Usually by the time the state sectional semifinals roll around, the heavy-hitters in the Top 10 have solidified their place in the rankings, and No. 1 is mostly all but decided. However, heading into this past weekend’s games a handful of teams still had a legitimate chance at claiming the top spot by season’s end.

Three weeks ago Red Bank Catholic had its 40-game Shore Conference winning streak snapped by Jackson Memorial, and suddenly the bloom was off the Caseys’ rose. They came into the season expected to remain the kings of the Shore. The question for them was whether they could they get past their playoff nemesis once and for all. After losing to the Jaguars, it seemed pretty unlikely.

In New Jersey’s most stunning upset of the semifinals, the Caseys finally vanquished St. Joseph-Montvale via a 44-14 drubbing at Count Basie Field. The three-time defending champion Green Knights had eliminated Red Bank Catholic in each of the last two Non-Public Group III semifinals, but Friday was the Caseys’ turn for revenge.

Red Bank Catholic senior Tommy Spernal torched the St. Joseph's-Montvale defense for 169 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the Caseys' Non-Public Group III semifinal win. (Photo by B51 Photography)

Maybe that win could have been enough to slingshot the Caseys back to No. 1, but top-ranked Jackson Memorial put an authoritative stamp on its spot by blasting Brick, 44-0, in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals to avenge its only loss.

The respective wins have both teams now favored to win state championships on the weekend of Dec. 5-7. The Caseys and Jaguars are two of seven Shore Conference teams that will be playing for six sectional titles.

In Central Jersey Group V, No. 4 Manalapan reached its fourth straight state final by going on the road and beating second-seeded Hillsborough, 28-6. No. 5 Middletown South jumps up one spot this week after a dominating defensive effort in a 27-3 victory over No. 7 Neptune in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals.

A field goal by Adam Elliott in the closing seconds sent unranked Matawan into the Central Jersey Group III final, so the Huskies are making a bid to finish the season in the Top 10. No. 9 Rumson-Fair Haven, the defending Central Jersey Group II champions, crushed third-seeded Cinnaminson, 49-13, to get back to the final and also move up one spot. Top-seeded Shore beat Middlesex 28-13 to advance to its third straight Central Jersey Group I final. The Blue Devils make their debut this week at No. 10.

No. 8 Long Branch lost a heartbreaker to Carteret, 21-17, in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals, but the Green Wave actually move up this week because of their head-to-head win over Rumson. No. 3 St. John Vianney staged a valiant comeback, but the Lancers lost to Delbarton, 38-26 in the Non-Public Group III semifinals to finish the season 10-1.

There are just 10 games Thanksgiving week thanks to most teams moving that game to earlier in the season. The big one is No. 9 Rumson-Fair Haven visiting No. 10 Shore on Wednesday. On Thanksgiving Day. No. 7 Neptune hosts Asbury Park to close out its season, No. 5 Middletown South travels to Middletown North before going for its 10th sectional title, and No. 8 Long Branch hosts Red Bank, where senior running back Dahmiere Willis is within striking distance of breaking the Shore Conference single-season rushing record.



1. Jackson Memorial (10-1). Last week: No. 1

The Jaguars routed Brick, 44-0, in the semifinals of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs to reach their first sectional final since 2005 and avenge their only loss of the season. Sophomore running back Mike Gawlik ran for 101 yards and three touchdowns and also intercepted a pass and senior quarterback/defensive back Joe DeMaio threw a touchdown pass to Matt Castronuova and also had an interception. Junior kicker Jared Calhoun kicked a career-long 40-yard field goal, and Vinny Lee and Connor Testa added touchdown runs as the Jaguars won their seventh straight game. The defense shut out an offense that was averaging 38 points per game and also held the Dragons to 134 total yards. Third-seeded Jackson will play top-seeded Middletown South for the Central Jersey Group IV title at 7 p.m on December 6 at Rutgers University.


2. Red Bank Catholic (10-1). Last week: No. 2

The Caseys slayed the dragon that was St. Joseph-Montvale with a stunning 44-14 victory Friday night at Count Basie Field to end the Green Knights’ run as three-time defending Non-Public Group III champions and advance to their first state final since 1980. Senior running back Tommy Spernal ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries behind the offensive line of Liam Smith, Ryan Oneidas, Nick Roy, Ryan Kroeger and Neil Horenburg. Those five paved the way for the Caseys to punish the Green Knights in the trenches to the tune of 333 rushing yards on 44 carries. Junior quarterback Eddie Hahn threw touchdown passes to seniors Nick Lubischer and Trevor Cowley, and the defense shut out St. Joseph in the second half. The Caseys will go for their first state title since 1976 and just the second one in school history when they take on Delbarton at 7 p.m. on December 7 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.


3. St. John Vianney (10-1). Last week: No. 3

Junior quarterback Anthony Brown threw for 278 yards and ran for two touchdowns, and junior Khalil Haskins returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown and also ran for a touchdown, but the Lancers could not overcome some crucial mistakes in a 38-26 loss to Delbarton in the Non-Public Group III semifinals. It was the first and only loss of the season for the Lancers, who tied the school record for wins in a season while winning their first division title since 1982 and first state playoff game since 1981. The Lancers could potentially boast wins over two state champions if Matawan and Rumson-Fair Haven finish the job.


4. Manalapan (10-1). Last week: No. 4

Senior tailback Imamu Mayfield ran for 185 yards and a touchdown and senior quarterback Dan Anerella tossed a pair of touchdown passes to lead the Braves into their fourth straight state final with a 28-6 road win over Hillsborough (9-2). Senior fullback Ben Sieczkowski also ran for a touchdown, and senior kicker Mike Caggiano kicked four extra points to become New Jersey’s all-time leader in career points by a kicker with 234. The Braves are the first Shore team since Middletown South from 2001-2006 to reach four straight state finals. They will try to win their first state title in program history when they take on undefeated and top-seeded South Brunswick at 10 a.m. on December 6 at Rutgers University.


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

Junior running back Cole Rogers ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns, junior Matt Mosquera kicked a pair of field goals and senior Joe Timmins returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown as the Eagles cruised past Neptune, 27-3, and into the finals of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. Junior linebacker Dylan Rogers led a dominating defensive effort with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks as Middletown South held Neptune to 71 total yards, including minus-four in the second half. It was the 10th straight win for the Eagles over the Scarlet Fliers, and sent them to their 11th state final in the last 14 years. Middletown South plays Middletown North on Thanksgiving before taking on Jackson Memorial in search of state title No. 10. The Central Jersey Group IV final will be played at 7 p.m. on December 6 at Rutgers University.


6. Brick (9-2). Last week: No. 5

The Green Dragons were held to just 134 total yards and shut out by Jackson Memorial, 44-0, in the semifinals of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs to end their season and bid to repeat as sectional champions.


7. Neptune (7-3). Last week: No. 7

Hunter Daly’s 35-yard field goal was all the points the Scarlet Fliers could muster in a 27-3 loss to Middletown South in the semifinals of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. Neptune will conclude its season on Thanksgiving against rival Asbury Park.


8. Long Branch (7-3). Last week: No. 9

Senior running back Dahmiere Wills ran for a 67-yard touchdown and Dave Colbert caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Rodriguez, but the Green Wave were shocked by visiting Carteret, 21-17, in the semifinals of the Central Jersey Group III playoffs. Long Branch will end its season on Thanksgiving against Red Bank Regional, and Willis has a chance to break the Shore Conference’s single-season rushing record. He enters 250 yards shy of the record mark of 2,544 set by Pinelands’ Matt McLain in 2010.


9. Rumson-Fair Haven (8-2). Last week: No. 10

Senior tailback Charlie Volker ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore quarterback Mike O’Connor ran for a touchdown and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kenny Ferrare as the defending champion Bulldogs rolled into their second straight Central Jersey Group II title game. Senior defensive back Jackson Reid had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Lucas Seckler and Seamus Walsh also ran for touchdowns. Rumson visits No. 10 Shore on Wednesday in their inaugural Thanksgiving match-up, and will then play fourth-seeded Delaware Valley for the sectional title at 7 p.m. on December 6 at Kean University.


10. Shore (9-1). Last week: unranked

Junior running back Tyreek McCain ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns, Connor Rempel recovered a fumble for a touchdown and quarterback Ryan Campi had a touchdown run in a 28-13 win over Middlesex that sent the Blue Devils to their third straight Central Jersey Group I final. Shore will go for its sixth sectional title and first since 2010 when it takes on third-seeded South Hunterdon at 10 a.m. on December 6 at Kean University.


Dropped out: Brick Memorial (6-4).


Teams to watch:

Matawan (7-4): A long kick return by junior Shawn Ramcheran set up a game-winning 26-yard field goal by junior Adam Elliott in a 23-20 victory over Ocean that propelled the Huskies to their first state final since 2011. Freshman quarterback L.C. Pearson threw two touchdown passes to junior DeJohn Rogers and a 62-yard touchdown to senior Justin Ferrara in the win. Matawan will play for its seventh state title when it takes on Carteret at 7 p.m. on December 5 at Kean University.