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Shore Conference Football Week Three Top 10

After two weeks of stability in the upper reaches of the All Shore Media Top 10, Toms River North shook things up this past weekend by taking down a top-five team.

The Mariners are back in the top 10 after a one-week hiatus, as they picked up a 17-14 win over last week’s No. 4 team, Southern, to hand the Rams their first divisional loss since 2010. Class A South looks like it will be an all-out dogfight with four teams (Toms River North, Southern, Lacey, Brick Memorial) slugging it out for a title. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a co- or tri-championship in that division.

The explosive tandem of Saeed Blacknall (left) and Anthony Firkser has No. 3 Manalapan off to a 3-0 start with a showdown against No. 8 Middletown South coming up this week. (Photo credit: Cliff Lavelle).

Everything else was fairly status quo, with the other ranked teams solidifying their positions. The big one coming up this week is No. 3 Manalapan at No. 8 Middletown South in a major Class A North showdown that should go a long way toward deciding the title. Manalapan is the two-time defending champion and has not lost a divisional game since 2009.

Another big one to watch is No. 2 Neptune at No. 7 Matawan in a Class B North clash between a pair of undefeated teams on Friday night.

All Shore Media Top 10

1.       Red Bank Catholic (3-0) – Last week: No. 1

The Caseys continue to bludgeon everything in their path as they routed St. John Vianney, 45-14, in a Class A Central game despite being without injured Rutgers recruit Josh Klecko on both sides of the line. Senior James Taylor was making plays all over the field with a kickoff return for a touchdown, a forced fumble, four receptions, and an interception and two passes defensed in the secondary. The win is RBC’s 17th straight victory against Shore Conference competition, and the Caseys are the heavy favorite to make it 18 in a row when they travel to Raritan (0-3) on Friday night for a Class A Central game.

2.       Neptune (3-0) – Last week: No. 2.

The Scarlet Fliers cleared an important hurdle in the Class B North race with a 27-14 win over last week’s No. 10 team, Long Branch. Senior Keyshawn Rice had an 88-yard kickoff return to start the game that set up a touchdown and also ran for an 8-yard touchdown. Seniors Kyle Lewis and Myles Martin each had interception returns for touchdowns to help the Scarlet Fliers jump out to a 20-0 lead on their way to extending the Shore Conference’s longest current winning streak to 13 games. The win over the Green Wave was the start of a very challenging stretch as they now head to No. 7 Matawan on Friday night for another important divisional game, followed by a showdown a week later with No. 5 Brick Memorial in a nondivisional game.

3.       Manalapan (3-0) – Last week: No. 3.

The Braves continue to impress as they buzzsaw through Class A North. After senior wide receiver Anthony Firkser took center stage in the first two weeks, it was junior wideout Saeed Blacknall’s turn last weekend. He scored a career-high four touchdowns, three receiving and one on a 99-yard kickoff return, in a 35-6 win over Middletown North as senior quarterback Mike Isabella continues to light teams up with his dynamic wide receiver tandem. The Braves have won their first three games by an average of 27 points, but now comes their sternest test yet. They will head to The Swamp on Friday night to face No. 8 Middletown South and try to make it three straight wins over the Eagles to re-assert their dominance in a division they have won the last two years.

4.       Lacey (3-0) – Last week: No. 5.

The Lions move up a spot because of the loss by Southern and their 42-14 win over Toms River East that kept them unbeaten. Lacey has been one of the most explosive teams in the Shore Conference thus far, averaging 46 points per game in the first three weeks. Their win over Toms River North also looks even better now that the Mariners went on to knock off Southern. Senior Kyle Spatz ran for 204 yards and three touchdowns to power the win over Toms River East. Nex up is a Class A South game at home on Saturday against Toms River South (1-2), which is coming off its first win of the season.

5.       Brick Memorial (3-0) – Last week: No. 6.

The Mustangs looked impressive again in Week Three as The Mike Basile Show made a stop in Jackson for a 34-7 win over Jackson Memorial. The junior running back/defensive back scored four touchdowns, one week after he had five against Middletown North. He had 118 yards and three touchdowns on three catches, and he also ran for a 13-yard score. He has 10 touchdowns in three games to lead the Shore Conference. Basile also had two sacks and a forced fumble as part of a stellar defensive effort that also included an outstanding game by senior defensive lineman Richie Kuhn, who had two sacks and a forced fumble of his own. The Mustangs welcome Toms River East (0-3) on Friday night in a Class A South game, with a huge nondivisional showdown against No. 2 Neptune looming a week later.

6.       Rumson-Fair Haven (3-0) – Last week: No. 7.

The Bulldogs handed Holmdel its first loss with a 27-6 victory in which senior quarterback Danny Roberto threw three touchdown passes for the second straight week and senior wideout John Ryan caught two touchdowns for the second straight game. Now comes The Battle of Ridge Road against a Red Bank team still seeking its first win of the season. The Bucs have had two weeks to prepare because they are coming off their bye week, and they will be looking for revenge after getting buried 30-0 by Rumson last year. The Bulldogs are working through multiple injuries, so one of their biggest challenges has just been keeping their best players on the field.

7.       Matawan (3-0) – Last week: No. 8.

The Huskies dug out of a 13-point hole in impressive fashion against Ocean to pick up a 27-13 win as the defense continues to be solid and junior quarterback Kashaun Barnes and senior running back John Alston continue to be the twin engines of the offense. Barnes ran for one score and threw a touchdown pass to Alston, who also ran for a touchdown of his own. Now is the Huskies’ chance to make their biggest statement of the season, as they welcome No. 2 Neptune in a huge Class B North game on Friday night. This game should go a long way toward deciding the division title. These teams are also now both in Central Jersey Group III, where Neptune is the defending champion, so this could be a playoff preview in addition to being huge for power points.

 

8.       Middletown South (2-0) – Last week: No. 9.

The Eagles picked up a 35-7 victory over Howell thanks to a pair of touchdowns by senior Eli Smith and 150-plus and a score on the ground from Jake Ripnick. They have only allowed seven points in two games against a pair of teams that are a combined 0-6, but the competition dramatically ramps up this week. They will welcome No. 3 Manalapan to The Swamp for a crucial Class A North game. Middletown South’s last division title came in 2009, and if the Eagles want to get back on top, the road goes through the two-time defending champion Braves.

9.       Toms River North (2-1) – Last week: Unranked.

After only a week out of the limelight, the Mariners did what they had to do to return – beat Southern. Their 17-14 win over last week’s No. 4 team was Southern’s first divisional loss since 2010 and put Toms River North right back in the hunt in Class A South. The special teams were outstanding, with senior Chris Gulla booting the game-winning 45-yard field goal and junior Joey Fields returning a punt for a score after Gulla pinned Southern at the 1-yard line with a punt and some help from teammate Jake Forlenza. The Mariners will look to keep the momentum going when they welcome Jackson Memorial (1-2) for a Class A South game on Friday night.

10.   Southern (2-1) – Last week: No. 4.

The Rams took a tumble after a hard-fought, 17-14 loss at home against Toms River North. The defending Class A South champions are still a team with the ability to climb right back up in the rankings, and it took a 45-yard field goal by one of the state’s best kickers to beat them inside the final four minutes so it’s not like they got blown out. They will be a tough obstacle for the likes of Lacey and Brick Memorial as they all compete for the Class A South title. They can get back on track Friday night when they travel to Brick (0-3) for a division game.

Dropped out:

Long Branch (2-1): The Green Wave were the No. 10 team last week but got bumped after Toms River North’s big win. Long Branch came up short in a 27-14 loss to No. 2 Neptune to end a seven-game winning streak, but did give the Scarlet Fliers a good fight for three quarters after getting blitzed for 20 points in the first six minutes. This was my first time seeing this team in person, and they are good. They have two quality running backs in Deon Williams and Joscil Jackson and a tough defense led by Jackson, a strong secondary and up-and-coming standout Hunter Baillie at defensive end. When they get stud tailback Dwight Clark back from injury around Week Six, they could be a serious force, particularly if they can get more balance with the passing game. I could see them becoming a real problem for teams by the time the playoffs roll around.

Teams to watch:

Shore (2-1): The Blue Devils routed Metuchen 45-0 in a nonconference game as six different players scored touchdowns. They have a chance to make a statement among the Central Jersey Group I competition this week when they host unbeaten South River in a nonconference game on Friday night.

Point Beach (3-0): The Garnet Gulls continue to bulldoze teams, scoring over 40 for the third straight game with a lop-sided win over Spotswood. Now they have winless Mater Dei Prep in their first game against a Shore Conference opponent and look to keep it going. They haven’t really played anyone of note yet, so we won’t know how good this team is until it runs into Asbury Park on Oct. 6.

Colts Neck (3-0): The Cougars are 3-0 for the first time in ages, and even though their three opponents are a combined 1-8, they have shown explosiveness on offense. They are coming off a win of Marlboro and are looking like the one darkhorse team to possibly break up the fight at the top of Class A North between Middletown South and Manalapan. They host Middletown North at home on Saturday in another tough Class A North game.

Jackson Liberty (3-0): The Lions are now 3-0 for the first time in school history and appear on their way to their first winning season ever and what they hope is their first state playoff berth as well. They took care of Manchester, 28-12, to stay at the top of the Class B South standings. They have a crucial B South matchup at home on Friday night when they face defending champion Barnegat, which is coming off a loss to Monsignor Donovan.

Point Boro (3-0): Another prime contender in Class B South, the Panthers grinded out a 20-13 win over Central thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns. They have an interesting nondivisional match-up this week when they head to Asbury Park to face the defending Central Jersey Group I champions, who are coming off their bye week.

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