The Second Season
The state playoffs will begin on Friday with 24 of the 43 Shore Conference schools participating.
That in itself tells you the New Jersey playoff system is a watered-down version of championship football. Bring back the days of the four-team bracket. Play the sectional winners out to an overall Group champion. It's so easy and so doable, it's not brain surgery, but the powers that be just don't get it! So we let teams that are 1-7 and 2-6 into the playoffs, and we have sections with nine schools where eight qualify. It's a flawed system, but the one we play by. So let the games begin.
The teams in the South Jersey brackets will have to work to get a champion. In South Jersey Group III, Central Regional (6-2) is our best bet. They can run the football, play defense, and they have already clinched at least a tie for the B South championship. They are having a season to remember, so why not keep it going? By the way, the championship is the first since 1994 for Central.
South Jersey Group II, where Barnegat (6-2) plays, is a loaded section. Barnegat had a shot, but senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine broke his ankle Friday night and will miss the playoff game and the Turkey Day game against Pinelands, where they can wrap up a co-championship with Central in Class B South with a win. Without Erskine, they have no chance in a section that has a combined 58-7 record for the eight schools in the bracket.
In South Jersey Group V, Brick Memorial (6-3) has a shot. The Mustangs are battle-tested, have playoff experience, and can run the football with the best of them. It won't be easy going to Cherokee and winning in the first round, but I give them a chance, if they can get by the Chiefs. A 100 percent healthy Tim Santiago, who directs the flexbone offense at quarterback, is a must.
In Central Jersey Group V, Manalapan (8-1) again will look to get into the finals. They have been there the last three years and lost. This will be a tough run this time around. South Brunswick and Hillsborough are tough, and I don't think the Braves can get there. It's not out of the question, but Imamu Mayfield and company only have one loss (Red Bank Catholic) and will not be an easy out.
In Central Jersey Group IV, the Shore will have a champion. That's the easy part. The tough part is predicting who will take the trophy home. Middletown South (6-2), Jackson Memorial (8-1), Brick (8-1), Neptune (6-2), Freehold Boro (7-2), and Middletown North (6-2) are all possibilities. And the winner, in my opinion, is Jackson Memorial. The glory days are back for the Jags. For this to happen, they will have to reverse the regular season loss to Brick in a potential semifinal game. Brick is the Class A South champion and the defending Central Jersey Group IV champion. The only thing that upsets me in this section is that I can't see all the games played. It's going to be a war.
In Central Jersey Group III, it's Long Branch (6-2) beating Hopewell Valley in the finals, as head coach Danny George rides star tailback Dahmiere Willis to a championship. The Green Wave will ground and pound.
In Central Jersey Group II, it's Rumson's section to lose.The Bulldogs (6-2) will have a healthy Charlie Volker to ride, looking to repeat. They won it last year with a 13-6 win over previously unbeaten Weequahic.
In Central Jersey Group I, Shore (7-1) is the favorite and they will give Mark Costantino the program's sixth state title. A familiar foe awaits them in round one - defending CJ Group I champion Point Beach. These two have played each other four times in the last two years. No need to exchange films!
Non-Public Group III is interesting. Red Bank Catholic (8-1), stinging from the Jackson Memorial loss, will challenge the likes of Delbarton (8-1), St John Vianney (9-0), and three-time defending champion St. Joseph's-Montvale (6-3). These four teams are all capable, but it will be St. Joe's-Montvale that ruins the Shore's party. RBC quarterback Eddie Hahn will have to be at his best for the Caseys to win it. St. John Vianney won its only state title back in 1980, and if the Cinderella season continues, junior quarterback Anthony Brown will have to use his arm and distribute the ball to his outstanding group of receivers.
Non-Public Group I has Mater Dei Prep (7-2) in it, and they may win a game in first round, but it will end there with a trip to St. Joseph's-Hammonton (9-0), which has 23 state titles.
It's fun to make predictions and get schools mad at you, but I'm not the most popular guy around anyway. Good luck to all playoff teams.
Had a chance to see St. John Vianney beat Manasquan on Saturday afternoon. The final was 34-7 and again it was Anthony Brown who led the Lancers. It wasn't the cleanest game for Brown, who threw his first two picks of the year on a cool, overcast day on a field that wasn't in the best of conditions. The Lancers have gone through the season unbeaten and enter the playoffs as the only Shore school without a loss.
The game of the season, so far, was the upset of RBC by the Jags of Jackson. The overtime 33-27 win broke RBC's 40-game winning streak against Shore opponents. A punishing ground game (258 yards) did it for Jackson. Enough has been written about this game, but I will mention the MVPs - Brad Greenway, Glenn Kipila, Ryan Frasier, Tyler Rauch, Dylan Smith and tight end Brody Graham. They are the guys up front on the offensive line who deserve all the credit for making the ground game go. They never get the credit, it's always the quarterback or the running back who get the ink. Congrats to them and the Jaguars. Can they ride "26 power" through the playoffs?