The final week of the regular season featured teams battling to both qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs and for postseason positioning. There was only one matchup of ranked teams in Week 8 but it delivered an upset as Middletown South knocked off Rumson-Fair Haven, 14-7, in a defensive battle at The Swamp.

The Eagles’ victory clouds the picture a bit in that they were coming off a loss to St. John Vianney in Week 7 and entered last week ranked No. 8, but rebounded to beat then-No. 3 Rumson. How far the Eagles rise and how far to the Bulldogs fall is the biggest question. At this point in the season, head-to-head results cannot be the be-all, end-all. There are simply too many win-loss triangles for that to make sense. Body of work, quality wins and strength of schedule are all important factors and the decisions aren’t easy.

Elsewhere, one of the Shore Conference’s two undefeated teams went down as No. 2 Mater Dei Prep fell to Connecticut’s Cheshire Academy, 34-33. Given it was a one-point nonconference loss to a team that has postgraduate student-athletes, the Seraphs stay put in the two-hole. Top-ranked Red Bank Catholic narrowly avoided being shocked by one-win Middletown North, but junior running back Kevin Degnan delivered a huge game and clutch touchdown runs filling in for injured starter Billy Guidetti to keep the Caseys rolling.

No. 4 Long Branch, No. 6 Manasquan, No. 7 Brick, No. 9 Toms River North and No. 10 Holmdel all picked up wins without any major drama, while No. 5 Red Bank had its bye week. It wasn’t a matchup that had any implications on the Top 10, but Toms River South picked up a big 13-7 overtime win over a Barnegat team that entered the week 6-1. The Indians had lost their first six games but have now won two in a row.

The NJSIAA playoffs begin on Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3 and 24 Shore Conference teams in nine different brackets will begin their quest for a state championship. Red Bank Catholic is the No. 1 seed in the Non-Public Group 3 playoffs and gets a coveted first-round bye while defending champion Long Branch is the top seed in Central Jersey Group 4. Middletown South (CJ-4), Rumson (CJ-3) and Manasquan (CJ-2) each earned No. 2 seeds in their respective brackets.

The postseason will have a major impact on the rankings in the final few weeks, especially in the Central Jersey Group 4 bracket where seven of the eight teams are from the Shore. There’s also a chance Red Bank Catholic and Mater Dei could meet in the Non-Public Group 3 final with both a state title and the No. 1 ranking on the line.

The postseason is here, and it’s time to strap in and get ready for the ride.

1. Red Bank Catholic (8-0). Last week: No. 1 

Junior running back Kevin Degnan came up huge in the absence of starter Billy Guidetti, delivering 201 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 17 carries, including the go-ahead 74-yard touchdown run with 5:22 left, as the Caseys held off an upset bid from Middletown North in a wild 38-28 win. Degnan added a 20-yard touchdown run with 1:49 left to ice the game and also had a 2-yard touchdown run in the first half. Senior quarterback Steve Lubischer threw a pair of touchdown passes to junior tight end Charlie Gordinier and senior Ryan O’Hara kicked a 30-yard field goal. This week: The Caseys are the No. 1 seed in the Non-Public Group 3 playoffs and will have a bye into the semifinals. They await the winner of the first-round game between Pope John (1-7) and St. John Vianney (4-4).

  

2. Mater Dei Prep (8-1). Last week: No. 2 

The Seraphs suffered their first loss of the season in a 34-33 loss to Connecticut’s Cheshire Academy. Senior quarterback Rob McCoy had three touchdown passes and junior running back Malik Ingram had a touchdown run. This week: The Seraphs are the No. 3 seed in the Non-Public Group 3 playoffs and will host sixth-seeded Donovan Catholic (5-2) on Saturday.

  

3. Long Branch (7-1). Last week: No. 4 

Junior running back Jermaine Corbett ran for 188 yards and three touchdowns and also caught a pair of touchdown passes from senior quarterback Marc Dennis in a 40-14 win over Brick Memorial. Corbett had touchdown runs of 80, 30 and 6 yards in the first half and then caught scoring passes of 11 and five yards. Latrell Bennett added a fumble return for a touchdown. This week: The Green Wave are the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs and will open their title defense against eighth-seeded Middletown North (1-6) on Friday.

  

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (6-2). Last week: No. 3 

A touchdown run by senior running back Alex Maldjian on the first drive of the game was all the Bulldogs could muster in a 14-7 loss to Middletown South. Even with back-to-back losses, it’s tough to drop Rumson any farther considering they swept the one Shore Conference division where every team qualified for the playoffs. The body of work is still strong. This week: Rumson is the No. 2 seed in the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs and will host seventh-seeded Ocean (4-5) in the first round on Friday.

 

5. Red Bank (6-1). Last week: No. 5 

The Bucs hold tight at No. 5 through their bye week. They’ll return to action this week as the No. 3 seed in the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs. This week: Friday vs. sixth-seeded Allentown (4-4) in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs.

  

6. Middletown South (6-2). Last week: No. 8 

The Eagles rebounded from a loss to St. John Vianney in a big way by defeating Rumson-Fair Haven, 14-7. Senior quarterback Trevor Brey had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs and senior linebacker Matt Tardy led the defense with nine tackles and a pass deflection that led to an interception by Dylan Walling late in the game. The Eagles will take the momentum into the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs where they are the No. 2 seed. This week: Friday vs. seventh-seeded Northern Burlington (6-2) in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs.

 

7. Brick (6-2). Last week: No. 7 

Junior quarterback Anthony Prato ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries and also threw a touchdown pass, and senior running back Joe Carchio ran for 116 yards and a touchdown to lead the Dragons to a 49-6 win over Lakewood. Jake Wynkoop, Joaquin Ragland and Jimmy Leblo also had touchdown runs and Leblo had a 14-yard touchdown catch. This week: The Dragons are the No. 3 seed in the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs and will host sixth-seeded Jackson Memorial (6-2) in the first round on Friday night.

  

8. Manasquan (6-1). Last week: No. 6

The Warriors drop two spots through no fault of their own after a 21-7 win over Ocean. Middletown South had to move up after its win over Rumson and one team was going to have to drop. Senior James Pendergist had four catches for 107 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a touchdown, and senior defensive back Scooby Tuddles returned an interception for a touchdown. The win helped Manasquan lock up the No. 2 seed in the Central Jersey Group 2 playoffs. This week: Saturday vs. seventh-seeded Delaware Valley (5-4) in the Central Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals.

 

9. Toms River North (6-2). Last week: No. 9

Junior running back Jarrod Pruitt had three touchdown runs, sophomore quarterback Jake Kazanowsky threw a touchdown pass to Will Marsh and Joe Romeo kicked a 32-yard field goal to power the Mariners to a 31-21 victory over Southern. Toms River North is back in the playoffs after going 1-9 last season and earned the No. 5 seed in the South Jersey Group 5 bracket. This week: Friday at fourth-seeded Vineland (3-5) in the South Jersey Group 5 quarterfinals.

  

10. Holmdel (7-1). Last week: No. 10

Senior running back Dean Gallo ran for 76 yards and a touchdown and returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown as the Hornets shut out rival Raritan, 31-0, to claim the Battle of the Border trophy. Senior quarterback Jeff DeCicco had a 44-yard touchdown run and Tom Ammirati blocked a punt that Evan Jennings returned 27 yards for a touchdown. Senior Alex Unanski added a 40-yard field goal and junior running back Cameron LaMountain ran for 74 yards. Senior defensive lineman Alex Starr had two sacks to lead the defense. Holmdel is the No. 4 seed in the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs. This week: Friday vs. fifth-seeded Nottingham (6-2) in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs.

  

Dropped out: none

 

Teams to watch: 

Manalapan (5-3) 

Freehold (5-3)

St. John Vianney (4-4)

Shore (6-2) 

Donovan Catholic (5-2)

 

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