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Top 10 Tuesday: 11/8/11

Ikie Calderon, Jaheem Wood & Jazzmar Clax, Neptune
Cliff Lavelle, All Shore Media

We’re less than a month away from the final Top 10, so closing arguments from the best teams will be coming soon in the state playoffs and in some key Thanksgiving showdowns.

As for this week, the only change was Wall’s drop in the rankings after the previously undefeated Crimson Knights lost 33-21 to Colonia in a conference game thanks to a 450-yard, 5-touchdown eruption by Colonia running back Greg Jones. I also tinkered a little bit with the bottom of the top 10.

No major showdowns among top 10 teams this week in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs, although Manalapan has a rematch with a dangerous, unranked Brick Memorial squad that the Braves beat 23-21 on a last-second field goal during the regular season. Jackson Memorial also has a great test in defending Central Jersey Group IV champion Sayreville. A win over the Bombers would be a nice resume addition to the Jaguars’ strong season.

The All Shore Media Top 10

  1. Red Bank Catholic (8-0) – Last week: No. 1. Well, here we are, just as everyone expected now that RBC dispatched of Toms River East in a 49-0 romp last week. The Caseys are unbeaten, they have a home playoff game in the Non-Public Group III bracket as the No. 3 seed, and it’s time to exorcise some demons. RBC has not won a state playoff game since 1998, but it will be the favorite when sixth-seeded Pope John XXIII (5-4) comes to Count Basie Field on Friday night. Pope John has a long and storied history in the state playoffs, but RBC is the better team. A loss here would be devastating. The Caseys simply have to get it done. Not only would it be another postseason setback for a program that has been elite in this area, it would allow the haters to pile on that RBC can’t get it done when the playing field is leveled and it faces other schools that can draw talent from multiple areas. It also would look bad if the Shore Conference’s No. 1 team since the preseason can’t even get out of the first round. RBC has a tough defense, a running game in which 1,100 yard rusher John DiStefano is averaging 9 (!) yards per carry and a veteran quarterback in senior Ryan Spahr. The ingredients are there. Time to take 13 years of frustration out on Pope John.
  2. Southern (8-1) – Last week: No. 2. The Rams ended Middletown North’s playoff hopes and extended their school-record winning streak to eight games with a 28-0 victory thanks to a pair of touchdown runs by senior tailback T.J. Bellissimo and one touchdown rushing and passing for junior quarterback Dan Higgins. Now the fourth-seeded Rams host their first state playoff game in school history when they welcome fifth-seeded Triton (7-1) in South Jersey Group IV for what should be a hard-fought matchup. Southern has never won a sectional title and has made one final in 2008, so the Rams are hoping that in a year in which they won their first division title since 1972 and first outright division title that they can add one last piece of school history with a state championship.
  3. Rumson-Fair Haven (8-0) – Last week: No. 3. The Bulldogs showed in the last week that they are not only very good, but also lucky. After a 28-6 victory over previously undefeated Asbury Park, they won a coin flip by the NJSIAA on Monday that awarded them the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group II after being tied with fellow unbeaten Manasquan in power points and on the first five criteria used to break ties. Rumson also won a joking coin flip with the Manasquan staff in the parking lot of the Rahway game that both staffs were scouting on Sunday, so the Bulldogs are 10-0 between games and coin flips. On Saturday, their defense held an Asbury Park team averaging 35 points per game to 76 total yards and two first downs, including 7 total yards and zero first downs in the second half. Junior quarterback Danny Roberto threw for 202 yards and 2 scores, and wideout Blake Potter had 8 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. Next up is eighth-seeded Rahway (5-3), a dangerous team with some explosive skill players, in the first round of the CJ II playoffs at Borden Stadium Friday night as Rumson kicks off what it hopes will be a march to its second straight CJ II title.
  4. Neptune (7-1) – Last week: No. 4. The Scarlet Fliers clinched a berth in the Central Jersey Group III playoffs with a 26-21 win that also eliminated Colts Neck from state playoff contention. Senior quarterback Jaheem Woods ran for 202 yards and four touchdowns to power Neptune’s sixth straight win. The fifth-seeded Scarlet Fliers will now head to fourth-seeded Allentown (6-2) on Friday night for a first-round CJ III game. It’s Allentown’s first state playoff game in school history, and it may be all downhill after the national anthem for the Redbirds the way Neptune is playing. Looming in the distance is a potential match-up with Middletown South in the CJ III semifinals. Neptune has not beaten the Eagles since winning the 1998 CJ III title with a 58-13 victory, and Middletown South has made three straight CJ III championship games and nine sectional finals in the last 10 years.
  5. Jackson Memorial (7-1) – Last week: No. 6. The Jaguars jump up a spot thanks to Wall’s loss and their 37-0 wipeout of Freehold Township. Fourth-seeded Jackson can now bolster its case as a top-five team when it takes on defending Central Jersey Group IV champion Sayreville (7-2) at John J. Munley Field (“The Jungle’’) on Friday night. Jackson is 6-0 all-time in state playoff quarterfinals on its home field, and its only other meeting with Sayreville in its history was a 38-7 victory in the 2004 state playoffs. The Jaguars will have to find a way to slow down explosive running back Delon Stephenson, a Rutgers recruit and one of the most dynamic all-around players in the state. The Jaguars are in search of their first state title since 2005.
  6. Manalapan (7-1) – Last week: No. 8. I am moving the Braves ahead of Manasquan because they have been racking up one solid win after another against a much tougher schedule than Manasquan’s. They beat Toms River North, 35-30, thanks to five touchdowns by senior tailback John Sieczkowski to eliminate the Mariners from playoff contention and secure the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group IV for the Braves. Now comes a rematch at home against No. 7 Brick Memorial (4-5) only two weeks after Manalapan rallied to beat the Mustangs 23-21 on a last-second, 37-yard field goal by freshman kicker Mike Caggiano. Brick Memorial limps in off a loss to Howell and junior quarterback Ryan Cieplinski is questionable for the game with a knee fracture, but the Mustangs are always dangerous in this spot. They have made three straight CJ IV finals, and Manalapan is trying to bring an end to that streak. The Braves have never won a state sectional title, reaching their only final in 2003. Last season, they reached the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Sayreville.
  7. Manasquan (8-0) – Last week: No. 7. The Warriors just survived the Tyrice Beverette Show, as the Lakewood junior quarterback put a combined 385 yards on Manasquan’s defense in the Warriors’ 21-14 win over the Piners (2-6). Manasquan lost the coin flip to Rumson and will be the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group II after tying the Bulldogs in power points and on the first five criteria to break ties. Manasquan will welcome Red Bank (5-3), making its first state playoff appearance since 2004, to Vic Kubu Warrior Field on Saturday. Manasquan currently has a 22-game winning streak on its home field. The Warriors are looking for their first sectional title since 2009 and a Shore Conference-record 12th overall. This team has looked shaky against mediocre competition at times, but it’s not like the Warriors haven’t proven the doubters wrong a million times before. I would absolutely not be shocked to see them in the top five and holding a state title trophy at the end, although Rumson is still the heavy favorite in CJ II. Manasquan won’t have an easy road, as it has to beat Red Bank and then the winner of undefeated Carteret and Matawan in the semifinals. The good news is that both of those games are at Vic Kubu Warrior Field, where crazy stuff always seems to happen in Manasquan’s favor.
  8. Wall (7-1) – Last week: No. 5. The Crimson Knights tumble three spots thanks to a 33-21 nonconference loss to Colonia (7-1) and star running back Greg Jones, who put 450 yards and five touchdowns on Wall’s defense. The good news is that the second-seeded Crimson Knights get some Mercer County fodder in the form of seventh-seeded Steinert Friday night in the Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals. Steinert is 0-6 all time in the state playoffs. After that should come a big showdown with a quality Woodbridge team that will test to see if Wall’s defense has made improvement after being shredded by Jones.
  9. Middletown South (6-2) – Last week: No. 10. The Eagles rolled past Lacey, 35-7, in a nondivisional game that netted them the No. 8 seed in Central Jersey Group III and made sure their streak of consecutive playoff appearances that started in 1997 remained intact. Senior quarterback Howie Brey and senior fullback Tim McArdle each ran for a pair of scores against Lacey for the Eagles’ sixth straight win. They are still behind Wall because Wall has a victory over a common opponent, Ocean, that beat Middletown South. However, this is a much different Middletown South team than the one that lost to Ocean in the season opener. The running game has gotten cranked up, the front seven are starting to crush opposing running games like the Middletown South teams of old, and the Eagles are brimming with confidence. That’s why the groans you hear are coming from Northern Burlington (7-1), which might be the first No. 1 seed in history to be unanimously picked to lose to the No. 8 seed. Five of the Greyhounds’ wins have been in overtime or by four points or less, so their record is a little deceiving. Middletown South has reached three straight CJ III finals and nine sectional finals in the last 10 years. Essentially, the Eagles are the worst possible draw you could get as a No. 1 seed that is 4-5 all-time in the state playoffs. A win by Middletown South most likely sets up a highly-anticipated showdown at fifth-seeded Neptune, a team that Eagles have dominated for more than a decade.
  10. Asbury Park (7-1) – Last week: No. 9. The Blue Bishops were humbled by No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven in a 28-6 loss in a match-up of undefeated teams. They were held to minus-five yards rushing, and their defense surrendered 224 yards passing and 28 points after having allowed 35 points all season heading into the game. The good news is that they still secured the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group I, where they are the favorite to win their fourth CJ I title in the last five seasons. They start off with a home game on Saturday against Middlesex (6-2). For sake of comparison, Middlesex eked out a 6-0 win over Highland Park, a team that Asbury Park demolished 42-0. I would think the Blue Bishops will take out their frustrations from the Rumson game on the Blue Jays and then will welcome the Point Beach-New Egypt winner in the semifinals a week later. Asbury Park beat Point Beach 24-8 during the regular season.

Teams to watch:

Barnegat (5-3): The Bengals have won five out of six after dispatching of Holmdel, 27-6, to earn the No. 3 seed in South Jersey Group II for their first home playoff game in program history. They welcome sixth-seeded Point Boro (5-3) in a bid to win their second playoff game in program history after breaking the ice last season. Barnegat has three wins over state playoff teams (Central, Lacey, Red Bank) on its resume and gave undefeated Rumson its hardest game of the season thus far in a 21-16 loss in the opener.

Matawan (6-2): The Huskies romped 56-0 over winless New Brunswick to roll into the state playoffs on a four-game winning streak. The No. 6 Huskies head to unbeaten No. 3 seed Carteret for a tough first-round game in Central Jersey Group II, where Matawan has made the finals for two straight seasons. Matawan also boasts a 31-7 win over Barnegat, although Barnegat has a 20-17 win over Red Bank, a team that beat Matawan, 10-9. Barnegat is the only team with a winning record that Matawan has beaten all season.

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