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Southern-Toms River North Clash is the Game of the Week

One team in the Shore Sports Network’s High School Game of the Week passed its first divisional test with flying colors, while the other came up short to add some pressure to this week’s game.

It should be another fierce Class A South showdown on Friday night when Toms River North (1-1, 0-1) travels to defending division champion Southern (2-0, 1-0) in a bid to end the Rams’ six-game winning streak in divisional games. The game will be broadcast live on 105.7 “The Hawk’’ f.m. and 1160/1310 a.m.

Junior wide receiver/defensive back Mike Gesicki and Southern look to clear another big hurdle in a quest for a second straight Class A South title when they face Toms River North. (Photo by Bill Normile).

Southern, ranked No. 4 in the All Shore Media Top 10, has not allowed a point this season coming off a 19-0 victory over Toms River South in its home opener last week. Toms River North is trying to bounce back from a 37-20 loss to No. 5 Lacey that put the Mariners in an early hole as far as the division race is concerned.

Last season, Southern bludgeoned Toms River North with a power running game, resulting in the now-graduated T.J. Bellissimo scoring a school-record six touchdowns in a 41-20 victory. These two programs have developed a nice rivalry in recent seasons, including Southern beating Toms River North in the state playoffs during a run its first NJSIAA sectional final appearance in 2008 after losing to the Mariners in the regular season.

Both teams are dealing with injuries, as Southern senior quarterback Dan Higgins is still recovering from a separated throwing shoulder that has resulted in the Rams not calling any designed running plays for him that would invite contact. Toms River North lost starting junior center Nick Silva to a season-ending broken leg in the loss to Lacey, which leaves a void at an important spot considering the Mariners run a shotgun spread offense.

Southern has shown a solid balance offensively with 6-foot-5 junior wide receiver Mike Gesicki serving as the primary playmaker in the passing game and senior tailback Abe Gonzalez, who had two touchdowns in the win over Toms River South, stepping into Bellissimo’s shoes in the running game. The backbone of the team has been the defense, which blanked Freehold Township 28-0 in three-plus quarters in a game shortened by lightning before neutralizing Toms River South.

Gesicki has also been a force in the secondary on defense, as he had a 49-yard interception return that set up a one-yard score in the win over Toms River South and also had a fumble return for a touchdown in the victory over Freehold Township. Logan Sheehan had a key fumble recovery against Toms River South, which Southern limited to only 94 total yards after the Indians scored 26 points in their season opener.

That group will be tasked with slowing down a Toms River North offense featuring numerous playmakers under the direction of sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani. He had an up-and-down showing against Lacey with 138 yards rushing and three touchdowns but also two interceptions, including a pick six, and two lost fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown. The Mariners have a deep corps of wide receivers in juniors Joey Fields and Anthony Carrington and seniors Alex Majewski and Damien Singleton. Junior Trevon Bass is the primary tailback and hopes to get back to the form he showed against Howell in the opener when he scored two touchdowns compared to only getting two carries in the loss to Lacey.

For Southern’s defense, it will be all about tackling in space because Fields, Carrington and Singleton are so elusive while Majewski is dangerous after the catch coming over the middle. They also have to execute their assignments because Sclafani is a legitimate running threat out of the spread option in the shotgun.

Toms River North’s defense overall against Lacey was solid but was hurt by a handful of big plays. Senior linebacker Tom Pizzola had three sacks as the Mariners got after the passer, which they need to do against Higgins on Friday night. Southern tries to establish the running game first to set up shots downfield and get Gesicki in one-on-one coverage for fade balls, so Toms River North has to slow down Gonzalez to get the Rams in obvious passing downs.

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