Week Five Shore Conference Football Picks
I can't believe we are already to Week Five. That sure went quick, or maybe it's just the selective amnesia that I have employed to put behind several of my picks from the first four weeks.
For a majority of the Shore Conference teams this is the halfway mark of the season. Teams hovering around .500 are soon heading in one direction or the other. There are two pivotal division games this week and one gargantuan nondivisional game between a pair of unbeaten squads, so let's get to it.
Just a reminder that Friday night's big showdown between No. 2 Neptune and No. 5 Brick Memorial will be live on the radio on 105.7 "The Hawk'' f.m. if you can't make it in person.
Last week: 18-4
Pinelands (0-4) at No. 10 Long Branch (3-1), 6 p.m.: Long Branch rolled over Wall last week and I think is really going to start gaining steam, then add Dwight Clark back into the fold, and then be the team that absolutely no one wants a part of when the playoffs hit. The pick: Long Branch.
Sayreville (4-0) at Freehold Township (0-3), 6:30 p.m.: The Bombers are the No. 1 team in the Greater Middlesex Conference and their dominance of the Shore Conference will continue here. The bonus of this game is that assistants from places like Middletown South, Jackson Liberty and Colts Neck won't have to drive far to scout Sayreville for when those teams possibly run into the two-time defending Central Jersey Group IV champions in the playoffs. The pick: Sayreville.
Point Boro (3-1, 2-0) at Msgr. Donovan (2-1, 2-0), 6:30 p.m.: Oh no, it's B South again. The division that just won't die. The gangrene limb on my body of prognosticating work. Point Boro is coming off a 10-point loss to Asbury Park and is hoping to have senior fullback Ryan Prout return from a high ankle sprain, while Monsignor Donovan has had two weeks to prepare because of its bye week. By B South logic, Point Boro will win because it didn't look great last week and the Griffins have had two weeks to prepare and will be picked by many to win, but then again the Griffins already have a win over defending champion Barnegat and they are at home. I could go in circles on this forever. They both run similar offenses so the defenses should have been able to prepare pretty well. Point Boro has a difference-maker in the passing game in senior wideout Kyle McGarry, while Monsignor Donovan usually does all of its damage on the ground. It will probably be decided by a safety in triple overtime at the rate this division is going, but this is for sole possession of first place so it's an important one. The pick: Monsignor Donovan.
No. 2 Neptune (4-0) at No. 5 Brick Memorial (4-0), 7 p.m.: All eyes in the Shore Conference will be on this game. I am not going to go into full depth here because you can ready a full preview story here. Neptune has the longest current winning streak in the Shore at 14 games and is averaging 38 points per game. Brick Memorial is averaging 39 and has routed its first four opponents. Neptune's diversity on offense because of Ajee Patterson's throwing ability will be crucial but he has to limit mistakes as far as interceptions are concerned. Brick Memorial flat-out has to win the battle at the line of scrimmage, particularly on defense, because if Neptune can consistently get into second-and-5, it will be very hard to stop. Brick Memorial wants to force Neptune to grind out drives five yards at a time and get frustrated because it hasn't hit the big play. The Brick Memorial offensive line has to punch Neptune in the mouth because it has to give its skill players room to work. Neptune wants to bottle up Mike Basile and make someone else beat them. All of those tasks are easier said than done. The pick: Neptune.
Howell (0-3) at Toms River East (0-4), 7 p.m.: Someone is walking away from this with a victory. Howell is coming off its bye week and trying to overcome a rash of injuries at quarterback and elsewhere, while Toms River East has showed flashes offensively but has struggled defensively against a difficult schedule. I think the Raiders have shown more signs of offensive ability and junior running back Matt Gudzak could have a big game in this one. The pick: Toms River East.
Asbury Park (2-1, 1-1) at Point Beach (4-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.: This is a fun one, without question. Asbury Park head coach Matt Ardizzone said flat-out last week that he doesn't like this team and they don't like the Bishops, so it should be a fierce battle. The Garnet Gulls are out to show their 4-0 start is for real by beating a team that beat them twice last year, including a 54-6 romp in the Central Jersey Group I finals. This one has been circled on the Point Beach calendar for a while now. Point Beach has to have this game to take a big step toward setting a showdown with Shore on Thanksgiving for the B Central title, with Keansburg and Keyport still lurking out there as well. Meanwhile, Asbury Park has to get this game to still have a shot a division title if Point Beach or someone else can find a way to beat Shore. This game also has big seeding implications in Central Jersey Group I, where Asbury Park is the defending champion. Asbury Park's run defense has been pretty solid this year, and to stop Point Beach, you have to stop the three-headed monster of Kyle Samaritano, Andre Cochran and Danny Tighe. The Blue Bishops' passing game has come around a little bit and will also need to make plays behind Rob Barksdale. This is going to be an all-out dogfight. I think the Blue Bishops will find a way by hitting just enough big plays to pull this one out. The pick: Asbury Park.
Brick (0-4) at Wall (1-3), 7 p.m.: The Wall state championship teams from 1982 and 2002 will be honored at halftime of this game, so the Crimson Knights will want to put on a show for some of their greats. The Crimson Knights are coming off a 38-7 loss to Long Branch, while Brick fought Southern in a 19-7 loss and is still searching for its first win. Brick is a young team that is taking its lumps but has shown some improvement. Wall has a win over Red Bank and battled Freehold to the final minutes two weeks ago. All those newcomers for the Crimson Knights are practically veterans with four games under their belts now. I think Wall will run the ball effectively and make enough plays in the air to make a celebration of its great past a success. The pick: Wall.
Middletown North (0-3) at Old Bridge (2-2), 7 p.m.: People talk about how hard the first four games were for Raritan, but how about Middletown North's opening gauntlet? Brick Memorial, Manalapan, Colts Neck and now Old Bridge. Combined record: 14-2. Old Bridge beat Piscataway earlier this season, which is always a legitimate win, and its only losses are to perennial power Sayreville and a tough South Brunswick team. Unfortunately, I don't think things will get any easier for the visiting Lions. The pick: Old Bridge.
Manasquan (1-3) at No. 8 Middletown South (2-1), 7 p.m.: Both teams are recovering from gut-wrenching losses in games they led in the fourth quarter. Middletown South lost 35-31 in a battle with No. 3 Manalapan, while Manasquan was stunned 39-35 by St. John Vianney after leading 35-6 at one point in the first half. Manasquan actually matches up pretty well with the Eagles, so the Warriors have a shot to pull this off. Middletown South can make plays in the air behind junior quarterback Kyle Brey, who threw two touchdown passes last week, but its passing attack is not nearly as high-octane as the one at St. John Vianney. It's all about establishing senior Jake Ripnick in the running game for Middletown South and letting that open everything else up. Manasquan has put up 81 points combined in the last two weeks, so its offense comes in playing solid football, although it was shut out in the second half by St. John Vianney. The running attack of Joe Murphy and Joe Fittin is solid, and Connor Grogan can score from anywhere. A fun subplot in this game is that longtime Manasquan assistant Rich Read and his son, former Warriors quarterback R.J. Read, are now assistants at Middletown South. With Middletown South being able to really focus on stopping the run defensively, I see the Eagles taking this one. Plus, when is the last time they lost two in a row at The Swamp? Approximately never. The pick: Middletown South.
Freehold (1-2) at No. 1 Red Bank Catholic (4-0), 7 p.m.: A quick reminder for all RBC and Freehold fans that the Caseys now stream all of their games live online at rbcsports.com, so make sure to check that out if you can't make the game. Freehold is coming off its bye week, while RBC continues to smash everything in its path. It should be more of the same for the Caseys this week. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.
Shore (3-1) at Holmdel (3-1), 7 p.m.: This is quietly one of the more fun games of the weekend. It won't get the attention of Neptune-Brick Memorial and some of the other divisional throwdowns, but it should be a physical game. It's the Matt Muh Bowl, as Shore Regional's junior quarterback returns to Holmdel, where he played his first two years of high school football and started as a sophomore before transferring to Shore before the end of last season. These teams are built around stingy defenses and power running games, so they are fairly similar in their approaches. They want to hit you in the mouth with the running game, and win the battle at the line on defense. I am giving the edge to Shore because its defense has been one of the more underrated in the Shore Conference this year, and I was impressed when I saw that unit in person. This also would be a nice power-point haul for Shore as it tries to win its second Central Jersey Group I title in the last three years. The pick: Shore.
Keansburg (3-1) at Highland Park (0-4), 7 p.m.: Highland Park just lost 41-14 to a Spotswood team that Keansburg beat 48-35. I was no math major at Northwestern. In fact, I took a class that was affectionately known as "math for trees.'' Yet this pick seems to make good mathematical sense. I think the real thing everyone is wondering is whether this Titans team has a chance to break up the three-way race at the top of Class B Central between Point Beach, Asbury Park and Shore. The pick: Keansburg.
Ocean (2-2) at Red Bank (0-3), 2:30 p.m.: Ocean got its offense cranked up and the defense looked good in a 31-8 win over JFK-Iselin. Red Bank's defense played its butt off, but the offense continued to struggle in a 9-3 loss to Rumson-Fair Haven last week. Ocean should have enough offensive weapons to get it done, and it will be interesting to see how freshman sensation Tyler Thompson does running the ball against a pretty good front seven. The pick: Ocean.
Raritan (0-4, 0-2) at Monmouth (0-3, 0-1), 2 p.m.: Just like the Howell-Toms River East game, someone is finally breaking into the win column. Raritan has already played No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, No. 2 Neptune, unbeaten Carteret and Manasquan. Monmouth has been searching for offense most of the season, while Raritan's defense has given up 40 or more points in every game. I can't really get a feel for this game because neither of these teams has particularly shown many flashes of what they can do yet. I'll go with the team that has a proud tradition and will try to get back on track after a tough schedule. The pick: Raritan.
Manchester (0-4) at No. 4 Lacey (4-0), 2:30 p.m.: This one is pretty much an open-and-shut case as the Lions will look to keep the momentum going into a big Class A South showdown at home against Southern in Week Six. The pick: Lacey.
Keyport (3-1, 0-1) at Mater Dei Prep (0-4, 0-2), 2:30 p.m.: There does not look to be a whole lot of suspense in this one. Keyport is on a roll with three straight wins and junior quarterback Alex Thomson is coming off a school-record 360 yards passing in a win over Middlesex. The pick: Keyport.