The New Jersey State High School playoff season begins with 25 Shore area teams playing 1st round games this coming weekend.

Brick Memorial quarterback Rob Triano (Townsquare Media NJ)

Taking into account that there are 43 High Schools in the Shore that play football, you have more than half of them, making the playoffs.  Of course we have our top teams-RBC(8-0), Manalapan(8-0), Rumson(8-0) and Ocean(8-0) all in, all strong contenders and all very deserving to be there.

Then you have teams like Wall(3-5), St John Vianney(3-5)and Middletown North(3-5) also making it, and what you have is a “watered down system”.   You also have a system that will have the teams who make it to the finals, play a regular season game on or near Thanksgiving Day and then a Championship game on the weekend of December 6-8.  I don’t make the rules, but I can disagree with the way they run the playoffs.

Of course the obvious problem is Thanksgiving.  Now don’t get me wrong, it happens to be my favorite holiday for family, food and football, but it’s also a chance for me to voice my annual rant to change the system of how the playoffs are run.  Even with the upcoming vote to change the system, to play out to an overall champion in each group, Thanksgiving Day games will be allowed, if schools wish to play them.

Let’s take a look at the teams with the best shot at running the table to a championship.

Red Bank Catholic (8-0),: Our best team in the Shore, is not the favorite in Non-Public Group 3.  The team to beat is St Joe Montvale.  Playing as the #1 team in the State, the Casey’s will draw them in the semi’s, if both win opening round games.  Last year they met in the same spot and St. Joe won 42-7.  Another tall order for the Casey’s this year.

Manalapan(8-0):  In my opinion, has the best shot at a title.  They are the #1 seed in a very tough bracket CJ Group 5.  First up is a familiar foe in Brick Memorial(6-3). The Stangs demolished Lacey on Sat., scoring at will, in a 40-7 win, and have won 5 of their last 6 games. Assuming the Braves beat the Mustangs, the semi’s will be another difficult game, as they may play 3 time defending State Champs Sayreville.  So the Braves will be tested before they take a bus ride to Rutgers on Dec. 8th and their 3rdstraight finals appearance, as they look for their first State title.

Brick(6-3): The top seed in CJ Group 4, but the Dragons have some injury problems and perhaps the most important man of the week is Athletic Trainer Jim Barber.  He must get these Dragons healthy if Brick wants to make it to Rutgers.  The main guy is QB Carmen Sclafani, who must nurse his sore shoulder back into playing shape.  To add insult to injury, backup QB Joe Phillips suffered a head injury in the second quarter, and did not return in Fridays A-South Championship loss to Jackson. Both QBs are questionable for next week.

Also in this group is Middletown South(4-4) who have already beaten Brick back in September and of course are always dangerous come playoff time.  They have won 9 titles and have been in 19 finals.  Brick has won 6 titles and has been in the finals 10 times.

Shore(7-1): The top seed in a pretty good bracket in CJ Group 1.  The Blue Devils have won 7 straight and are my choice to win in.  It won’t be easy as Point Beach(7-1) is strong again this year and South Hunterdon(8-0) has their best team ever.  The good thing for the Devils is all 3 teams with a shot(Beach, South Hunterdon and defending champ Florence) are in the bottom bracket and will fight it out to face the Devils in the finals. Shore is looking for their 6th championship title in 2013 and hasbeen in 9 finals.

Manasquan(6-2): is the top seed in SJ Group 3.  The Blue Warriors may get familiar teams on the way to the finals.  Wall(3-5) is the first round match-up, then maybe Central(5-3) in semi’s, and possibly Barnegat(7-1) in the finals. Of course we all know that Wall and Manasquan play another time on Turkey Day.  So they will play twice in 3 weeks.  Central must beat the second favorite in this group, Delsea(7-2) in their first round match-up, to set up the Squan/Central game.  Lots of questionsto be answered in this bracket.  Squan has 11 titles and leads all Shore schools and has been in the finals 17 times.

TR South(6-2) The #2 seed in SJ Group 4.  I have been on the Indian bandwagon all year and still believe in them and think they can make a serious run in this bracket. To do so, they must beat Moorestown(4-5) and then the winner of Shawnee(5-3) and Hammonton(6-2).  The good thing is that the Indians will play home games and we(Shore Sports Network) will be there to broadcast the games.

The Indians didn’t win the A-South(Jackson did) but they did beat the Jags 33-14 and have a powerful offense that can score from anywhere on the field and their defense has played much better of late and I believe they are poised to make a run. TR South has 3 championships and must get through 2 time defending champ Timber Creek(7-1) who will be waiting for them in the finals if the Indians want another title.

Jackson LB Ken Bradley (Townsquare Media NJ)

Jackson(6-2):  The A-South Champs play in SJ Group 5(#3 seed) and are the lone Shore Conference team in the bracket which usually has 2 or 3 teams from the area in it.  Eastern(8-1), and Cherokee(7-1) are the top 2 dogs in this bracket and seeded 1 and 2.  After a first round game at home vs. Ran Valley(5-3) the Jags must hit the road(Cherokee) if they are to make it to Rowan University and a Championship game.

By the way, the Jags beat Brick(9-7) in our Shore Sports Network Game of the Week of the week and did so with a defense struggling to stop Ray Fatarusso in the wildcat offense.  The Jag offense also struggled for any type of yards, but when they needed it, they got 2 big first downs, to ice it in the last few minutes and walk away with their first championship since 2005 when they beat Brick on the very same field they did it on Friday night.  Kenny Bradley(our player of the game) was a demon on defense and is the true leader of the Jags. Congrats to Walt Krystopik and the rest of Jag Nation.

Ocean(8-0) : The #2 seed in CJ Group 3.  The Big Red have done it with timely offense and a great defense in clinching at least a tie for the B-North title.  They can win it outright with a win at Monmouth Reg. on Nov. 23rd(will be moved if Ocean wins their first round game in State’s). Led by Tyler Thompson, Royal Moore on offense and Danny Loizos on defense the Big Red get the home field advantage in their first 2 rounds.  Warren Hills(5-4) is the first round match-up and then a battle with probably Hopewell Valley(7-1), before a final with a very tough Lawrence(8-0) team. Some tough games for the Big Red, but they are battle tested this year and I expect them to get to their 9thfinals.

Rumson(8-0): The top seed in CJ Group 2.  The Bulldogs can run the football, and it takes a running game to usually win in December when championships are played. Bordentown(4-4) is their first round match-up and then either Spotswood(7-2) or Rahway(6-2) in the semi’s before a final that will probably have Weequahic(8-0) waiting for the Dogs. Keep the ball in RB Charlie Volker(the Shores leading RB) hands and the Bulldogs will be alright.

Mater Dei Prep(5-4): Continues its best season in a long time with a playoff appearance in Non-Public Group 1.  As the 7thseed, they can win a first round game against #2 seedMorristown Beard(6-3).  This small division of Non-Public schools is not as tough as the big boys, and Mater Dei can play with this bunch.  St Joe Hammonton is toughest in group.

A quick congrats to HC Sean Henry and his Point Boro team for getting that elusive first win of the year.  A stunning 19-18 upset of playoff bound Lakewood.  That leaves only TR North(0-8) winless on the year. North will get a consolation game and then TR East on Turkey Day


1-Red Bank Catholic (8-0) 32 straight against Shore Conf. opponents is quite an accomplishment for HC Jim Portela and his “program”.

2-Manalapan(8-0) Is on a mission toward a championship and I don’t think anyone will stop them.

3-Rumson(8-0) Moves to 3rd spot in my poll on strength of their big win vs. a strong opponent in Manasquan.

4-Ocean(8-0) One of 4 undefeated in Shore.  The Big Red now start their playoff run.

5-Colts Neck(7-1) Only loss to Manalapan(48-18) not an embarrassment.  Strong team to contend with because of RB/LB Anthony Gargiulo.

6-Jackson(6-2) Class A-South Champs!

7-TR South(6-2) I know they loss to Brick, but I believe they are better now.

8-Manasquan(6-2) How they got placed in South Jersey is beyond me.

9-Shore(7-1) Small school, lots of guts. May battle Point Beach twice in next few weeks.

10-Brick(6-3) This team has battled through many tough breaks next year and is still standing.

Just Outside Looking In:

Brick Mem(6-3) 6th straight playoff appearance.

Point Beach(7-1) John Wagner’s program one of best around Shore.  Florence ruined last season, have a rematch with them in first round.

Barnegat(7-1) Still tough, but loss of RB A J Opre hurts and Bengals must find a way to overcome it in playoffs.

Long Branch(6-2) Green Wave can play defense.

Asbury Park(6-2) In playoffs again.

Thursday night on Investors Bank Football Show we will have Colts Neck head coach Greg LaCava and their star- 2 way player Anthony Gargiulo along with head coach Mark Costentino of Shore Reg. along with one of his star players at the Water Street Grill. Join us there, on 105.7 The Hawk or on the starting at 7:00 p.m.

The Sonny's Recycling Game of the Week on Friday night is Pemberton at Barnegat in the  1stround of the State Playoffs starting at 7pm on 105.7 The Hawk or on the