The Fifth Down: Week Three
When Toms River North trailed rival Toms River South by four points late in the game in the latest edition of "The Civil War,'' rivalry, it was one of those moments for a young team that can't be simulated in practice.
One week after losing on a last-second, 40-yard field goal at home to Brick Memorial, the Mariners faced a defining moment for a team coming off a 1-9 season. Toms River South dynamo Tymere Berry had just scored his fifth touchdown of the game and the home crowd at Detwiler Stadium was delirious.
"At that point, we were going to find out what we were made of,'' Mariners head coach Dave Oizerowitz said. "Tymere Berry is the best player I have ever coached against. We watched the film, and on a lot of those runs, we had players in position, and he just made a great play. Our kids did a good job of shaking that off and just playing."
Toms River North roared back with two unanswered touchdowns by junior tailback Asante Moorer, who finished with 200 yards rushing and four touchdowns. It marked the second straight year that Moorer has gone over the 200-yard rushing mark against the Indians, and it sent the Mariners to a 44-34 win that shook up the Class A South race and helped the Mariners avenge a loss to Toms River South from last year.
"With the effort at the end of that game, it felt like we turned a corner,'' Oizerowitz said. "A week earlier against Brick Memorial we moved the ball but didn't execute in the red zone, but the kids got it done in a big spot."
While there are still plenty of landmines ahead for Toms River North like No. 2 Brick and No. 7 Jackson Memorial, the feeling is that last year is looking more like a hiccup than any ominous sign of things to come. With a junior-laden team featuring some top-line talent and a standout sophomore class to go with senior stars like senior tight end Jordan Craig and defensive tackle Adam Kakar, the Mariners are turning potential into reality. More importantly, they showed in a concrete way on Friday night that a year of experience has begun to pay off with composure in big spots.
While Manalapan's 64-28 demolition of Sayreville opened eyes around the state, it was the performance of the offensive line that indicates this may be the year the Braves finally finish the job in the state playoffs after losing in three straight sectional finals.
“This offensive line has a chance to be the best we’ve ever had,'' head coach Ed Gurrieri told SSN's Bob Badders after the game. "We’re not there yet, but I believe the guys we have in place have the opportunity to be a tremendous offensive line.”
Gurrieri does not dispense those statements lightly, so that is a unit to watch. Led by junior right guard Joe Sellmeyer, the Braves' front paved the way for 348 yards rushing, including a career-high 247 yards and five touchdowns by senior tailback Imamu Mayfield. To push around a Sayreville program usually known as a physical defensive squad to that degree is a huge confidence-booster to a unit that still has the likes of No. 6 Middletown South, No. 9 Freehold Boro and No. 1 Red Bank Catholic on its schedule.
While Manalapan has produced one of the top offensive lines in the Shore on a regular basis, that group has struggled in the three straight finals. In the last three years, 2,000-yard rusher John Sieczkowski and 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Leonetti were each held under 100 yards rushing in all of the championship games, throwing the Braves off their usual offensive gameplan to establish the run and hit play-action off that. With Mayfield and a more physical offensive line this year, they have the ability to change that scenario.
Right now, it looks like the Braves are on a collision course with South Brunswick in Central Jersey Group V, where Manalapan lost to Hunterdon Central last year in the final. The Braves lost 33-22 to South Brunswick in the 2012 CJ V final, with the Vikings' offensive line bulldozing the way to a victory. The Vikings have already beaten Middletown South 36-24 this year, so the two teams will have a common opponent when the Braves face the Eagles in a huge Class A North game at home on Oct. 17.
Jordan Craig, Sr., TE/LB, Toms River North
Craig entered the season as one of the top uncommitted seniors from the Shore Conference with offers from Buffalo and UConn and interest from Boston College and Duke. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he should generate more offers as this year progresses. Several teams are waiting to get a look at the first four films from his senior year.
He has four touchdown catches at tight end in three games and has shown the breadth of his athletic ability, whether it's overpowering defensive backs and boxing them out with his size, like on this first catch below against Brick Memorial, or using his speed and stiff-arming defenders like in the other catch shown here against Toms River South. If he continues to improve his speed and blocking ability, he has the size and athleticism of the prototypical tight ends numerous FBS programs are employing in spread systems.
News and Notes
**Rumson-Fair Haven will most likely be without star tailback Charlie Volker, a Princeton recruit, in Thursday night's showdown with St. John Vianney that has major Class A Central title implications.
**Long Branch senior Dahmiere Willis, who has generated FCS interest from Monmouth University and others, has put together back-to-back games of more than 200 yards rushing, including 268 and five touchdowns in a win over Wall.
**Raritan senior quarterback Riley Sullivan is out for Thursday's game against No. 9 Freehold Boro with a concussion suffered in the Rockets' 26-21 loss to Matawan. This is the second straight year that Sullivan has suffered a concussion against Matawan, as he missed the Rockets' Thanksgiving game against Holmdel last season as a result of one. The Rockets have now lost their top running back, senior Richie Salerno (torn ACL), and their starting quarterback in their first two games.
**Brick sophomore wideout Ja'Sir Taylor has seven touchdowns in the Green Dragons' last two games after scoring three times in a win over Toms River East to continue Brick's best start since 2003. Also, Brick senior quarterback Carmen Sclafani is averaging 305 yards of total offense per game in the Green Dragons' 3-0 start.
**St. John Vianney junior Joe Rice has already booted field goals of 40 and 41 yards in his first season as the Lancers' kicker. The latter is the longest in the Shore this season.
**Shore Regional senior Mike Moore, known primarily as a standout defensive back, leads the Blue Devils with 235 yards rushing along with a pair of touchdowns as the backfield compensates for the absence of injured standout Doug Goldsmith.
**St. John Vianney junior Anthony Brown has thrown for at least 194 yards in all three of the Lancers' wins in their best start since 1998.
**Mater Dei Prep senior quarterback Christian Palmer is averaging 12.6 yards per rushing attempt with 364 yards and five touchdowns in three games.
**Manchester scored both of its touchdowns in a 32-15 loss to Lakewood with zero time left on the clock. Shavar Reynolds ran for a six-yard score as time expired at the half, and quarterback Jerry Blackburn hit tight end Israel Almestica for a 52-yard score on the last play of the game.
**Senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine has accounted for 613 of Barnegat's 875 total yards and eight of its nine touchdowns in its three games between rushing and passing.
**Stonehill senior safety Sterry Codrington (Freehold Boro) was named the Northeast-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
**Wagner long-snapper Phil Faccone (Brick Memorial) is one of 22 players across the country named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his community service off the field.
**East Stroudsburg senior defensive lineman Bryan Thomson (Keyport) is a semifinalist for the Campbell Award, which is essentially the "Academic Heisman" given out by the National Football Foundation.
**Monmouth University safety Mike Basile (Brick Memorial) racked up his second Big South Conference Freshman of the Week honor.
**Finally, I spent a glorious weekend out in Happy Valley, watching my alma mater, Northwestern, give it to my younger brother's alma mater, Penn State, in a 29-6 victory.
It was great to see some Shore Conference talent on the Big Ten stage, with Penn State's Chris Gulla (Toms River North) punting to Northwestern return man Miles Shuler (Long Branch) six times in the game, including one Shuler returned 42 yards to set up a touchdown. True freshmen Mike Gesicki (Southern) and Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan) also had catches in the loss for the Nittany Lions.
Most importantly, I got to gloat about the win/not pay for anything the rest of the day, and Good Morning America host Lara Spencer randomly hung out at our tailgate.