I think Keyport found some confidence offensively last week and might have to win an all-out shootout like 42-38 or something to get this one. The pick: Keyport.

Point Beach (3-0, 0-0) at Mater Dei Prep (0-3, 0-1), noon: This is Point Beach’s first game against a Shore Conference opponent, and the Garnet Gulls are a heavy favorite after scoring over 40 points in each of their first three games. They should cruise right through this one and then will get their first real test a week later against Asbury Park. The pick: Point Beach.

TR South (1-2, 1-1) at No. 4 Lacey (3-0, 2-0), 1 p.m.: This could get interesting for Lacey now that dynamic quarterback Tymere Berry has taken over the starting spot for the Indians. He is a dual threat with explosive running ability, and he is one of three dangerous playmakers along with Darius Hart and Otis Kearney. However, Lacey has plenty of playmakers of its own, including senior tailback Kyle Spatz, who ran for 204 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Toms River East last week. If the Lions can establish the run and grind out the clock to keep the ball away from Toms River South’s offense, they should be fine, but this is no gimme. A muddy field at Lacey from the rain shouldn’t hurt, either, when it comes to negating the Indians’ speed. The pick: Lacey.

Freehold Twp. (0-2, 0-1) at Marlboro (1-2, 1-1), 1 p.m.: Before the season started, I would have been a lock to pick Freehold Township in this game, but now I’m not so sure. The Patriots have not scored a point yet this season, while Marlboro already has a divisional win, albeit over a Howell team that has really struggled. On the positive side for the Patriots, they have had two weeks to prepare for this because of their bye week, and I’m sure they got an earful about how they have to pick up their performance with a senior-laden team. Plus, their two shutout losses were to two top 10 teams in Southern and Manalapan. Marlboro took a lop-sided loss to a solid Colts Neck team but has shown improvement. I’m giving Freehold Township one last chance to show that things might be different this season. The pick: Freehold Township.

Midd. North (0-2, 0-1) at Colts Neck (3-0, 1-0), 1 p.m.: This is an interesting game because the records are deceiving. Middletown North started with the most brutal 1-2 punch in the Shore, facing Brick Memorial and then Manalapan in its first two games. Meanwhile, Colts Neck is 3-0 for the first time since 2002, but its three opponents have a combined record of 1-8 so the jury is still out whether the Cougars are legit. The question is how good Middletown North’s offense will be now that it is not playing an undefeated, top 10 team. This could end up being a really good game, and I’ll give the home team the slight nod. The pick: Colts Neck.

Manchester (0-3, 0-2) at Lakewood (2-1, 1-1), 1 p.m.: Good subplot in this game. Two of Lakewood’s top players, senior wideout/defensive back Anthony Cook and his younger brother, sophomore running back Chapelle Cook, both transferred from Manchester to Lakewood before this season. That means plenty of motivation for both sides. Manchester has struggled offensively for much of the season with plenty of new players in the lineup, while Lakewood got back on track with quarterback Tyrice Beverette returning to the lineup in a blowout win over Pinelands last week. Lakewood’s veterans and depth among its playmakers look to be the difference in this one. The pick: Lakewood.

Dunellen (2-1) at Keansburg (2-1), 1 p.m.: Keansburg is trying to recover from a frustrating 33-31 loss to unbeaten South River last week in which the Titans scored five touchdowns but trouble on extra points spelled doom. Dunellen’s lone loss is a 41-8 setback to Point Beach, and it is coming off a victory over Mater Dei Prep. Keansburg quarterback Ryan Kurtz has accounted for 10 total touchdowns in the last two games, including eight on the ground. He basically has been unstoppable, and I think he will keep it rolling here. Keansburg needs this game for state playoff qualifying purposes. Its main focus has to be on improving its defense, which has given up a combined 68 points in the last two weeks. The pick: Keansburg.

Indiana (2-1) at Northwestern (4-0), noon: Seriously, Big 10 doormat Indiana at home? If the Wildcats can’t beat them, then they won’t win a Big 10 game, and I will have to repair the inevitable hole in my drywall. If/when they get this one, it’s on to a juicy one at Penn State. You may not see me at a high school game next Saturday if that happens, as a trip to Happy Valley could be in the works. With apologies to Glenn Carson and Garrett Sickels, this is the year to get Penn State when they are down, and I’m pretty sure Northwestern has never won in Happy Valley. The last NU-PSU game I attended at State College, former Red Bank legend Eric McCoo ran all over Northwestern while I was heckled mercilessly. Great times. The main casualty of the sanctions against Penn State is that my younger brother, a PSU grad, will no longer lay any points in our annual bet on the game. The ‘Cats shouldn’t need them this year. The pick: Northwestern.

Sunday’s Game

49ers (2-1) at Jets (2-1), 1 p.m.: No Revis, no Stephen Hill, no pass rush, no hope, although maybe a ball will actually get lodged in Tim Tebow’s facemask this week for some must-see TV. Bartender, refill please! The pick: 49ers.

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