*Rapid Reaction column: Week 4*

*Shore Sports Network Football Players of the Week, 10/8/13*

*Shore Sports Network Top 10 rankings*

Two old rivals square off in a match-up of unbeatens, a top recruit nears his decision and more highlight this week’s Rundown.

Note: Make sure to check out the Thursday Night High School Football Show from 7-8:30 p.m. on 105.7 f.m. and streaming online at 1057thehawk.com. Guests are Barnegat coach Rob Davis/LB Greg Moran (7:10-7:25); Manalapan coach Ed Gurrieri/WR Saeed Blacknall (7:30-7:45); myself (7:48-7:58); Monmouth University coach Kevin Callahan (8:00-8:08), Southern WR Mike Gesicki and his father (8:10-8:25).

 THE RUNDOWN 

1. Jackson Memorial back in the spotlight

Back on opening day of Week One in the Shore Conference, the Jackson Memorial at Manalapan game seemed mildly intriguing at best. Manalapan was coming off an 11-1 season and loaded up for another run, while the Jaguars entered on the heels of a nondescript 3-7 campaign. The game ended up being postponed until Oct. 11 because of thunder and lightning that night, and we can thank Mother Nature for creating the biggest game of Week Five.

Linebackers Ken Bradley (#20) and Vinny Celidonio (#6) have helped Jackson Memorial to a dominating 3-0 start on the heels of a 3-7 season. (Photo by Bill Normile).

Now it’s a meeting between two undefeated teams that are both ranked in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. Manalapan already has an impressive win under its belt with a 29-14 victory over No. 4 Middletown South last week, while the Jaguars are out to prove their 3-0 start is a sign of big things to come as they face the first team with a winning record that they have encountered this season.

In 2011, Jackson Memorial went 8-2 and appeared to be back to its status as a Top 10 team that it enjoyed throughout most of the 2000s. However, last season’s disappointing campaign has become fuel for the fire of a resurgent 2013.

The offense is clearly improved with junior Joe DeMaio back at quarterback, a standout tailback in Khani Glover and a good power-running, short-yardage back in senior Ken Bradley. Plus, senior Marcus Ademilola is one of the Shore’s underrated targets, an athletic 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver who is big enough to overpower defensive backs and fast enough to get separation against cornerbacks. The improvement on that side of the ball, where the Jaguars are averaging 38.7 points per game compared to 17.7 per game last season, has complemented an improved defense.

The Jaguars, led by Bradley and senior Vinny Celidonio at linebacker and junior Brody Graham up front, have only allowed a total of 14 points in three games. This will be by far their biggest test against an explosive Manalapan group that includes Rutgers recruit Saeed Blacknall at wide receiver.

Jackson’s ability to stop the run will go a long way toward dictating its success or failure in the game because that’s where everything starts with Manalapan. Braves’ back-up running back Imamu Mayfield ran for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Middletown South game, as senior starter Tyler Leonetti suffered an ankle sprain that put him out for the rest of the game. Leonetti should be good to go on Friday, although he may not be at 100 percent, but the Braves have shown they have depth at that spot if Leonetti can’t go.

There are multiple fun subplots in this game, starting with the fact that Jackson Memorial is the last Shore Conference team to beat Manalapan. The Braves have a 19-game winning streak against Shore competition, with their last loss coming to the Jaguars in the season opener in 2011. This has developed into a nice rivalry, with Manalapan holding a 6-5 edge on the Jaguars since 2003. Even the graduates who have moved on to play Division I football don’t forget the outcomes.

 

 

 

 

Also, Manalapan rotates two quarterbacks, Charles Lombana and Dan Anerella. Lombana, a junior, transferred from Jackson Memorial in the offseason after splitting time with DeMaio last year as a sophomore, so he will face off against his old team.

The great Jackson teams were always built on dominant defenses, particularly against the run, and pounding running attacks. This year’s Jaguars have those ingredients. Now we’ll see if they can show that against a team that has become a public school powerhouse in the Shore Conference.

2. Gesicki recruitment heading into home stretch

The most sought-after Shore Conference recruit remaining on the board for the Class of 2014, Southern wideout/tight end Mike Gesicki, is taking his final official visit this weekend. He will head to Penn State to check out the Michigan game at Beaver Stadium during Southern’s bye week. His decision could come in the following week or so after his visit.

“I’m still talking to schools like Rutgers, Miami, Duke, Florida State, and Wisconsin,” Gesicki told Shore Sports Network’s Chris Melvin. “But my final two schools are Penn State and Ohio State.”

Penn State currently counts three Shore Conference products, linebacker Glenn Carson (Southern),  defensive end Garrett Sickels (Red Bank), and kicker Chris Gulla (Toms River North) on its roster. Obviously, Carson has the clear Southern ties, and Gesicki says he has spoken with him during the process.

“I speak to Glenn a lot, but I will base my decision on how I feel and my experiences,’’ Gesicki said. “I will decide in about two weeks where I’m going. Penn State wanted me as a tight end, but when they saw me playing against Toms River South they said I was agile and athletic enough to play receiver or tight end for them.”

On the eve of his visit, Gesicki will be a guest along with his father to talk about the recruiting process on the Thursday High School Football Show with Shore Sports Network’s Kevin Williams, Matt Harmon and Ed Sarluca on 105.7 f.m. and streaming online at 1057thehawk.com. Ed and Matt will be on hand to make sure Kevin, a Penn State diehard whose son and daughter are also Penn Staters, does not commit any NCAA violations.

 

 

Another top recruit making a visit this weekend is Toms River South senior running back/linebacker Otis Kearney, who is heading out to Michigan State during the Indians’ bye week. Michigan State currently features standout sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun, a Middletown North grad.

3. Red Bank Catholic’s schedule situation

With a rugged NJSIAA Non-Public Group III bracket looming in the distance and a dominant start for the No. 1 Caseys, their schedule has become an ongoing topic of discussion. I talk more about it here.

4. RBC, Manalapan and Lacey are going streaking

It’s rare that three teams at once would rise above the Shore Conference pack to such a degree, but the three teams at the top of the Shore Sports Network rankings all have double-digit winning streaks against Shore Conference competition.

No. 1 Red Bank Catholic has won 28 in a row against the Shore heading into its nondivisional game against winless Freehold on Saturday. The Colonials were the last local team to beat the Caseys in a 26-25 overtime win in 2010, the year Freehold won the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title under Mark Ciccotelli. RBC’s closest call since then also came against a Ciccotelli-coached team, Neptune, in a 20-14 double overtime win in 2011.

No. 2 Manalapan has won 19 straight against the Shore, with its last loss coming to Jackson Memorial in the season opener in 2011. The Braves’ closest calls since then were a 35-31 comeback victory over Middletown South and a 24-21 comeback win over Colts Neck, both on the road last year. The Braves welcome Jackson Memorial (3-0) on Friday night.

No. 3 Lacey has won 14 straight against the Shore, with its last loss to a local squad coming in a 35-7 setback to Middletown South during a 4-6 season in 2011. Their closest call was a 6-3 win over Brick last season in which senior wideout Bill Belford scored a sensational touchdown with no time left on the clock in regulation to win it. The Lions face winless Manchester on Friday night.

5. The impact of the Anthony Starego situation going forward

Shore Sports Network blogger Tim McCollum, a.k.a. “Nep84,” has come over with us from All Shore Media. He weighs in on the NJSIAA’s decision to grant an unprecedented fifth year of eligibility to Anthony Starego, the 19-year-old Brick kicker with autism.

6. The transfer impact

Many of the Shore’s top teams can point to the impact of newcomers from other schools in bolstering their success.

Junior Imamu Mayfield, a Freehold transfer, stepped in at running back for injured starter Tyler Leonetti and rolled up 109 yards and a touchdown on the ground in No. 2 Manalapan’s 29-14 win over Middletown South. Junior Charles Lombana, a Jackson Memorial transfer, also rotates with Dan Anerella at quarterback for the Braves.

Marlboro transfer Dewann McAllister has 18 tackles playing in the secondary for No. 3 Lacey, and junior wideout Manny Bowen has become the most explosive playmaker in the open field for No. 8 Barnegat after transferring from Central. Brick junior quarterback Carmen Sclafani, formerly of Toms River North, has become a primary offensive catalyst for the No. 9 Green Dragons team that has already tied its win total from last season.

Monsignor Donovan senior Joey Fields leads the team in touchdowns, and senior Kyle Carrington leads the Griffins in catches after both came over from Toms River North. Freshman Donald Glenn, a Mater Dei Prep transfer, is the starting quarterback at Middletown North. Junior Tysaun White, a transfer from St. Anthony in Jersey City, is second on Mater Dei Prep in rushing, and Jelanie Mitchell, a senior from Rahway, is another integral player for the Seraphs.

Lakewood’s starting quarterback, Ivan Marks, is a Manchester transfer. Central senior wideout Isaiah Akers, one of the Shore Conference's top receivers in catches, yards and touchdowns, is a Toms River South transfer.

7. Big games to watch in Week Five

Jackson Memorial at Manalapan, Friday at 7 – Two undefeated squads and old rivals square off in a big nondivisional game for power points and rankings.

Point Beach at Asbury Park, Friday at 6 – If Asbury Park wants to get back into the conversation in the race for the Class B Central title, it will have to find a way to solve the defending champs.

Monmouth at Raritan, Friday at 7 – Either Monmouth is going to improve to 3-1, surpass its win total from all of last season and continue its great story under veteran coach Rich Mosca, or Raritan is going to end the Shore Conference’s longest current losing streak at 14 games.

Brick Memorial at Neptune, Friday at 7 – A pair of 2-2 teams bang heads in a nondivisional game that is crucial for power points and a playoff berth and could be the type of game that sends the winner and loser headed in opposite directions for the rest of the season.

Wall at Brick, Friday at 7 – The Green Dragons welcome a 3-1 Wall team that is looking to bounce back from a loss to Long Branch.

Mater Dei Prep at Keyport, Saturday at noon – If either of these teams wants to remain in striking distance in the Class B Central race, they have to have this win.

Middletown South at Manasquan, Saturday at 1 – Two of the Shore’s most storied programs square off in a nondivisional game.

8. Alumni of the Week – Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos; Ryan Spadola, WR, Miami Dolphins

Spadola, a former Freehold Township and Lehigh star, has gotten a second chance to stick in the NFL after being released by the New York Jets on Oct. 5. On Tuesday, Spadola was picked up by the Miami Dolphins and added to their practice squad. The Dolphins return to MetLife Stadium to face the Jets on Dec. 1, so hopefully Spadola can work his way on to the 53-man roster by that point for a fun subplot between the AFC East rivals.

As for Moreno, the former Middletown South star has been rejuvenated this season now that he’s back at 100 percent health and in a contract year. He has emerged as the top back on the NFL’s most high-octane offense. He leads the team with 331 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on the ground and also has 13 catches for 127 yards while serving as the primary third-down blocker for Peyton Manning. He’s even back to pulling off moves that haven’t been seen since his time at Middletown South and the University of Georgia.

In Sunday’s wild 51-48 win over the Cowboys, he also got a visit from some old friends. Middletown South athletic trainer Stacy White and her son, Garrett, made the trip to Cowboys Stadium to watch her favorite team and say hello to Moreno.

(Photo courtesy of Stacy White)

9. Stats of the week: 6 and 31.8

The Shore Regional secondary has six interceptions in four games, including four in a 45-0 win over South River on Saturday. This was the most inexperienced returning unit on the Blue Devils' defense this season, but has proven to be a strength so far. Junior safety Mike Moore has three of those interceptions, including one he took to the house in the win over South River.

As for 31.8, that was the yards-per-carry average of Red Bank Catholic senior tailback Larry Redaelli in the Caseys’ 63-7 win over Raritan. He ran for 223 yards and four touchdowns on only seven carries, helped by a 91-yard touchdown run.

10. Around Central and South Jersey

A Monroe team that looks to potentially be an obstacle to Manalapan in a strong Central Jersey Group V bracket is off to a 3-0 start and has a big gauntlet coming up of Edison, Old Bridge and Piscataway that should give an indication of how tough the Falcons will be come playoff time.

Trenton, yet another CJ Group V contender along with South Brunswick and Sayreville, has roared out to a 4-0 start. This is the best Trenton team in 20 years, and the Tornadoes get a solid test this week in Allentown, which has been in the CJ Group III mix the last two seasons. Ryan Wharton just put up 201 yards rushing in a 45-0 rout of Steinert.

Rancocas Valley, a contender in the South Jersey Group V bracket that includes Jackson Memorial and Southern, battled fellow SJ V contender Eastern in a 31-28 loss but one of its top players, RB/DB T.J. Gardner, suffered a knee injury that may keep him out for the season.

Warren Hills, which is somehow down in Central Jersey Group III this year with the likes of Long Branch, Matawan, Ocean and Monmouth, just got a school-record performance in its win over Hillside. Justin Iaione blew up for 331 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the win.

Central Jersey Group I looks like the usual suspects with defending champion Florence, Shore, Point Beach and Asbury Park looking like the primary contenders so far. Same goes for South Jersey Group IV, where defending champion Timber Creek toppled South Jersey's top team, Williamstown, to stamp itself as the team to beat again in SJ IV. Lacey and Toms River South are going to have to go through Timber Creek most likely if they want that title.

With Barnegat emerging as a prime contender in South Jersey Group III, the team to keep an eye on, besides local teams like Manasquan and Wall, is defending champion Delsea, which has had a sluggish 2-2 start and just lost 15-9 to Kingsway. This could be the year that a Shore team wins this bracket given that there is no major favorite.

Week Five schedule

Friday, Oct. 11

Pt. Beach at Asbury Park, 6 p.m.

TR East at Howell, 6:30 p.m.

Freehold Twp. at Sayreville, 7 p.m.

Old Bridge at Midd. North, 7 p.m.

No. 10 Jackson Mem. at No. 2 Manalapan, 7 p.m.

Holmdel at Shore, 7 p.m.

Monmouth at Raritan, 7 p.m.

Lacey at Manchester, 7 p.m.

Long Branch at Pinelands, 7 p.m.

Brick Mem. at Neptune, 7 p.m.

Red Bank at No. 6 Ocean, 7 p.m.

Wall at No. 9 Brick, 7 p.m.

Msgr. Donovan at Pt. Boro, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 12

Mater Dei Prep at Keyport, noon

No. 4 Midd. South at Manasquan, 1 p.m.

No. 1 RB Catholic at Freehold, 1 p.m.

Highland Park at Keansburg, 1 p.m.