The playoffs are here, so we will find out soon enough which ranked teams are for real in the rush for a coveted NJSIAA sectional title trophy.

No huge shake-ups from last week, as the higher-ranked teams won every big showdown against fellow ranked teams in Week Nine. Five Shore Conference teams earned No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets, and Ocean and Toms River South are No. 2 seeds guaranteed a pair of home games in their brackets. I think the Shore has a legitimate chance to win a conference-record six state titles, one year after winning none for the first time since 1985, so we’ll see how it plays out.

No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven secured the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group II with a big 22-15 win over fellow Top 10 team Manasquan last week. (Photo by Bill Normile)

This week also brings the biggest test of the season for No. 1 Red Bank Catholic when it hosts fifth-seeded Immaculata in a first-round game in Non-Public Group III at Count Basie Field on Friday night.

Shore Sports Network Top 10

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

The Caseys made it 32 in a row against Shore Conference competition with a 49-7 win over Monmouth that they led 42-0 at the half. Junior Mike Cordova had a pair of touchdowns, and four other players scored as RBC set up a showdown in its Thanksgiving game with No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven for the Class A Central title. The fourth-seeded Caseys now face fifth-seeded Immaculata, which just knocked off previously undefeated Phillipsburg 31-28 in double overtime, in a great test in the first round of the Non-Public Group III bracket on Friday night. The winner gets consensus top-five team in the nation and defending sectional champion St. Joseph-Montvale in the semifinals.


2. Manalapan (8-0). Last week: No. 2.

The Braves clinched a tie for their fourth straight Class A North title and locked up the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group V with a 56-7 win over Howell for their 23rd straight win against Shore Conference competition and their 22nd straight divisional victory. Senior wideout Saeed Blacknall had two more touchdown catches to give him eight in the last three games, senior tailback Tyler Leonetti ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns, and the special teams play continued to be lights-out as Dan Debner returned his fourth kick of the season for a score, taking a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. It’s 12-0 or bust for the Braves now, as they start what they hope will be a march to their first NJSIAA title after losing in the finals the past two years. They welcome eighth-seeded Brick Memorial in the first round on Friday night.

3. Ocean (8-0). Last week: No. 3

The Spartans picked up a 35-19 win over Freehold that clinched the outright Class B North title, Ocean’s first division title in seven years. Sophomore tailback Tyler Thompson ran for three touchdowns and junior quarterback Royal Moore threw a touchdown pass and also caught one in the win. The Spartans earned the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group III, and look to make a run at their first state title since 2005 and first 12-0 season in program history. They will host seventh-seeded Warren Hills (5-4) in the first round on Friday night.

4. Rumson-Fair Haven (8-0). Last week: No. 4.

The Bulldogs picked up their biggest win of the season, 22-15 over No. 6 Manasquan, thanks to a 1-yard touchdown plunge by fullback Dylan Zohn on fourth-and-goal with 54 seconds left in the game that was set up by a fumble recovery by senior Sam Shaud. Junior tailback Charlie Volker had 130 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns in the win, and the defense did not allow a point after halftime to help the Bulldogs grab the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group II. They welcome eighth-seeded Bordentown (4-4) in hopes of beginning the journey to their second state title in four seasons and first since 2010. Their win over Manasquan also means their Thanksgiving game against No. 1 Red Bank Catholic will be for the Class A Central title.

5. Colts Neck (7-1). Last week: No. 6.

The Cougars outlasted last week’s No. 8 team, Middletown South, 27-21 in overtime thanks to a 2-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo, who ran for two scores in the win. Dan Calabro had a great game with a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 75-yard touchdown catch in the victory. Colts Neck is the No. 3 seed in Central Jersey Group IV and will host No. 6 Neptune (4-4), which made the Central Jersey Group III finals the past two years, in a first-round game on Saturday. The Cougars have never made it beyond the sectional semifinals, so they are hoping to write a new chapter in school history and take home the program’s first title in a wide-open bracket.


6. Manasquan (6-2). Last week: No. 5.

The Warriors drop one spot after taking No. 4 Rumson all the way to the wire in a 22-15 loss that came inside the final minute. They were the first team all year to score more than a touchdown against the Bulldogs’ defense and took a 15-7 lead into halftime thanks to a pair of touchdown passes by senior Tucker Caccavale to tight end Tanner Cowley and wideout Joe Fittin. The loss still didn’t stop the Warriors from nabbing the No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group III, where they look to add to their Shore Conference record and win a 12th sectional title and first since 2008. They welcome their old rival, eighth-seeded Wall (3-5), for the first of two meetings as the two teams also will square off again in their annual Thanksgiving rivalry.


7. Jackson Memorial (6-2). Last week: No. 7.

The Jaguars took home their first division title since going undefeated in 2005 when they edged Brick 9-7 to take home the Class A South crown. Senior tailback Khani Glover ran for a touchdown,  Jared Calhoun nailed a big 26-yard field goal and linebacker Ken Bradley spearheaded the defense as the Jaguars built a 9-0 lead and held on for the win. The victory gave them the No. 3 seed in a tough South Jersey Group V bracket, where they will host sixth-seeded Rancocas Valley (5-3) in a good first-round test on Friday night. The Jaguars are seeking their first state championship since that 2005 season.


8. Toms River South (6-2). Last week: No. 10.

The Indians move up thanks to the loss by Brick and a 38-7 victory over Toms River North, their first win over the Mariners in 11 years. Khaleel Greene ran for a pair of scores, Russell Messler had a fumble return for a touchdown and a field goal, and quarterback Tymere Berry ran for one score and threw a touchdown pass to Darrius Hart in the win. The Indians picked up the No. 2 seed in South Jersey Group IV and will host seventh-seeded Moorestown (4-5) on Saturday afternoon. Toms River South is seeking its first trip to a state final since 1998 and its first state title since 1991. The Indians’ last playoff victory was in 2003, so they look to erase a decade-long drought in that area as well. This spot could be argued between Toms River South and Brick, as the Green Dragons beat the Indians, but Toms River South beat a Jackson Memorial team that just beat Brick, plus Brick has the extra loss against Middletown South (4-4). The playoffs should give a clearer picture of which team ends up ranked higher.


9. Brick (6-3). Last week: No. 9.

The Green Dragons battled despite being down both of their top two quarterbacks in a 9-7 loss to Jackson Memorial that was for the Class A South title. Junior starter Carmen Sclafani was already out with a shoulder injury for the second straight week and junior back-up Joe Phillips left the game after a big hit and did not return. Brick needs to get healthy in a hurry because it is the No. 1 seed in a wide-open Central Jersey Group IV bracket where the Green Dragons have as good a shot as anyone to bring home a title, which would be their first state title since 1994. The last time they reached a state final was also that 1994 season. They host West Windsor North (2-6) in a first-round game on Friday night.


10. Long Branch (6-2). Last week: Unranked.

The Green Wave had a bye and now gear up for a tough game on the road as the fifth seed in Central Jersey Group III against a sectional champion from last year, fourth-seeded Carteret (6-2). Their hope is to make a run at their first sectional final since 2007, where Class B North nemesis Ocean, the No. 2 seed, could possibly be waiting for a rematch after beating Long Branch in the regular season. The Green Wave are seeking their first state title since 1999. Their two losses are two Top 10 teams, No. 3 Ocean and No. 6 Manasquan, but they are still seeking that signature win.

Dropped out:

Middletown South (4-4): The Eagles have been given their chances to stick in the top 10, but fell to .500 with a 27-21 overtime loss to No. 5 Colts Neck. Jeremy Concepcion had a pair of touchdown runs in the loss. All of their losses are to Top 10 teams and they do boast a win over No. 9 Brick. The opportunity is right there to surge back into the rankings with a run in Central Jersey Group IV, where they reached the final last year before losing to Sayreville. As the No. 4 seed, they host fifth-seeded Burlington Township on Friday night. A win could give them a rematch with top-seeded Brick, which they beat 28-7 in the regular season. The Eagles have made the state finals a remarkable 12 times since 1997, and seek their first title since 2006.

Teams to watch:

Barnegat (7-1): The Bengals picked up a 17-6 nondivisional win over Red Bank to tie the school single-season record for wins and get the No. 3 seed in South Jersey Group III. They will host sixth-seeded Pemberton on Friday night in a bid to reach the semifinals for the third time in program history. They have never made it to a state final, so they are looking to add another chapter to school history with a deep playoff run. They also clinched no worse than a tie for their second division title in school history when Central lost to Manchester, and can clinch it outright by beating Pinelands (1-7) in their Thanksgiving game.

Shore Regional (7-1): The Blue Devils rolled to a 35-7 win over Keyport thanks to two touchdowns apiece for running backs Brian Miller and Doug Goldsmith to earn the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group I. They have won seven straight since a season-opening loss to No. 4 Rumson and have reached the defining part of their season. After reaching last year’s CJ Group I final, they look to finish the job and take home their second title in four seasons. They also have a showdown with Point Beach in their Thanksgiving game for the Class B Central title. It could be the first of two meetings between the teams, as Point Beach is the No. 3 seed in CJ Group I and could end up seeing the Blue Devils in the state final as well. Shore hosts eighth-seeded Palmyra (4-4) in the first round on Friday night.

Point Beach (7-1): The Garnet Gulls are coming off their bye week and have a tough first-round match-up in Central Jersey Group I. As the third seed, they host defending champion Florence, the sixth seed, in a rematch of last year’s semifinal game in which Florence ruined Point Beach’s bid for its first undefeated season. Point Beach also will face Shore in their Thanksgiving game with the Class B Central title on the line for the second straight season after beating the Blue Devils last year to take home their first division crown since 1997. Playoff-wise, they are looking for their first trip to the finals since 1982, where they hope to win the program’s first sectional title.