With just one week left until the playoffs begin, we’ve hit the final stretch of the Shore Conference football season.

Division titles that haven’t already been secured will be wrapped up this week, and teams aspiring to bring home a state championship will prepare for that quest in Week Nine. Teams either saw their playoff hopes bolstered or go up in flames in Week Eight, and Neptune was part of the former group as it pulled off the biggest win of the week in topping Long Branch, 27-0. The Green Wave entered the game ranked No. 4, but the Scarlet Fliers stopped Dahmiere Willis, the Shore Conference’s leading rusher, to lock up a playoff spot in Central Jersey Group IV.

Neptune moves into the top 10 after a 27-0 win over Long, and the Scarlet Fliers will face another tough opponent this week in Toms River North. (Photo by Scott Stump)

Elsewhere, Manalapan secured its fifth straight division title by beat previously undefeated Freehold 42-3 to clinch at least a tie for the Class A North crown. Shore shut out Point Beach, 17-0, to repeat as champions in Class B Central, while Brick took one more step toward claiming the Class A South title by topping Toms River North, 30-13. In B North, top-ranked Red Bank Catholic officially clinched its fifth straight division title when it beat Ocean, 46-13.

St. John Vianney can clinch the Class A Central title outright - its first since 1982 - with a win over Manasquan this week, while Central can clinch at least a share of the Class B South title - its first since 1994 - by defeating Jackson Liberty.

Neptune’s victory over Long Branch pushes the Scarlet Fliers into the Top 10 for the first time since early in the season, and Freehold’s loss means some reshuffling of the rankings for this week. We’ve come to the point in the season where just using the head-to-head matchups as the barometer isn’t enough. Brick’s loss to Wall a few weeks ago was stunning, but to continue to penalize the Dragons and the rest of A South for a blip on the radar doesn’t make sense. The rankings reflect the body of work of each team more than anything, and Brick, for example, has arguably the most quality wins of any team in the Shore.

Things should get sorted out even more this week with No. 4 Middletown South hosting No. 8 Freehold, No. 1 Red Bank Catholic traveling to No. 6 Jackson Memorial, No. 5 Brick hosting Toms River South and No. 7 Neptune visiting Toms River North among the key games this weekend.

 

 

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

The Caseys won their 40th straight Shore Conference game and clinched their fifth straight division title when they beat Ocean, 46-13, behind a great day from junior quarterback Eddie Hahn. He accounted for 219 total yards and four touchdowns on offense, and also returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown. The Caseys are second in power points in Non-Public Group III and can only be jumped by St. Joseph (Montvale), but the Green Knights face state No. 1 Paramus Catholic this weekend. RBC could be looking at home games until the sectional final. The Caseys will go on the road  for a great nondivisional game with No. 6 Jackson Memorial on Friday night.

 

2. Manalapan (7-1). Last week: No. 2

The Braves wrapped up their fifth straight Class A North title by blowing out previously undefeated Freehold, 42-3. Senior tailback Imamu Mayfield ran for 172 yards and three touchdowns, senior quarterback Dan Anerella tossed two touchdowns and Dan Debner returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown as Manalapan bounced back from its loss to Red Bank Catholic. The Braves are currently fourth in power points in Central Jersey Group V. The top five teams have all played eight games already, so residual points this week will be huge to settle out a tight group. The Braves host Howell (2-6, 1-4) on Friday at 7 p.m. and can clinch the division title outright with a win.

 

3. St. John Vianney (8-0). Last week: No. 3 

The Lancers remained undefeated with a 55-14 victory over Monmouth Regional behind a career day from senior running back Aaron Mora, who ran for 212 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries. Juniors Jeff Sheard, Calvin Beaty, Khalil Haskins and quarterback Anthony Brown also scored rushing touchdowns as part of a 518-yard ground attack that clinched at least a tie for the Class A Central division title, SJV's first since 1982. Right now the Lancers are fourth in power points in Non-Public Group III and appear to be looking at a first-round home game against Pope John. They travel to Manasquan on Saturday where they can lock up the division title outright with a win over the Warriors.

 

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

The Eagles come off their bye week to face Freehold at home in a game crucial for playoff positioning in Central Jersey Group IV. The Eagles are currently behind the Colonials in fourth place, but can jump them with a win on Friday night at “The Swamp.'' Middletown South's 41-0 win over Neptune earlier in the season also looks better and better as the Scarlet Fliers continue to play well.

 

5. Brick (7-1). Last week: No. 7

Senior quarterback Carmen Sclafani played huge against his former team by running for 250 yards and four touchdowns in a 30-13 victory over Toms River North that clinched at least a tie for the Class A South title, their first division title since 2008. The Dragons can clinch the division title outright by defeating Toms River South on Friday night. Brick’s win over Toms River North catapulted the Dragons into a first-place tie with Jackson Memorial atop the Central Jersey Group IV standings. Residual points will be key this weekend in determining the No. 1 seed, and Brick owns the tiebreaker because of its head-to-head win earlier this season.

 

6. Jackson Memorial (7-1). Last week: No. 8

The Jaguars continued to roll with a 41-14 victory over Toms River East with sophomore running back Mike Gawlik scoring a career-high four touchdowns. Junior running back Vinny Lee added a pair of touchdowns on the ground to lead Jackson to its fourth straight win. This week the Jaguars will host No. 1 Red Bank Catholic in what is essentially a high-profile tune-up game for the state playoffs. Jackson hopes it can get enough residual points this weekend to earn the top seed in Central Jersey Group IV over Brick, but either way it looks like the Jaguars will have home games through to the sectional final.

 

7. Neptune (5-2). Last week: not ranked

The Scarlet Fliers had the most stunning victory of the weekend when they knocked off Long Branch, 27-0, in a game they had to have to reach the playoffs. Neptune turned in a fantastic defensive performance in holding the Green Wave to 58 yards of offense, including holding 1,800-yard running back Dahmiere Willis to just 17 yards. Senior running back Jaree Parrish had a 72-yard touchdown run and senior defensive back Cameron Calderon intercepted two passes, including one he returned 88 yards for a touchdown. The Fliers can make another leap up the Central Jersey Group IV standings if they can win at Toms River North (5-3) on Friday night. Neptune is currently sixth in power points.

 

8. Freehold (7-1). Last week: No. 6

The Colonials suffered their first loss of the season in a 42-3 defeat to Manalapan. Senior running back Josh Dixon ran for 125 yards and Matt Curcio kicked a 27-yard field goal in the loss. The Colonials have a chance to get right back in the win column in a big way when they travel to No. 4 Middletown South on Friday night. The Colonials are third in power points in Central Jersey Group IV, 10 points in front of the Eagles.

 

9. Brick Memorial (5-3). Last week: No. 9

Despite being without starting quarterback Tim Santiago, the Mustangs ground their way to a 15-6 win over Toms River South to stay in line for a first-round home game in South Jersey Group V. Matt Cathey and Connor Owen had rushing touchdowns in the second half to erase a 6-0 halftime deficit. The Mustangs are currently fourth in South Jersey Group V, but Cherokee is right behind them and faces a 1-6 Cherry Hill East team on Friday. Brick Memorial will travel to Southern for a Class A South game on Friday night.

 

10. Long Branch (6-2). Last week: No. 5

The Green Wave were shut out by Neptune, 27-0, and were held to just 58 yards of offense. Senior running back Dahmiere Willis was held to just 17 yards after rushing for at least 200 yards in six straight games. The good news for Long Branch is that it remains in first place in Central Jersey Group III and looks like it will hold on to the No. 1 seed. There is an outside chance Hopewell Valley could jump the Green Wave if they beat Northern Burlington this weekend, however. Long Branch is on a bye this week before the start of the postseason.

 

Dropped out: Rumson-Fair Haven

 

Teams to watch:

Toms River North (5-3): The Mariners fell to Brick, 30-13, but can make a case for jumping into the Top 10 when they host No. 7 Neptune on Friday night. They have already played eight games and are locked in with 88 power points (besides residuals), and are currently sixth in South Jersey Group V.

Shore (6-1): The Blue Devils clinched at least a tie for the Class B Central division title with a 17-0 win over Point Beach and can lock up the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group I with a win over Asbury Park on Friday night.

Middletown North (5-2): The Lions blanked North Brunswick 28-0 for their third straight win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Middletown North is currently ninth in power points in Central Jersey Group IV, and will need a win over Freehold Township on Friday and some help to reach the postseason for the second year in a row.

Barnegat (6-1): The Bengals edged Lakewood 24-22 for their fifth straight win to stay in position to win at least a share of the Class B South title. Barnegat is currently sixth in power points in South Jersey Group II and can improve its positioning when it goes on the road to face Matawan on Friday night.