The Shore Advances 11 Teams to the State Playoff Semifinals
Eleven of the 27 Shore Conference teams that qualified for the state playoffs made it out of the first round and into the semifinals as the postseason got underway this past weekend.
The Shore Conference still has teams alive in Central Jersey Group V, Central Jersey Group IV, Central Jersey Group III, Central Jersey Group I, South Jersey Group V, South Jersey Group IV and Non-Public Group III. There are two brackets where the Shore is guaranteed to have a team in the championship game, as Shore Regional will host Asbury Park in a CJ Group I semifinal, and Colts Neck will have a rematch with Middletown South in the CJ IV semifinals.
The two Shore teams that are No. 1 seeds rolled into the semifinals, as Shore Regional took care of Keansburg 48-12 in CJ I and Manalapan beat Monroe 39-7 in CJ IV. Shore won its eighth straight game by beating the Titans for the second time this season thanks to 166 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries by senior fullback Jack Kelly and a touchdown run and a touchdown pass by junior quarterback Matt Muh.
The Blue Devils will now host defending CJ I champion Asbury Park, which beat fifth-seeded South Hunterdon 21-14 thanks to a pair of touchdowns by Shaheim Tillman. Shore beat the Blue Bishops 37-12 during the regular season. Before the Blue Devils worry about that rematch, they will travel to Point Beach on Thanksgiving morning for a huge showdown that will decide the Class B Central title. The two teams could then potentially see each other again in two weeks in the CJ I final.
In Manalapan’s victory, junior tailback Tyler Leonetti ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. He now has 1,013 yards rushing this season to keep Manalapan’s streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2003 intact. The undefeated Braves will host fourth-seeded Hunterdon Central in the CJ IV semifinals on Nov. 30 in a bid to reach their second straight sectional final as they shoot for their first state title in program history. Hunterdon Central beat Brick Memorial 40-21 in the quarterfinals to end the season for the Mustangs, who finished 5-5 after a 5-0 start.
In Central Jersey Group IV, Middletown South continued its dominance of Mercer County teams by routing second-seeded West Windsor South 40-8 on the road to improve to 11-0 against Mercer County squads since 1998. Senior fullback Jake Ripnick ran for 88 yards and four touchdowns to help lead the way, going over the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the process. The Eagles now get an eagerly-anticipated rematch with Colts Neck, which beat them 28-9 in a regular-season game the week before the playoffs began.
Colts Neck picked up its first state playoff win since 2000, its first home playoff victory and just the second playoff win in program history when it knocked off sixth-seeded Steinert 34-20. Junior tailback Anthony Gargiulo had a career-high 234 yards rushing and a touchdown and senior quarterback Mike Campbell threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns, including two to senior fullback Gio Zefferino. Colts Neck (8-1) also tied the school record for wins and can set the record with a victory over Howell in its Thanksgiving game this week. The Cougars will then look to make more history by beating Middletown South again to reach their first state sectional final.
The Shore Conference’s other team in CJ IV, fifth-seeded Jackson Liberty, lost 28-14 to fourth-seeded Colonia in the first state playoff game in the program’s six-year history. The Lions, who have already won a school-record six games, will look to add another win to that total and make some more history as they try to defeat cross-town rival Jackson Memorial for the first time in their Thanksgiving matchup.
The Shore Conference has a pair of semifinalists in CJ Group III, as defending champion Neptune and third-seeded Long Branch both advanced at the expense of Shore Conference opponents. Neptune grinded out a 14-7 win over fifth-seeded Lakewood, which was playing in its first state playoff game since 2002. Both defenses were outstanding, and Neptune took advantage of a pair of turnovers by the Piners to set up short touchdown runs.
The Scarlet Fliers’ defense held the Piners to 71 total yards and three first downs, including 11 total yards and zero rushing yards in the second half. Neptune will play at top-seeded Allentown in the semifinals after beating the Redbirds 40-33 in overtime in a first-round playoff game last season on its way to winning the title. Allentown dispatched of eighth-seeded Ocean, 35-7, in the first round to set up the showdown with Neptune. The Scarlet Fliers will now prepare for their long-standing Thanksgiving rivalry game against Asbury Park.
Long Branch picked up its second straight win against Matawan with a 26-3 victory and will travel to second-seeded Nottingham in the semifinals. Green Wave senior quarterback Avry Griffin threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Deon Williams and had a 68-yard touchdown run to lead the offense, while sophomore defensive end Hunter Baillie had a sack, four quarterback pressures and an interception return for a touchdown in the win.
Nottingham rallied from a 14-point hole to knock off seventh-seeded Manasquan, 21-14, and move on to the next round. Long Branch is trying to reach its first sectional final since 2007 and win its first state title since 1999. The Green Wave will now face Red Bank Regional in their Thanksgiving game in a bid to clinch a tie with Neptune for the Class B North title.
On the other side of the bracket from Shore Regional and Asbury Park in CJ I, second-seeded Point Beach routed South River 44-6 to improve to 9-0. The Garnet Gulls set the school single-season record for wins and continued their streak of scoring 40 or more points in every game this season. Senior running back Danny Tighe, who leads the Shore Conference in rushing and touchdowns, ran for 144 yards and three touchdowns on only 10 carries in the win. Point Beach will now host third-seeded Florence, which beat Keyport 40-29, in the semifinals.
Perhaps the most impressive win of the opening round of the playoffs belonged to Southern, which went on the road as the No. 6 seed and knocked off third-seeded Washington Township in a 33-32 thriller in SJ Group V. The Rams' Logan Sheehan blocked an extra point with three minutes left in the game to get the win. Senior quarterback Dan Higgins tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Rob Yaiser for what proved to be the winning score, and senior tailback Abe Gonzalez scored four touchdowns and ran for a career-high 238 yards.
Southern will travel to second-seeded Eastern in the semifinals in search of its first sectional final berth since 2008 and the second one in program history. Eastern pulled out a 41-38 victory over seventh-seeded Toms River North in the first round. Sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani ran for two touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass, and junior tailback Trevon Bass had a pair of touchdown runs in the loss for the Mariners.
Speaking of high-scoring thrillers, second-seeded Lacey fended off seventh-seeded Toms River South 45-31 in SJ Group IV for its second win of the season over the Indians to advance to the semifinals. Senior tailback Kyle Spatz ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns, and junior wideout Christian Tutela was brilliant with five catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns and another 42 yards rushing. Sophomore quarterback Conor Davies was 9-for-10 for 161 yards and two touchdown passes. Junior quarterback Tom Kelly, who was the starter until getting hurt a month ago, returned from a broken collarbone to make some big passes in the fourth quarter, including one that set up a touchdown run by Spatz that snapped a 31-31 tie late in the game. Lacey will now host sixth-seeded Kingsway in the semifinals as it seeks its second sectional title and undefeated season in three years.
The Shore Conference’s No. 1 team, Red Bank Catholic, routed Monsignor Donovan 54-0 to advance to the Non-Public Group III semifinals. The Caseys will travel to play defending champion and perennial state power St. Joseph’s-Montvale in a huge showdown between top 10 teams that will be one of the most high-profile semifinals across the state.
Senior James Taylor continued his brilliance on special teams with two punt returns for touchdowns in the win over Monsignor Donovan. RBC now looks to continue its mastery over rival Rumson-Fair Haven on Thanksgiving as it tries to lock up the outright Class A Central title. Monsignor Donovan will try to end on a high note by beating Manchester in their Thanksgiving rivalry game to clinch the outright Class B South title. On the other side of the bracket in N-P Group III, second-seeded Delbarton beat St. John Vianney 55-14 in the Lancers’ first playoff appearance since 2006.
The Shore was eliminated in three brackets, including CJ Group II, where Rumson had been a finalist in the past two seasons. The Bulldogs lost 13-10 to sixth-seeded Weequahic and will now turn their attention to their Thanksgiving game against RBC. In SJ Group III, Bridgeton rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Barnegat 18-17, and Northern Burlington beat Point Boro 27-17. In Non-Public Group I, Mater Dei Prep lost 41-14 to undefeated St. Mary’s-Rutherford.
In the NJSIAA consolation games, the Shore Conference finished 8-4, including 7-4 against nonconference opponents. Howell picked up its first win of the season by beating Perth Amboy 42-7, and Toms River East exploded for 495 yards rushing in a 63-24 win over Woodrow Wilson. Junior Jerry Caporale ran for 192 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, and junior Matt Gudzak had 144 yards rushing and three touchdowns on nine carries.
Freehold Township senior quarterback Dan Bloodgood ran for a career-high 199 yards and two touchdowns in a 15-7 win over East Brunswick. Brick linebacker Doug Cuccinello concluded a great career with four sacks in a 23-3 win over Hightstown. Freehold quarterback Bradley Jones went 10-for-12 for a career-high 226 yards and three touchdowns passing and wideout Tyrod Smith-Rush had a career-high 143 yards receiving on five catches and two touchdowns in a 41-29 win over Middletown North that snapped a five-game losing streak. Dylan Brown had a career-high three touchdown runs and senior quarterback Jeff Farrah threw a pair of touchdown passes to senior Sheldon McCue in Monmouth’s 47-8 win over Highland Park. Marlboro upended Trenton, 27-6, and Red Bank Regional picked up its fourth win in five games with a 12-9 victory over Hopewell Valley.