Last week was an emotional return to the field after Hurricane Sandy, and now it’s playoff time.

Middletown South and Elit Smith will be on the road as the No. 7 seed in Central Jersey Group III, trying to upset No. 2 West Windsor South. (Photo credit: Cliff Lavelle).

No more talking, no more wondering who might make a run to a state sectional title. It’s about to all get settled on the field. As for last week’s picks? Well, let’s let the healing begin by conveniently ignoring those, because they were generally terrible.

Now it’s time to get to this week’s playoff picks, and I’ll even throw in some quick consolation game picks for fun even though I have no clue about any of these non-conference opponents. Good luck to all the Shore Conference teams embarking on a journey they hope doesn’t end until the second week of December.

Also, just a quick reminder that Friday night’s South River at Point Beach game in Central Jersey Group I will be live on 105.7 The Hawk  and streamed online at

Last week: 12-7

Season: 148-42

Friday’s games

Central Jersey Group IV

(8) Monroe (3-6) at (1) Manalapan (8-0), 7 p.m.: Monroe is right next door to Manalapan, so that adds a little fun to this one, but Manalapan is on a mission. Not much analysis needed. The Braves should roll in this one. The pick: Manalapan.

(5) Brick Memorial (5-4) at (4) Hunterdon Central (4-4-1), 7 p.m.: Normally, I would pick Brick Memorial in an upset in this game in a heartbeat because that is the Mustangs’ specialty this time of year. They have stunned Hunterdon Central on the road before in the playoffs as well, so it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. The one piece of good news is that junior two-way dynamo Mike Basile is back after missing a loss to Lacey last week. However, this team has just been in freefall, having lost four straight after a 5-0 start, often in blowout fashion with a run defense that has really struggled and an offense that has sputtered after a strong start. This team just seems lifeless at this point, so it remains to be seen if they can find a way to salvage the season and make one of their patented runs. Hunterdon Central is only a .500 team in its own right, so there is no doubt this is a winnable game. I just don’t know what to make of Brick Memorial right now given the last month. The pick: Hunterdon Central.

Central Jersey Group IV

(7) Middletown South (5-3) at (2) West Windsor South (8-1), 7 p.m.: This is another one where the gut instinct is always to pick Middletown South over a Mercer County team, but now I’m not so sure. The Eagles went on the road and lost to Northern Burlington in the first round of last year’s Central Jersey Group III playoffs and are definitely the underdog here. West Windsor South is a legitimate team that I watched push Manalapan to the brink last year in an overtime loss in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals. Brian Schoenauer is a quality running back headed to the University of Pennsylvania, so the Pirates have some weapons. Meanwhile, Middletown South is coming off a disappointing 28-9 loss to Colts Neck and trying to find some kind of offensive rhythm. I will give Middletown South one last vote of confidence, but I am holding my breath. The pick: Middletown South.

Central Jersey Group III

(6) Matawan (6-2) at (3) Long Branch (7-1), 7 p.m.: I’m looking forward to this one. It’s another grudge match between two old rivals that always seem to bring out the best in one another. Long Branch beat Matawan 24-21 on a last-second field goal in a regular-season thriller, but the stakes to this one are much higher. Long Branch senior tailback Dwight Clark, who has missed the whole season with a broken ankle suffered in the preseason, is expected to return and convert the Green Wave’s already ferocious running attack into a three-headed beast with senior Joscil Jackson and junior Deon Williams. The main question is whether he can seamlessly be inserted into the offense or whether it will throw things off for a little bit as he shakes off the rust. Matawan is going to fight tooth and nail because this program is always tough to eliminate in the playoffs. It won Central Jersey Group II last year and has made the sectional finals for three straight years, so the Huskies are not going out without a fight. Long Branch feels it can play better than the first time around and finally flex the full power of the Death Star with that loaded backfield, while Matawan feels it had Long Branch on the ropes the first time and can finish the job this time. Both teams have not played in three weeks, so the first team to shake off that layoff will have an advantage. I think if Long Branch can get out of this game, it can win this whole bracket. The pick: Long Branch.

Central Jersey Group II

(6) Weequahic (6-2) at (3) Rumson-FH (7-1), 7 p.m.: This is a dangerous game for the Bulldogs because of Weequahic’s speed and big-play ability, but Rumson is very tough at Borden Stadium. Their wakeup call came last week in a 14-9 loss to Manasquan on the road, but now they can get back to their precision passing game on the artificial turf. They scrimmaged teams similar to Weequahic in the preseason to prepare themselves for this and are disciplined and well-coached. I could see their offense playing keepaway with sustained drives and the defense coming up with some big turnovers. The pick: Rumson-Fair Haven.

Central Jersey Group I

(8) Keansburg (4-4) at (1) Shore (7-1), 7 p.m.: Shore already beat Keansburg 35-18 during the season, and this Titans team and town were hit so hard by the hurricane that it’s hard to see them recovering. They had to cancel their last game against Asbury Park because of an inability just to find everyone on the team after the displacement from the storm. I’m sure the Titans will make a valiant effort, but it’s a lot to ask to pull it together against a team like the Blue Devils that is on a mission to win a division title and a state title in the next four weeks. The pick: Shore.

(7) South River (6-3) at (2) Point Beach (8-0), 7 p.m.: This is Point Beach’s first game back since the hurricane battered its sending district, so it should be an emotional night. There might be a little rust at the beginning because of a three-week layoff, but the Garnet Gulls will eventually kick it in gear and run away with this one. The pick: Point Beach.

South Jersey Group V

(6) Southern (6-2) at (3) Washington Township (7-1), 7 p.m.: This is a tall order on the road, but the Rams have been playing well as of late and have a senior-laden, battle-tested team that will not go down without a fight. This is a beatable Washington Township team with a good quarterback. The question is whether Southern can keep up if it becomes a shootout. Screw it, I’m going for the upset on the road. A couple of bombs to Mike Gesicki, a solid running game and an inspired defense. We’ll see. The pick: Southern.

(7) Toms River North (5-3) at (2) Eastern (6-3), 7 p.m.: The Mariners also have their hands full on the road against a team featuring Joe Flacco’s younger brother, Tom, at quarterback, and Ohio State recruit Eli Woodard at wideout and defensive back. This depends on which Toms River North team shows up, the one that was stunned by Brick and routed by Manalapan, or the one that picked up hard-fought wins against Southern and Toms River South? Eastern was upset by Lenape last week and will be roaring to go, so I think the home team probably gets this one, although I hope I’m wrong. The pick: Eastern.

South Jersey Group III

(5) Point Boro (5-4) at (4) Northern Burlington (4-4), 7 p.m.: The definition of a toss-up game. Point Boro has been all over the map this year, looking good one week and dead in the water the next, particularly on offense. Northern Burlington plays a lot of high-scoring games, so it remains to be seen whether the Panthers can keep up if it gets wild on the scoreboard. The pick: Northern Burlington.

(6) Bridgeton (5-4) at (3) Barnegat (4-4), 7 p.m.: Another game that scares me for the Shore Conference team because Class B South squads have not fared well outside the division. I have no feel for this game because Barnegat is a young team that has ridden the roller-coaster this year and just got shut out at home by a sub-.500 Red Bank Regional team. I’ll give the home team the benefit of the doubt, but this one could go either way. The pick: Barnegat.

Non-Public Group III

(5) Msgr. Donovan (5-3) at (4) Red Bank Catholic (8-0), 7 p.m.: No suspense here, although I feel bad for Mon Don quarterback Vinny Grasso, who by all accounts and evidence, was wrongly ejected in the loss to Jackson Liberty last week when it should have been another Griffins’ player who got tossed. That means Grasso will not be in the lineup for a playoff atmosphere. As for the game itself, it should be a formality as RBC gears up for one of the biggest showdowns in the state next week up at St. Joseph’s-Montvale. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.

Consolation games

Governor Livingston (1-7) at Raritan (0-8), 7 p.m.: These teams play each other in everything short of tiddly-winks at this point. Strange how they always seem to meet in every sport. Been a long season for Raritan, and hopefully this one offers a positive moment. The pick: Raritan.

Jackson Memorial (2-6) at Lenape (2-6), 7 p.m.: Lenape just stunned Eastern, so I’m giving them the nod. The pick: Lenape.

Freehold Township (2-6) at East Brunswick (2-5-1), 7 p.m.: Kind of crazy to see East Brunswick in a game like this only a few years removed from regularly being a state title contender. Freehold Township is coming off a comeback win over Middletown North, so I see the Patriots trying to finish strong. The pick: Freehold Township.

Freehold (1-7) at Middletown North (2-6), 7 p.m.: Freehold’s offense has not scored more than 17 points in a game this year, but their defense could hold down the Lions in this one. Who am I kidding? I have no idea in this game. Home team. The pick: Middletown North.

Hightstown (2-7) at Brick (2-7), 7 p.m.: Quietly an end to two standout high school careers by Brick senior running back/linebacker Doug Cuccinello and defensive end Dan Watson. How about a school-record 50-yard field goal by Anthony Starego for the ESPN cameras and away we go? The pick: Brick.

Woodrow Wilson (0-8) at Toms River East (1-7), 7 p.m.: Woodrow Wilson’s speed advantage could be the difference. The pick: Woodrow Wilson.

Howell (0-8) at Perth Amboy (0-8), 7 p.m.: Somebody avoids the goose egg season in this one. I think Howell’s offense puts it together for a game and gets a win. The pick: Howell.

Saturday’s Games

Central Jersey Group IV

(6) Steinert (5-3) at (3) Colts Neck (7-1), 1 p.m.: To me, Colts Neck has the perfect recipe for a playoff run. A defense that tackles well, gets after the quarterback and creates turnovers, and a balanced offense that punishes teams with the running of Anthony Gargiulo and then burns them up top from Mike Campbell to Tim Vangelas. Good enough for me. The Cougars are going for their first state playoff win since 2000 and only the second in school history. The pick: Colts Neck.

(5) Jackson Liberty (6-2) at (4) Colonia (8-1), 5 p.m.: I have waffled on this game a million times. I think Jackson Liberty can really pull this off even though this is the first state playoff game in school history. A winless Raritan team took Colonia to the wire this season, and Jackson Liberty seems to be a new team since moving sophomore Matt Castronuova to quarterback. Conversely, Class B South has been bad outside the division, although in Jackson Liberty’s defense, it won its two nondivisional games. Colonia just grinds out ugly wins and that could be the case in this one. The pick: Colonia.

Central Jersey Group III

(7) Manasquan (4-4) at (2) Nottingham (7-1), 7 p.m.: The main question here is whether Manasquan peaked last week with the emotional win over previously unbeaten Rumson-Fair Haven just to get in. Will the exhaustion of everything from the storm and the emotion of last week leave the tank empty? On paper, I see a program that has 11 state titles and no fear in the playoffs against one still trying to establish itself in the postseason. Manasquan has been fighting for its playoff life for three straight weeks, so it will not be fazed in any way by this. It might be an ugly game, but I think Manasquan can get this one and continue an inspiring story by pounding the ball with Joe Murphy, hitting a big pass or two to Connor Grogan and playing its absolute butt off on defense. The pick: Manasquan.

(5) Lakewood (6-2) at (4) Neptune (6-2), 2 p.m.: I am really looking forward to this one. Memorial Field should be rocking. There will be two explosive playmakers at quarterback in Lakewood’s Tyrice Beverette and Neptune’s Ajee Patterson. Neptune is the defending CJ III champion and appears to have righted the ship. It’s going to be a lot of fun when the crowd holds its breath as Patterson launches one deep downfield to Keith Kirkwood, Geoff Fairbanks or Keyshawn Rice with Beverette possibly covering them. If Neptune can hold off Lakewood’s pass rush, it will be in a good spot. If not, watch out. This game could get crazy, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Beverette go bananas for 400 total yards or something like that. And the same thing with Patterson. The pick: Neptune.

(8) Ocean (4-3-1) at (1) Allentown (8-1), 7 p.m.: Ocean has done well against teams from out west in this bracket traditionally, and I’m tempted to pull the trigger here, but Allentown is tough. It is good enough to win this entire bracket. The Redbirds nearly took down Neptune in overtime in last year’s playoffs and are a better team this year. Still, I could see Ocean running the ball effectively with Andrew Mehr and Tyler Thompson, bleeding the clock and pulling it out. I just don’t have the guts to pick it. The pick: Allentown.

Central Jersey Group I

(5) South Hunterdon (6-2) at (4) Asbury Park (5-2), noon.: Asbury Park has already seen the two best teams in this bracket in Point Beach and Shore, so nothing South Hunterdon does should faze the Bishops. However, they have had a long layoff since the storm hit, so they will need to kick it back into gear early and put this team away because if they let them hang around, they could be in trouble. A few big plays from Shaheim Tillman, Daquane Bland-Bennett and Robert Barksdale should do it. The pick: Asbury Park.

(6) Keyport (6-3) at (3) Florence (7-1), 1 p.m.: These teams played some epic games back in the Ken Cattouse-J.J. Bedle era in the early 2000s. The Flashes have been sitting in the weeds, waiting to rise up and take out Point Beach and Shore. First they have to take care of business against a Red Raiders team that has had numerous players greatly affected by the hurricane. Keyport should hit some deep balls with quarterback Alex Thomson and receivers Greg Armstrong and Tyler Alvarez, but it’s probably too much to ask them to get by a very quality team on the road. The pick: Florence.

South Jersey Group IV

(7) Toms River South (4-4) at (2) Lacey (9-0), 1 p.m.: Lacey junior quarterback Tom Kelly, who has missed 2 ½ games with a broken collarbone, has been practicing this week when it previously was thought he might be out for the season. We’ll see if Lacey uses him here or tries to win its rematch with the Indians with promising sophomore Conor Davies, who looked good in a 42-0 win over Brick Memorial last week. This game was only 21-20 at the half in the first meeting before Lacey won 41-20, and Toms River South’s young skill players are very dangerous. I just think Lacey is on a mission to see Timber Creek in the final and won’t let an upstart Toms River South team derail them from that quest. The pick: Lacey.

Non-Public Group III

(7) St. John Vianney (5-3) at (2) Delbarton (8-1), 1 p.m.: The Lancers are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, but it will be a short visit as Delbarton is the heavy favorite to reach the final from this side of the bracket. This is at least a chance for some of the up-and-coming players on St. John Vianney to get some film to show college coaches of what they can do against high-caliber competition. The pick: Delbarton.

Non-Public Group I

(7) Mater Dei Prep (1-8) at (2) St. Mary’s-Rutherford (9-0): This is Mater Dei’s first state playoff game since 1999, and the Seraphs have become a lightning rod for the critics of the new watered-down NJSIAA playoffs, where one-win teams can quality. Regardless, they get to experience the playoff atmosphere and see what it will take to get their program to contender status. The pick: St. Mary.

Consolation games

Highland Park (2-7) at Monmouth (1-7), noon: Highland Park has played a Group I schedule, while Monmouth has dealt with the likes of RBC, Rumson, Manasquan, etc. We’ll see if a tougher schedule pays off here or not. The pick: Monmouth.

Trenton (2-7) at Marlboro (3-5), 1 p.m.: Trenton took playoff-bound Steinert to overtime and gave Notre Dame a decent battle, while Marlboro is trying to regroup from the frustration of just missing out on a playoff spot. Normally the Shore teams are fine against Mercer County, but this might be a tough draw for Marlboro. The pick: Trenton.

Wall (2-5-1) at Lawrence (4-4), 1:30 p.m.: The usual rule of thumb in consolation games is to always pick the Shore Conference team against the Mercer County squad, although that might totally work out this year, but I will stick with that here. The pick: Wall.

Hopewell Valley (3-5) at Red Bank (3-5), 1:30 p.m.: See above. The pick: Red Bank.

Holmdel (3-5) at Hamilton West (4-4), 2 p.m.: I truly have no idea about this one, and I guess much of it hinges on Holmdel’s quarterback situation right now. The pick: Hamilton West.