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Week 7 Shore Conference Football Picks

Even as I made jokes all season, I had been quietly plugging along with only about two or three losses in my picks, but then I became a speed bump for the football gods last week.

Manalapan and running back Tyler Leonetti will head to Colts Neck in a match-up of unbeatens in Class A North on Saturday. (Photo credit: Cliff Lavelle).

I was the blonde bimbo whose car won’t start and who keeps slipping in the mud with Jason coming after me in the hockey mask with the machete. It was a massacre. I lost six games, and Friday night was particularly brutal. The one I really whiffed on was not going with Colts Neck over St. John Vianney, and the Cougars looked very solid in their win. Now they get a chance to prove a lot of people wrong when they take on Manalapan in a big showdown of unbeaten on Saturday.

I also like the resilience shown by teams like Brick and Red Bank Regional that had somewhat become afterthoughts because of winless starts. They didn’t stop fighting hard and competing, and that is a tribute to the seniors on those teams to not let everything just go off a cliff following a frustrating start.

Last week: 16-6.

Season: 102-27

Friday’s Games

Ocean (3-2, 1-2) at No. 8 Long Branch (5-1, 2-1), 6 p.m.: This is an old-school match-up. Two old rivals smashing heads in what should be a physical game. If you like good running backs and hard-hitting linebackers, this is the game for you. Long Branch has Deon William, Joscil Jackson and quarterback Avry Griffin, while Ocean has Tyler Thompson and Royal Moore along with quarterback Andrew Mehr as dangerous running threats and Dan Loizos leading the defense. Ocean has had two weeks to prepare because of its bye, while Long Branch is coming off a 30-14 win over Freehold. The way these teams play, I think turnovers will be huge. This game will be decided by whose line is more physical and can win the war up front to result in long, clock-grinding drives. This game is huge, power point-wise. I think Long Branch’s veterans will make just enough big plays to grind one out. The pick: Long Branch.

Freehold (0-5, 0-3) at Howell (0-5, 0-2), 6:30 p.m.: Somebody has to get their first victory in this game, and I think it’s going to be Howell. It didn’t get headlines last week because of Howell’s winless start, but senior quarterback John Quinlan finally made his debut in a 24-20 loss to St. Joseph-Metuchen after missing the first four games with an MCL injury in his knee. Quinlan went 16-for-19 for 206 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. You’ve got to think his return has energized the Rebels, and a receiver like senior Tory Robinson could explode from here on out. Freehold Township has struggled to score against anyone all season, so I see Howell ending the skid here. The pick: Howell.

No. 4 Toms River North (4-1, 3-1) at Brick (1-5, 1-3), 7 p.m.: Brick showed in beating Toms River East last week that it can be dangerous if Toms River North is not careful, but the Mariners are just playing great football right now. They are coming off a huge win over Brick Memorial and don’t want to let their foot off the gas now as they make a playoff push and stay breathing down Lacey’s neck in the divisional race. The pick: Toms River North.

Southern (3-2, 2-2) at No. 5 Brick Memorial (5-1, 3-1), 7 p.m.: This is Southern’s last big chance to make a statement after losing to Toms River North and Lacey by a combined five points. The Rams really need this one for their playoff hopes, while Brick Memorial could also use the power-point haul from a win. The Mustangs are trying to bounce back from a five-point loss to Toms River North, while Southern dropped a 21-19 heartbreaker to Lacey last week. Brick Memorial’s offense has been one of the Shore Conference’s best, so it’s up to Southern’s offense to rise to the occasion. In Southern’s two biggest games, the Rams have not cracked 20 points, while Brick Memorial has not scored less than 25 points in any game this season. Something has to give there. Brick Memorial junior Mike Basile continues to be one of the most explosive all-around players in the Shore, while Southern will look to get the ball in the hands of junior playmaker Mike Gesicki against the Mustangs. Brick Memorial’s division title hopes are still alive and well, so it has to have this game to set up an eventual showdown with Lacey on Nov. 2. Conversely, if the Mustangs lose this one, they are probably gone from the top 10, so they don’t want the steam to come out of a great start. They will need to bring it because Southern is in desperation mode, and beating a team with its back against the wall is never easy. The pick: Brick Memorial.

South Brunswick (5-1) at Middletown North (1-4), 7 p.m.: I would deem it completely acceptable for a member of Middletown North to pour a hot coffee down the back of the computer that did the Shore Conference scheduling this year. The Lions were given a slate that would have broken 90 percent of the teams in the Shore. If you look at the current power points leaders in Central Jersey V, in order it’s South Brunswick, Brick Memorial, Old Bridge and Manalapan. Middletown North will have now played them all, in addition to undefeated Colts Neck. That is a sadistic schedule. The Lions are coming off their first win, 27-13 over Marlboro, so they do have some confidence, but this Vikings team looks to be too much to overcome. The pick: South Brunswick.

Colonia (6-0) at Raritan (0-6), 7 p.m.: Raritan’s rough schedule continues with unbeaten Colonia. The Rockets have made some changes offensively and defensively and were battling unbeaten Rumson-Fair Haven for a half last week before the Bulldogs pulled away. Still, you look at those records and the pick is obvious. The pick: Colonia.

Manasquan (2-4, 2-2) at Holmdel (3-3, 1-2), 7 p.m.: This game is very important as far as these teams’ playoff hopes are considered. Someone’s season is going to swing on this game. Manasquan comes in off a workmanlike win over Monmouth, while Holmdel took it on the chin from No. 1 Red Bank Catholic last week. Manasquan’s offense, led by junior running back Joe Murphy, seems to be really coming around, while the defense had a good bounceback effort last week. Holmdel’s defense has been fairly solid outside of some games against undefeated teams, so Manasquan will have to make at least a few plays in the air to move the ball effectively in this one. Holmdel quarterback Rob Cantelli has been the franchise for the Hornets, and he is going to have to have a big all-around game to pull this one out. This is the definition of a toss-up game, so I tossed the coin in the air and….The pick: Manasquan.

Monsignor Donovan (4-1) at No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven (5-0), 7 p.m.: This is a good nondivisional matchup. Monsignor Donovan has won four straight and is in first place in Class B South, while the Bulldogs continue to put up win after win. The Griffins will be looking for some respect in this game, as their one loss was a 40-point blowout at the hands of a St. John Vianney team that Rumson beat 35-13. Monsignor Donovan is out to show it’s a different team than the one in the opener behind the strong running tandem of senior Grant Klimek and junior quarterback Vincent Grasso. Senior running back/linebacker Travis Clark has raised his game on both sides of the ball for Rumson, while senior Danny Roberto has been one of the Shore Conference’s top quarterbacks as expected. I see Rumson playing good assignment football against the option on defense and putting together enough drives on offense to remain unbeaten. The pick: Rumson-Fair Haven.

Toms River South (2-3, 2-2) at Toms River East (1-5, 0-4), 7 p.m.: This game will be live on the radio on 105.7 “The Hawk’’ f.m. and streamed online at Toms River South has an 18-game losing streak against fellow schools Toms River North and Toms River East, and I think it ends here. The Indians’ rushing attack is really coming around behind Otis Kearney and Khaleel Greene, and sophomore Tymere Berry is a playmaker. Plus, the Indians’ defense looks much improved as well. Toms River East just lost to previously winless Brick, but the Raiders’ offense has been very solid the last three weeks. I just think Toms River South’s program is on the rise. The pick: Toms River South.

Pinelands (0-6, 0-4) at Jackson Liberty (3-2, 2-2), 7 p.m.: This is a chance for Jackson Liberty to regroup after two straight losses and get its offense back on track. The Lions still have a shot at their first state playoff berth ever, so it needs to start here against a team that has now lost 18 in a row. The pick: Jackson Liberty.

Barnegat (3-2, 3-1) at Point Boro (4-2, 3-1), 7 p.m.: A nice little rivalry is developing between these two teams, and both of them need this win to at least keep some hope alive for a share of the division title. The game is also crucial as far as a state playoff berth is concerned for both teams. These squads are just punch-you-in-the-mouth running teams at this point, so whichever offensive line asserts its will should decide this one. Point Boro has senior fullback Ryan Prout back in the fold after a strong performance in a win over Manchester last week following some time missed with a high ankle sprain. Barnegat is still breaking in sophomore quarterback Cinjun Erskine, who led the team in rushing in a 16-7 win over Central last week. Both defenses have been pretty solid against the run, so given the weather and the fact that Point Boro has a grass field, this should just be a slugfest in the mud. I never have any idea what I’m doing when I try to pick B South games, so coin flip and ….The pick: Barnegat.

Mater Dei Prep (0-6, 0-4) at Shore (4-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.: Shore is coming off its bye and will use this game to start its final push toward division and state titles. If you look at five of the top six teams in power points in Central Jersey Group I, they are all from Class B Central, so it’s a tough division to be struggling in like the Seraphs have done. The pick: Shore.

Saturday’s Games

Matawan (4-1, 3-1) at Red Bank (1-4, 1-2), noon: This game just got a whole lot more interesting after Red Bank’s stunner over Neptune last week. Was it a fluke, or have the Bucs woken up? This game will tell. Red Bank is practically in a playoff game every week right now as far as its postseason hopes are concerned, while Matawan is looking to cement its place in the postseason. Junior quarterback Kashaun Barnes has been the catalyst on offense, while the defense continues to play well as it showed in a 21-7 win over Wall last week. Red Bank beat Matawan last year, so the Huskies have a score to settle, but Red Bank also has the confidence that it can take this team out. Plus, if Red Bank’s field is a sloppy mess from this rain, it could negate any speed advantage Matawan might have. I guess I need one more game to really believe that this Bucs team has transformed itself. The pick: Matawan.

Asbury Park (3-2) at Metuchen (3-3), 1 p.m.: Two evenly-matched teams meet up in a game Asbury Park needs to help secure its spot in Central Jersey Group I, where it is the defending champion. The Blue Bishops have looked like a middle-of-the-pack team so far, but they also have seen the two best teams in CJ I, Point Beach and Shore, so Metuchen is not going to scare them. Asbury Park is coming off a lop-sided win over Mater Dei Prep, and this is a chance to show that its offense is starting to come along well enough that maybe a possible rematch with Shore or Point Beach could be different. The most explosive player has been junior Daquane Bland-Bennett, who leads a deep running back corps that also includes all-around talent Shaheim Tillman and Tyquis Davis as well as quarterback Robert Barksdale. The pick: Asbury Park.

Jackson Memorial (1-4, 1-3) at No. 3 Lacey (6-0, 4-0), 1 p.m.: Lacey is in sole possession of first place in Class A South after the win over Southern, and it doesn’t plan on giving that spot up. Jackson Memorial has struggled to score for a majority of the season, including a 12-7 loss to Toms River South last week, while Lacey has blown up just about every defense it has faced. That will make it hard for the Jaguars to keep up with the home team in this one. The pick: Lacey.

No. 2 Manalapan (5-0, 3-0) at No. 9 Colts Neck (5-0, 2-0), 1 p.m.: This is the biggest game of the weekend in the Shore Conference. Manalapan can all but mathematically wrap up a school-record third straight Class A North title with a win here, while Colts Neck looks to send a shockwave across the state and put itself in position to make a run at the division title with Middletown South still lurking on the schedule. After a slow start, Manalapan’s running game, i.e., junior Tyler Leonetti, has really taken off in recent weeks. Add that to a lethal passing game behind senior quarterback Mike Isabella and his twin rocket launchers, receivers Anthony Firkser and Saeed Blacknall, and you have a scary offense. However, Colts Neck’s defense has been  one of the Shore’s best, only allowing more than seven points in one game this season. This will be a test of Colts Neck’s pass rush and the ability of its corners to cover. If the Cougars can get to Isabella, this game will get awfully interesting. On the other side of the ball, Manalapan’s defense has been susceptible to the run. Don’t forget that Middletown South’s Jake Ripnick put 240 yards rushing on this Braves’ unit. Colts Neck has its own pounding running back in junior Anthony Gargiulo. If they can establish him, then they can use that to keep Manalapan’s offense off the field. Plus, senior quarterback Mike Campbell and senior wideout Tim Vangelas are a dangerous combination who can sting teams downfield if they cheat toward the line of scrimmage too much. I don’t have the guts to pick Colts Neck because Manalapan has too many players who can change the game on one play, but I could see the Cougars giving the Braves a battle to the end. One thing Colts Neck has to do better is take care of the ball. They can’t lose four fumbles like they did against St. John Vianney last week and think that won’t come back to haunt them. The pick: Manalapan.

No. 7 Middletown South (4-1, 2-1) at Marlboro (2-3, 2-2), 1 p.m.: This one looks pretty straightforward. Middletown South will handle its business, probably with Eli Smith making some spectacular plays and Kyle Brey continuing to be efficient at quarterback while the defense eats up Marlboro’s running game. Then it will be on to one of the most-anticipated showdowns of the season against No. 1 Red Bank Catholic at The Swamp next week. The pick: Middletown South.

Point Beach (6-0) at Highland Park (0-6), 3 p.m.: Hide the women and children, Highland Park. The pick: Point Beach.

Central (2-3, 1-3) at Lakewood (4-1, 3-1), 1 p.m.: Piner Power is back. Tyrice Beverette is healthy, Chapelle Cook is a rising star, the defense has looked hugely improved, and Lakewood is ready to be a state playoff team again. What a remarkable resurrection. The pick: Lakewood.

Keyport (5-1, 1-1) at Keansburg (4-2, 1-1), 1 p.m.: An old-school rivalry with playoff seeding implications, this should be a good one. It’s also a very hard one to pick given the evidence. Keyport rolls in on fire with five straight wins, while Keansburg just got beat by 40 by Point Beach last week. Keyport got blown out by Asbury Park in the opener, while Keansburg lost badly to Point Beach in the major tests for each team. In the common opponent area, Keansburg lost 33-31 to South River, while Keyport just beat South River 42-28 last week for what that’s worth. This is one of those games where the records kind of go out the window, though. I am giving a slide edge to Da Port over Da Burg because Keyport’s defense has been a little better this season and should come up with some stops if this starts to turn into a shootout. Two very solid quarterbacks who are dual threats in this game in Keyport junior Alex Thomson and Keansburg senior Ryan Kurtz. You might need a calculator to do this box score when the smoke clears. The pick: Keyport.

St. John Vianney (2-3, 1-2) at Monmouth (1-4, 1-2), 1:30 p.m.: If St. John Vianney wants a shot at the state playoffs, it needs to have this game. The Lancers need to get the passing game on track after it was stifled in a loss to Colts Neck last week, while Monmouth is still struggling to find consistent scoring. The pick: St. John Vianney.

Freehold (1-3, 1-1) at Neptune (4-2, 3-1), 2 p.m.: Neptune is reeling from two straight losses and faces a Freehold team that gave Long Branch a good battle for a half last week. Freehold’s offense has struggled to score against quality competition all season, but nothing is guaranteed for Neptune at this point after a stunning loss to Red Bank last week. This is the crossroads for Neptune. Either it regroups and gets an explosive offense led by senior quarterback Ajee Patterson going again and does a better job of protecting the ball, or the season starts to go off the rails. The pick: Neptune.




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