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.
Welcome to a new weekly feature that will run on Wednesdays here on Shore Sports Network that will take a look at the previous weekend’s action, the week ahead, and other topics involving Shore Conference football.
Every week, I will take a look at 10 items/hot topics from around the Shore. Before you dive in, make sure to get in your vote for the top game of Week Three.
1. How ‘bout them Wildcats?
Pinelands ending a 22-game losing streak with a 16-13 win in overtime against Point Boro ranks as one of the more improbable wins in the last decade in the Shore. Pinelands had lost 21 of its 22 games by 30 or more points, and Point Boro was a playoff team last year. When Lakewood ended a 33-game losing streak with a 20-15 win over Central in 2010, it was against a Golden Eagles team that went 1-9 that year, and Lakewood had a first-team All-Shore talent at quarterback in Tyrice Beverette and several other All-Shore caliber-players.
Head coach Brian Wilkinson told me the tears were flowing for parents and players after the win. For any non-senior, it was the first time they experienced a victory at the varsity level.
“It was unbelievable,” Wilkinson said. “There were kids and parents crying. It was the first time some of these kids have ever won a game. Our kids bounced back from the Lacey game, and that was the awesome thing. That was the part that meant the most. They’re so excited. It’s just a great feeling.”
They did it after a potentially demoralizing 61-7 loss to Lacey in the opener. I always have respect for players who keep coming to practice and working hard in a situation like that. It must be awful tempting to bail on the team when you practice hard every week and then come up way short game after game. Hats off to Pinelands for keeping at it, and working to turn the program around.
2. Better watch what you say on the field.
The NJSIAA is not kidding about enforcing its rule about unsportsmanlike remarks, particularly racial and homophobic slurs. Kelly Waldron of our sister station 101.5 f.m. has a good story/radio clip talking about how 20 players across the state have already been ejected, which carries an additional one-game suspension, for violating the trash-talking rule and talks to the NJSIAA’s Larry White about the impact.
3. National recognition for Shore talents.
Congrats to Red Bank Catholic senior two-way lineman Quenton Nelson, a Notre Dame verbal commit, and Southern senior wide receiver/tight end Mike Gesicki, who have both been invited to play in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 4 live on NBC. Nelson will be given his game jersey in a ceremony at RBC on Thursday morning.
Gesicki, who has 20-plus FBS offers but remains uncommitted, told me he will not be playing in the game because of his commitment to Southern basketball, where he is one of the top returning players in the Shore. Nelson may lean on him to get him to play, though.
The game features some of the top players in the nation, and nearly 200 active NFL players have participated in it since its inception in 2001. The Shore Conference is starting to be regularly represented, as Red Bank Regional defensive end Garrett Sickels (Penn State) played in it last year, and Long Branch wide receiver Miles Shuler (Northwestern) was in it a year earlier. This is believed to be the first time two Shore Conference players were selected to the game in one year.
4. Injuries to key players are starting to pile up.
Some top players for multiple teams are starting to get tripped up by the injury bug, including Gesicki, who suffered an ankle sprain in a loss to Toms River South and may be a game-time decision for this week’s game against Toms River North.
Holmdel junior standout Frank Condito, a running back/linebacker, suffered a sprained ankle in a 7-6 win over Middlesex and is out for this week’s game against Rumson-Fair Haven, according to coach Frank Papalia. There is no set date for his return. St. John Vianney senior quarterback Billy DeMato had X-rays on his ribs after a 21-7 loss to Rumson that thankfully were negative, so he is just resting and icing and will be in the lineup for the Lancers’ game against Red Bank Catholic, according to coach Andy Carlstrom.
Lakewood standout tailback Chapelle Cook suffered an ankle injury on the opening series of a 27-6 loss to Monsignor Donovan and will be a game-time decision against Pinelands, according to Piners’ coach L.J. Clark.
Manasquan has lost starting quarterback Will Pezzollo for the season with a torn ACL, and he will be replaced by senior Tucker Caccavale, who came on in relief of Pezzollo in the third quarter of a 41-0 loss to Red Bank Catholic.
Toms River South senior linebacker Russell Messler, who has verbally committed to Rutgers for baseball, told Shore Sports Network’s Bob Badders that he has a grade-3 MCL tear in his knee and expects to be back in Week Five.
5. Hail to the kickers.
Pinelands junior Jon Kubricki was a headliner this week with three field goals, including the game-winning 34-yarder in overtime, in the Wildcats’ streak-busting 16-13 win over Point Boro. However, he wasn’t the only one with a notable week.
Shore Regional junior Jake Monteiro bombed a career-long 47-yarder into the wind at Asbury Park Stadium in a 10-0 victory over the Blue Bishops. That is the longest field goal in the Shore this season, but not the longest in Blue Devils history. Kevin Mills hit a 58-yard field goal in 1985, according to Shore head coach Mark Costantino. While no official record exists, I would have to think that is also a Shore Conference record. Something for Monteiro to shoot for.
Matawan senior kicker Mike Creamer passed the rare 100-point mark for his career in a 31-13 win over Freehold, according to head coach John Kaye. He is now 70-for-71 on PAT attempts in his career and has 11 field goals for 103 points. For perspective, Middletown South’s Connor Ryan finished his career last season with 195 total points and 20 field goals while also going 135-for-139 on PAT attempts, and his career point total may be the Shore Conference record.
6. Big games to watch in Week Three.
The divisional action really starts to heat up this week as teams try to separate themselves from the pack. Also, if you’re looking for a Keyport game this week, there isn’t one. Cardinal McCarrick forfeited to the Red Raiders because it is dangerously low on players after only having 18 last week against Mater Dei Prep. Here are some games to keep an eye on:
Middletown South at Howell – Is Howell ready to be a title contender again? We’ll find out.
Barnegat at Msgr. Donovan – This year’s division favorite vs. last year’s division champion (Mon Don).
Toms River South at Brick – Two teams on the rise, but only one that will be unbeaten in the division when this is over.
Jackson Memorial at Brick Memorial – Another important Class A South clash in the Shore’s deepest division.
Ocean at Matawan – Big separation game in the B North race between unbeaten teams.
Neptune at Long Branch – Two old rivals duking it out. Neptune needs this one in particular to stay in the B North hunt.
7. Great teams being honored.
The undefeated 2000 Jackson Memorial team was honored at the Jaguars’ 41-0 win over Toms River East in their season opener last Friday. I would put that team up against the best I have ever covered. With two all-state linebackers and tremendous leaders in Nick Castellano and Joe Serratelli, former Vanderbilt defensive lineman Ray Brown, former Rutgers kicker Mike Cortese and a host of other All-Shore talent, that team was ridiculously stacked. Castellano in particular is one of the top all-around players I have ever covered, starring as a tailback and linebacker before going on to play at Monmouth University.
On Friday, Brick Memorial will honor the 10th anniversary of its first NJSIAA championship team in program history, the 2003 squad that won Central Jersey Group IV as the No. 5 seed. Memorial beat Manalapan 29-6 behind quarterback Chris James, who is now an assistant at Jackson Liberty, tailback Nick Spataro, and standout tight end Garrett Graham, who is now on the Houston Texans. Head coach Fred Sprengel also went on to lead the Mustangs to another Central Jersey Group IV final appearance in 2005.
8. Stat of the week: 1.
That’s how many first downs Jackson Memorial’s defense limited Toms River East to in its 41-0 win over the Raiders. That is about as dominant as it gets. Senior linebacker Ken Bradley led the effort with 10 tackles. The one first down allowed by the defense ties the school record set in a 27-0 win over Monmouth Regional in 1975, according to Jackson historian Jim Colbert.
9. Who’s for real?
Several teams have had intriguing 2-0 starts, and this looks like the week that we will start getting some answers about whether those are springboards to big seasons or the result of the competition they have played so far.
Mater Dei Prep is 2-0 for the first time since 1986, according to The Asbury Park Press, so this is uncharted territory for the Seraphs. The two teams they have beaten, Keansburg and Cardinal McCarrick, are a combined 0-5, so this week against Dunellen should be a better gauge of whether they will be a factor as the season progresses. Dunellen gave defending Class B Central champion Point Beach a battle in a 15-6 loss to the Garnet Gulls last week.
Howell is 2-0 and lighting up the scoreboard again after a 1-9 season. The Rebels’ Achilles’ heel since their rise in 2005, like many teams in the Shore, has been Middletown South. They face the Eagles this week. Since Howell went to the no-huddle spread in 2005, its quarterbacks really take off in their second year as starters, and that appears to be the case with Connor McGlynn.
Like Jimmy Ryan and Ryan Davies before him, he has taken it up a notch with a year under his belt. Not only that, but he has been particularly accurate at 44-for-61 (72%) passing to go with a Shore Conference-best 652 yards and nine touchdowns passing with only one interception. Now he will face the ferocious Middletown South pass rush, so this is a good test to see where the Rebels are at.
Toms River South is off to a 2-0 start in a season filled with high expectations and uncharted territory for the talented group. The Indians aren’t the underdogs any more, as they are ranked No. 8 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. Brick is at No. 10 and looking to bounce back from a loss to Middletown South while also making a statement in the Class A South race. This is a chance for Toms River South to show it can handle the pressure of being the hunted on the road against a good team.
Matawan is also 2-0, and its newcomers on offense gained confidence in a 31-13 win over Freehold last week. This Huskies team is playing with a chip on its shoulder after being overlooked in the preseason, so this is a dangerous opponent for an Ocean team coming off a big 7-0 win over Neptune. Ocean just faced a fast and talented defense against Neptune, which should prepare the Spartans for Matawan, while this will be the best defense Matawan has seen so far. A good old-school match-up that will stamp the winner as a team to watch in the division title hunt.
10. Around Central and South Jersey
Every week, I will take a quick look at some other teams around Central and South Jersey who Shore Conference teams could potentially run into during the NJSIAA playoffs.
The defensive backs on teams like Lacey and Toms River South in South Jersey Group IV better get ready in case they run into defending sectional champion Timber Creek. Quarterback Danny Williams threw for a South Jersey-record 488 yards in a wild, 50-41 loss to Eastern, and Rutgers recruit Adonis Jennings had 13 catches for 288 yards and three touchdowns, two shy of the South Jersey record of 290 yards, according to The Courier-Post.
The previous passing yards record holder? Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco (471), whose younger brother, Tom Flacco, is Eastern’s starter and powered them to the shootout win with four touchdown passes and 301 yards in the air. Southern upset Eastern and Flacco in last year’s South Jersey Group V semifinals. He has offers from Temple and from his brother’s alma mater, Delaware. By the way, the Shore Conference single-game record is 477 yards set by St. John Vianney’s Anthony Carlucci in 2011.
Nottingham, the team that beat Neptune to win last year’s Central Jersey Group III title before being realigned into CJ Group IV, lost to Trenton last week and also lost quarterback and all-around talent Josh Lajeunesse to a season-ending broken ankle, according to The Trenton Times. Hopewell Valley could be a team to keep an eye on with a 2-0 start and a No. 1 ranking in Mercer County, although it has never made the state playoffs in its history and it’s still early.
Lawrence, which has had its share of woes against the Shore in the playoffs, also had an eye-opening score when it buried defending Central Jersey Group I champion Florence, which beat Point Beach and Shore last year, 41-0 this past weekend.
Week Three schedule
Friday, Sept. 27
Midd. South at Howell, 6:30 p.m.
Barnegat at Msgr. Donovan, 6:30 p.m.
Midd. North at Manalapan, 7 p.m.
RB Catholic at SJ Vianney, 7 p.m.
Rumson-FH at Holmdel, 7 p.m.
Manasquan at Raritan, 7 p.m.
Southern at TR North, 7 p.m.
TR South at Brick, 7 p.m.
Jackson Mem. at Brick Mem., 7 p.m.
Ocean at Matawan, 7 p.m.
Freehold at Wall, 7 p.m.
Metuchen at Shore, 7 p.m.
Keyport at Cardinal McCarrick, 7 p.m. - Keyport wins by forfeit
Manchester at Jackson Liberty, 7 p.m.
Central at Pt. Boro, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 28
Colts Neck at Marlboro, 1 p.m.
TR East at Lacey, 1 p.m.
Neptune at Long Branch, 1 p.m.
Pt. Beach at Spotswood, 1 p.m.
South River at Keansburg, 1 p.m.
Dunellen at Mater Dei Prep, 1 p.m.
Pinelands at Lakewood, 1 p.m.