Week Nine Shore Conference Football Picks
This is a week where I wish I could pick every team to win.
After so much devastation, so many lives thrown into a tailspin and homes destroyed, it’s time to play football again. Every coach I have spoken with has talked about a return to normalcy, but this week should be anything but normal with the emotion and stories of families surrounding every game in the Shore.
This is a week where players will be picking each other up after a hard collision, looking in the other one’s eyes and giving that slight nod of “I know. I know what you’re going through because the same thing happened to my family and friends.” I’m sure the total money of donations from this weekend by fans at the games will be staggering, and that’s what it will take to rebuild our area. Every game will either be waiving the admission fee and taking donations instead, or taking the gate receipts and donating them to hurricane relief.
This is a week where football won’t be teaching lessons about life. Instead, it will be the opposite. Life is teaching players about real adversity, real hardship. About how to get out of bed in the morning in some place other than your home and find the resolve to pick up the pieces and moved forward. If you can do that, you damn well sure can come back after getting beat for a touchdown or missing a tackle or dropping a pass.
That also makes trying to pick these games nearly impossible. Will a long layoff cool off a hot team while giving a struggling team time to regroup? Will some players’ minds just not be into the game because of personal hardship? Will winning not seem like much of a priority given the real issues in devastated communities? It’s hard to guess.
Finally, if we are truly going to have a return to normalcy, I might as well do my small part and offer up my erroneous football picks. I wrote them while listening to Metallica’s “Broken, Beat and Scarred,’’ which should be the new Jersey Shore anthem as far as I’m concerned. “You rise, you fall, you’re down and you rise again….”
Good luck to all the teams this week and hopefully this will be a couple hours of fun amidst the hard work of rebuilding.
Red Bank (2-5) at Barnegat (4-3), 7 p.m.: This is a tough one to pick because Barnegat looks like it will most likely get the No. 3 seed in South Jersey Group III win or lose. Meanwhile, Red Bank is out of the playoff race and just trying to make a push to finish .500 with three straight wins to end the season. Barnegat needs this game just to get back into football mode with the playoffs looming a week later. This is an interesting game to assess the relative strengths of Class B North and Class B South. I feel like Red Bank’s seniors are on a mission to finish strong, and if the Bucs are capable of beating Neptune and pushing Matawan to double overtime, they should be able to find a way on the road against the Bengals. Class B South has done very poorly outside of the division this year, so we’ll see if that trend continues or not. The pick: Red Bank.
Marlboro (3-4) at Edison (3-4), 7 p.m.: This is the biggest game for Marlboro in 13 years. The last time the Mustangs qualified for the state playoffs was 1999, and they only have two state playoff appearances in their history. A win here puts them right there in the mix to grab the final seed in Central Jersey Group V. Edison is also fighting for a berth in North II, Group V so this should be a hard-fought game. Marlboro beat Perth Amboy in its last game to set this one up, and the Mustangs’ defense has been much improved this season. Edison started the season with a Piscataway-Sayreville-South Brunswick trifecta that would have left most teams 0-3 before fighting back into contention. I usually am completely heartless in my picks, but I am going for the homer pick in this one. Let’s see if the Mustangs can make it happen. The pick: Marlboro.
St. John Vianney (4-3, 3-2) at Raritan (0-7, 0-4), 10 a.m.: St. John Vianney is gearing up for its first state playoff appearance since 2006, while Raritan would love nothing more than to get its first win at the expense of a fierce rival. There are several former Raritan players on the St. John Vianney coaching staff, and the two teams worked together on relief efforts in the aftermath of the storm, so there is some camaraderie there. The Raritan defense has been improved in the second half of the season, while St. John Vianney has had time to get some banged-up players some rest and get ready for the postseason. Raritan’s offense has struggled mightily, while the St. John Vianney passing attack has been up to put up points on most teams. This game was an all-out shootout last season, but I think the Lancers have more offensively this year to get it done. I’m sure Lancers senior wideout Ishmael Hyman would love to put on a show just to give an earful to his cousin, former Raritan star Bennett Jackson, who is a starting defensive back for undefeated Notre Dame. The pick: St. John Vianney.
Shore (6-1, 3-0) at Keyport (6-2, 2-2), noon: There will be plenty of emotion in this one. The towns in the sending districts for both schools were among the hardest hit of any on the Shore. This game is meaningless for Keyport in the playoff sense because it’s the Red Raiders’ ninth game and doesn’t count toward playoff seeding, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be going all out. For Shore, the Blue Devils are trying to secure a top-two seed and two home games in Central Jersey Group I with a win. They also need this game to set up a winner-take-all meeting with Point Beach on Thanksgiving for the Class B Central title. All season, it has seemed like Shore and Point Beach will slug it out for division and state titles, and I think it stays that way. The pick: Shore.
Freehold Township (1-6, 1-4) at Middletown North (2-5, 2-2), 1 p.m.: The site of this game was switched to Middletown North after Freehold Township and its grass field got hit with a foot of snow from the nor’easter to add insult to injury from the hurricane. Middletown North has had plenty of students in the Bayshore area deal with tough times from Sandy, so there will certainly be some emotion on the Lions’ side. The Lions’ offense has improved as the season has progressed, while the defense has been solid. This is a pride game for these teams. This is about seeing who is still willing to put in the effort when neither team is going to the playoffs. The pick: Middletown North.
Toms River North (4-3, 3-2) at Toms River South (4-3, 4-2), 1 p.m.: This is the most highly-anticipated version of the “The Civil War’’ in a decade. Toms River South has not beaten North since 2001, but has a real chance to do it here. There are a million subplots in this game and the stakes are high – the Mariners have to have this game to guarantee a spot in South Jersey Group V, while Toms River South could get a home game in South Jersey Group IV with a win for its first playoff appearance since 2006. For the Indians, this would be a remarkable turnaround after going winless only two seasons ago. Plus, you have many families in Toms River who were greatly affected by the storm, so there will be even more emotion on top of the usual high amount. Also, Toms River South was on fire before the hurricane derailed the momentum, so it remains to be seen if the Indians can regain it. Meanwhile, Toms River North was struggling but has now had a chance to regroup and save its season. Both teams have young and dynamic skill players. A big X-factor could be Toms River North star kicker Chris Gulla in a close game. Detwiler Stadium will be going bananas. I think the Indians will stay on a roll and find a way with a big-play offense led by Tymere Berry and Otis Kearney in front of a roaring home crowd. The pick: Toms River South.
Toms River East (1-6, 0-5) at Southern (5-2, 4-2), 1 p.m.: Considering the devastation of Seaside Heights (Toms River East) and Long Beach Island (Southern), there will be a lot of bonding between both sides just given what certain players and families have endured. This also is Senior Day for Southern’s large and talented senior class, so it will be emotional for that group. The Rams are headed to the South Jersey Group V playoffs, while the Raiders are playing out the string. Southern’s seniors will be fueled by emotion, and the balance of the running game with Abe Gonzalez, a big-play passing game led by quarterback Dan Higgins, and a stingy defense led by Nick Munafo, the Rams should give their fans some comfort after a rough two weeks. The pick: Southern.
Rumson-Fair Haven (7-0, 4-0) at Manasquan (3-4, 3-2), 1 p.m.: This will be yet another highly-charged atmosphere with both of these teams having endured a host of hardship from the storm. There are still players missing on both sides who have been displaced and have houses that are ruined. Rumson will look to secure a top-three seed in Central Jersey Group II and remain unbeaten, while Manasquan has to win this game to qualify in Central Jersey Group III. It also should be a mud bath now that Vic Kubu Warrior Field just had a bunch of snow dumped on it from the nor’easter. Manasquan often has the magic in these types of games, finding a way as the underdog under adverse circumstances on their home field. I just think Rumson’s defense is tough enough to carry the Bulldogs in this game. Offensive execution is going to be an issue for all teams this weekend just because of the layoff and the lack of practice time to prepare, so defenses will have to carry the day. Rumson’s, led by senior linebacker Travis Clark, is equipped to do just that. The pick: Rumson-Fair Haven.
Lacey (8-0, 6-0) at Brick Memorial (5-3, 3-3), 1 p.m.: A few weeks into the season, I thought this game was going to be an absolutely huge showdown for a division title. Now it’s essentially a meaningless pick-up game to get both teams back in the swing of things before the state playoffs. This is the ninth game for both teams, so it doesn’t count toward the playoff seeding. Lacey locked up the outright Class A South title by beating Brick on the final play in its last game, so there are no division implications in this either. Both schools have plenty of families who suffered losses during the storm, so this will be a welcome break from a grim reality. For Lacey, it’s all about staying undefeated and getting sophomore quarterback Conor Davies settled in his second start since replacing injured starter Tom Kelly in order to get the Lions ready to make a serious push in South Jersey Group IV as the No. 2 seed. For Brick Memorial, this is a chance to regroup and fix a run defense that has been trampled in the past few games before the Mustangs try to do their patented Cinderella run on the road in Central Jersey Group V. Both teams could end up holding key guys out to avoid any injuries before the postseason, which adds another wrinkle. I have absolutely no feel for this game so I will just go with the favorite. The pick: Lacey.
Mater Dei Prep (1-7) at Spotswood (3-5), 1 p.m.: I’m trying to use logic here, which is always a dangerous thing, but Mater Dei just beat Metuchen 32-7 for its first win and Metuchen beat Spotswood earlier this season. However, Spotswood beat Cardinal McCarrick 62-8 after that team beat Mater Dei earlier this season. So that puts me back to the drawing board on this one. In the wonderful new playoff world that we live in, Mater Dei is a possible state playoff team in Non-Public Group I, which only has 10 total teams and takes eight to fill out a full bracket. The Seraphs have players and coaches who live in the Bayshore towns that were walloped by the hurricane, so there will be emotion to get this win for them. Let’s see if the Seraphs can ride that to victory. The pick: Mater Dei Prep.
Point Boro (5-3, 4-2) at Lakewood (5-2, 4-2), 1 p.m.: This is Point Boro’s ninth game and doesn’t count toward playoff seeding, while Lakewood is trying to improve its playoff position in Central Jersey Group III for its first postseason appearance in 10 years. As we know, this is B South. So it will probably be a touchdown or less that decides this one and it could possibly go to overtime. Point Boro is in a town adversely affected by the hurricane, so the Panthers will come out fired up. Lakewood is trying to bounce back from a loss and regain momentum for the state playoffs. Lakewood’s defense is much improved, while Point Boro’s offense has been up and down this season. It’s rare in this division that any team outside of Monsignor Donovan wins two division games in a row or loses two division games in a row, but one of these teams is taking a second straight divisional loss. This is another game that I just have no idea what could happen. The pick: Lakewood.
Wall (2-4-1, 1-3-1) at Neptune (5-2, 4-1), 1 p.m.: Neptune can clinch no worse than a tie for the Class B North title, its first division title since 1998, by beating the Crimson Knights in this one. Neptune still has some players missing since the storm, so we’ll see if that has an effect. Wall played a wild, 29-29 tie with Ocean in its last game. Neptune needs this one to solidify a home game in Central Jersey Group III, where it is the defending champion. Senior quarterback Ajee Patterson and a swarming defense should be enough to take care of business. The pick: Neptune.
Monmouth (1-6, 1-4) at Red Bank Catholic (7-0, 4-0), 6 p.m.: This game could possibly be moved to Sunday depending on the condition of RBC’s home field, where the visiting bleachers were launched on to the artificial turf by the storm. The game is essentially a formality, as the No. 1 Caseys look for their 22nd straight win against Shore Conference competition and also look to secure a first-round home game in Non-Public Group III. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.
Jackson Liberty (5-2, 4-2) at Monsignor Donovan (5-2, 5-0), 6:30 p.m.: This game will be live on the radio on 1160/1310 a.m. and streamed live on shoresportsnetwork.com. The host Griffins can clinch the outright Class B South title after having already earned a share of their first division crown since 1993. Jackson Liberty has already secured its first state playoff berth in school history and could use this to make a jump up in the seeding. Monsignor Donovan has been unbeatable inside the division, but the Lions present a real challenge with a dynamic athlete, sophomore Matt Castronuova, now a major running threat at quarterback after moving from wideout. Mon Don counters with the 1-2 punch of Vinny Grasso and Grant Klimek on the ground. The one sure thing in Class B South this year has been Monsignor Donovan finding a way, so I will stick with the Griffins at home. The pick: Monsignor Donovan.
Howell (0-7, 0-4) at Manalapan (7-0, 4-0), 7 p.m. at Old Bridge High School.: The nor’easter whacked these two areas pretty good on top of the hurricane, so practice time hasn’t been the easiest thing to come by. The main thing here is Manalapan guaranteeing itself the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group V and getting the ball rolling again as it tries to win its first state sectional title in school history. The Braves were on fire before the storm hit, so this is a game to work out any kinks from the layoff and get ready to make school history. The pick: Manalapan.
Freehold (1-6, 1-4) at Ocean (3-3-1, 1-3-1), 10 a.m.: Ocean still has an outside shot at a state playoff berth, so there is more incentive for the Spartans in this one. Freehold has struggled to put any points on the board and has not scored more than 17 points in any game this season, so Ocean should get it done here to at least give itself a chance. The pick: Ocean.
New Brunswick (1-7) at Matawan (5-2), noon: The Huskies look to gain some steam as they head into the state playoffs by taking care of the Zebras in this one. Matawan, Aberdeen and Cliffwood Beach were all quietly wrecked by the storm as well, with long power outages and other damages, so the Huskies are just trying to pull everything back together for a playoff run. The pick: Matawan.
Middletown South (5-2, 3-1) at Colts Neck (6-1, 3-1), 1 p.m.: This is the only game this weekend featuring a pair of Top 10 teams squaring off. The winner will slingshot upward in the Central Jersey Group IV power-point standings and most likely secure at least a first-round home game. If I’m not mistaken, Colts Neck has never beaten Middletown South, so there is that incentive for the Cougars as well. Both of these teams like to pound away with the run game, Jake Ripnick for the Eagles and Anthony Gargiulo for the Cougars, and then set up shots downfield for quarterbacks Kyle Brey and Mike Campbell. Both teams pushed undefeated Manalapan to the brink in suffering close losses, so they are comparable in that aspect. Colts Neck has the most dangerous receiving in the game in senior wideout Tim Vangelas, who seems good for at least one touchdown per game down the field. I think Colts Neck can pull this off as long as it takes care of the ball and what should be a sloppy field because of the recent snow. The pick: Colts Neck.
Manchester (1-6, 1-4) at Central (2-5, 1-5), 1 p.m.: Central has had plenty of players and families devastated by the storm, so it will be playing with a ton of emotion. Manchester just got a foot of snow on top of the damage already inflicted by the storm, so the preparation time for both of these teams has been limited. Central is 1-5 in its last six games, while Manchester is coming off its first win. Again, this is a game that is hard to figure out, especially with the unorthodox Sunday date. The pick: Central.
Brick (2-6, 2-4) at Jackson Memorial (1-6, 1-5), 3 p.m.: This used to be a pretty titanic showdown in the not-too-distant past, but this season it’s just two teams playing out the string. Brick has been much improved, beating Toms River North and taking undefeated Lacey to the final play before losing 6-3. I will give the Green Dragons the edge because of their late-season showing. The pick: Brick.