Week Six Shore Conference Football Picks
No two ways around it, I screwed up two of the top games last week.
Brick Memorial showed us that’s why you play the games when it took down Neptune and its 14-game winning streak with a 40-28 nondivisional win to send a shockwave through the Shore Conference. Also, I should’ve never doubted that this may be the best team that Point Beach has ever had, as the Garnet Gulls rolled over Asbury Park 54-20 for a statement win in Class B Central.
As the saying goes, “There’s always next week.” Week Six has arrived, and with it a pair of great match-ups in the best division race in the Shore. No. 2 Brick Memorial travels to No. 7 Toms River North on Friday night, and then No. 4 Lacey goes to No. 9 Southern on Saturday in two Class A South showdowns.
Also, a quick reminder that Friday night’s Barnegat at Central game will be live on the radio on 105.7 “The Hawk” f.m. and streamed online at 1057thehawk.com. It marks the debut of Holy Spirit transfer Cinjun Erskine at quarterback for the Bengals.
Last week: 13-3
Msgr. Donovan (3-1, 3-0) at Pinelands (0-5, 0-3), 7 p.m.: A rare Thursday-night matchup should see the first-place Griffins keep it rolling atop Class B South. Monsignor Donovan has won three straight and looks to get one step closer to its first division title since 1993. The pick: Monsignor Donovan.
No. 2 Brick Memorial (5-0, 3-0) at No. 7 Toms River North (3-1, 2-1), 7 p.m.: This is the biggest game in the Shore Conference this weekend, with major implications in the division race, power-point seeding for the state playoffs and the top 10. Brick Memorial is clearly flying high after a 40-28 win over Neptune last week and has an offense that has ringing people up for 39 points per game. Toms River North has to have this game if it wants a shot at the Class A South title, while this is another key step for Brick Memorial. Given the offenses of these two teams, this game could escalate into an all-out shootout. The added passing dimension Brick Memorial has in addition to the option makes the Mustangs so tough to defend. The Mustangs have six players who have to be accounted for in quarterback Ryan Cieplenski, fullback Nick Costa, running back/wideout Mike Basile, wideouts Joe Hans and Karl Kumm and slotback Cody Pinho. Not a lot of teams can say that. Toms River North has explosive speed in juniors Joey Fields and Kyle Carrington and senior Damien Singleton plus quarterback Carmen Sclafani, but it won’t be anything faster than what Brick Memorial saw last week. The Mustangs’ defense has been Jekyll and Hyde, giving up easy touchdowns one half and then looking ferocious one half later, so that unit is hard to figure out at times. Will Brick Memorial have a letdown or just cement its status as a team that could go 12-0 for the first time in program history? We’ll see, but the Mustangs have definitely earned the respect of being picked in this one. The pick: Brick Memorial.
Toms River South (1-3, 1-2) at Jackson Memorial (1-3, 1-2), 7 p.m.: Another Class A South clash, this pits two teams coming off their bye weeks. This is one of those games to show who will most likely take fifth place behind the top four of Brick Memorial, Lacey, Southern and Toms River North. Toms River South looks like it is only getting better offensively and has shown the ability to hit some big plays on offense. Jackson Memorial has been inconsistent, as the offense looked great against Toms River East, but struggled against a quality Brick Memorial team. This is Toms River South’s chance to show it is improving as a program and ready to move up the pecking order in Class A South, while this is Jackson Memorial’s bid to show that even though it has lost to three Top 10 teams, it still is a solid team this year. The pick: Toms River South.
Toms River East (1-4, 0-3) at Brick (0-5, 0-3), 7 p.m.: Brick is trying to avoid some negative history, as it has never started 0-6. Toms River East is coming in with confidence from a 28-21 win over Howell in a nondivisional game. The Raiders have scored 56 points in the last two weeks, so that area seems to be improving as the season progresses. Conversely, Brick is averaging 7.8 points per game with a young offense and is struggling to get confidence. I think the Raiders make it two in a row. The pick: Toms River East.
St. Joseph-Metuchen (3-2) at Howell (0-4), 6:30 p.m.: The Rebels were right in it with Toms River East last week but fell short in a seven-point loss to leave them still searching for their first victory. This is only St. Joseph-Metuchen’s second varsity season since creating a football program at a school known for its powerhouse basketball squad. The one thing that could swing this game is if Howell starting quarterback John Quinlan makes his debut after suffering a torn MCL in his knee in the preseason. This is a winnable game for Howell, but I can’t quite go out on that limb given what has happened for the Rebels so far. The pick: St. Joseph-Metuchen.
Freehold Township (0-4, 0-2) at No. 8 Middletown South (3-1, 1-1), 7 p.m.: The Eagles are the heavy favorite and will be in front of the faithful at The Swamp, so this one looks pretty straightforward. Jake Ripnick and the offensive line will continue to pound away, Kyle Brey will hit some long passes in play-action and the defense will jam up the running game. The pick: Middletown South.
East Brunswick (1-3) at No. 3 Manalapan (4-0), 7 p.m.: A few years ago, this would have been a whale of a game, but the Bears are not that level of team right now. The Braves are coming off their bye week, ready for the final big push in the race for the top seed in Central Jersey Group V and their third straight Class A North title. They should kick it back into gear in this one with a key Class A North game coming up against Colts Neck next week. The pick: Manalapan.
Marlboro (2-2, 2-1) at Middletown North (0-4, 0-2), 7 p.m.: The definition of a toss-up game. Middletown North has just played four very difficult teams, while Marlboro has its most divisional wins since 1999 already. Marlboro has had two weeks to prepare thanks to the bye. The question is whether the competition level being lessened for Middletown North means a good shot at a win or whether Marlboro is for real considering its two wins are over a pair of teams that are a combined 0-8. I picked against Marlboro when it played Freehold Township and was proven wrong, so we’ll see how the Mustangs handle a vote of confidence to get the win. The pick: Marlboro.
Colts Neck (4-0) at St. John Vianney (2-2), 7 p.m.: I like the match-up in this game. This is the game I will be covering on Friday night because I haven’t seen either team yet, whereas I have already seen Brick Memorial and Toms River North a few times. Is Colts Neck a product of a relatively easy schedule for the first four weeks or will it be a serious threat in the postseason? Is St. John Vianney’s defense up to the task of shutting down a quality opponent? You have a Colts Neck team that will try to wallop St. John Vianney on the ground with Anthony Gargiulo and then have quarterback Michael Campbell go up top to wideout Tim Vangelas. You have a St. John Vianney team that can explode at any time, like it did in rallying from a 29-point point hole to stun Manasquan in its last game. Both teams are coming off their bye weeks and are rested. This comes down to St. John Vianney’s defense rising to the challenge because if Colts Neck can pound them on the ground and bleed the clock with Gargiulo and Co., it keeps the ball out of the Lancers’ hands on offense. The Lancers’ defense can look great one half and get run over the next, so it depends on which one shows up. I will give the home team the tiniest edge because of its offensive ability to stay in the game thanks to quarterback Billy DeMato and his army of wideouts. The winner of this game adds to its case to be considered for a spot in the top 10. The Cougars are currently tied for the Shore’s longest winning streak with six straight victories and have never been 5-0, so obviously I would not be surprised if they controlled this game. We’ll see. The pick: St. John Vianney.
Raritan (0-5, 0-3) at No. 6 Rumson-FH (4-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.: The Rockets are coming off a disappointing 13-10 loss to Monmouth last week, while the Bulldogs had time to rest up some banged-up players in its starting lineup with a bye week. Raritan’s defense moved some personnel around last week and played its best game last week, but Rumson’s offense has been efficient and made plays when it has had to behind senior quarterback Danny Roberto. These teams have had some good battles over the years, but the Bulldogs are the clear favorite. The pick: Rumson-FH.
No. 1 Red Bank Catholic (5-0, 3-0) at Holmdel (3-2, 1-1), 7 p.m.: The Caseys are looking to make it seven straight wins overall and 20 straight wins against Shore Conference competition. Standout junior lineman Quenton Nelson returns to face his old team after transferring from Holmdel before last season. Holmdel’s defense has been tough this season, but RBC’s power running game and depth up front and in the backfield is hard for any team to deal with. The bigger issue is how Holmdel is going to score against the Caseys. RBC has three shutouts in five games this year, so this should be another workmanlike victory for the Caseys with a huge nondivisional game looming on Oct. 26 against Middletown South after their bye week. This is also one of those symbolic games, as RBC is trying to make its sales pitch to the youth stars of Holmdel to come to Casey-ville, while Holmdel is trying to keep its talent home. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.
Barnegat (2-2, 2-1) at Central (2-2, 1-2), 7 p.m.: This is a moment Barnegat fans have been waiting for, as sophomore quarterback Cinjun Erskine makes his debut after sitting out following his transfer from Holy Spirit. The expectations for Erskine might almost be unfair at this point considering how young he is and the fact that this is his first game with Barnegat. I am as guilty as anyone for that, so we’ll see what he can do with a team that has dealt with injuries at key spots, including starting tailback A.J. Opre. Both teams are coming off their bye weeks, and Central looks to continue the offensive momentum from a 40-point victory over winless Pinelands. Barnegat has to have this game if it wants a shot to at least grab a piece of its second straight Class B South title because two games might be too much to make up on Monsignor Donovan. Erskine is the great unknown, but if he even shows flashes of what he will become down the road, that may be enough with Barnegat’s size up front. Still, Central scares me because of its playmaking ability on offense with Javon Hardy and an underrated defense. The pick: Barnegat.
Lakewood (3-1, 2-1) at Jackson Liberty (3-1, 2-1), 7 p.m.: This is a big separation game in Class B South for the right to keep breathing down Monsignor Donovan’s neck in the divisional race. Lakewood is a very unpredictable team because senior star Tyrice Beverette has missed two of four games this year because of various health issues and seems to be a gametime decision every week. If he plays, they are a totally different team. Sophomore Chapelle Cook has emerged as a dynamic playmaker in Beverette’s absence. Without him, they have won two games, but against two teams that are a combined 0-10. Jackson Liberty, with its improved defense, is a whole other animal. The Lions also have had two weeks to prepare because of their bye after a gut-ripping, one-point loss in double overtime to Barnegat. They will be hungry to get back on the field, while Lakewood is looking to knock off a quality opponent to show it is going to be a serious contender for its first division title since 2000. The pick: Jackson Liberty.
Manchester (0-5, 0-3) at Point Boro (3-2, 2-1), 7 p.m.: Point Boro has lost two straight and needs this one to keep its playoff hopes in a good spot. Manchester is young and rebuilding, and the Hawks lost 54-0 to No. 4 Lacey last week. Point Boro needs its offense to get some confidence after sputtering the past two weeks, so the Panthers will try to get the running game cranked up again and right the ship. The pick: Point Boro.
Keansburg (4-1, 1-0) at Point Beach (5-0, 2-0), 7 p.m.: Keansburg has taken a big jump forward this season, but this is the game where we will see if the Titans are a legitimate contender in Class B Central or just another team about to get run over by the Garnet Gulls. It will be interesting to see how prolific Keansburg quarterback Ryan Kurtz will do against a Point Beach defense that has taken people apart. Point Beach enters averaging 45.8 points per game, while Keansburg is giving up 25.6 per game. I don’t know why I’m trying to analyze this in depth. After the beatdown that Point Beach put on Asbury Park last week, the Garnet Gulls are the favorite in every game leading up to their showdown with Shore Regional on Thanksgiving. This has the makings of the best Point Beach season ever and the culmination of an incredible turnaround under coach John Wagner. The pick: Point Beach.
Mater Dei Prep (0-5, 0-3) at Asbury Park (2-2, 1-2), noon: Asbury Park is not going to be in a good mood after losing by 34 points to Point Beach last week, and Mater Dei will have to bear the brunt of that. The pick: Asbury Park.
No. 4 Lacey (5-0, 3-0) at No. 9 Southern (3-1, 2-1), 1 p.m.: So crazy what a difference half a season makes. I ranked Lacey in the top five in the preseason and had people saying I had way overrated the Lions. Meanwhile, Southern entered as the favorite in Class A South. The Rams lost one 17-14 game to Toms River North on a 45-yard field goal late in the game, and somehow that turned Southern into an underdog in people’s minds. Meanwhile, Lacey is detonating teams at 46.6 points per game and Brick Memorial is also unbeaten, making those two teams the favorites to square off for the division title. Southern is coming off its bye week and will be fired up on homecoming, while Lacey beat Manchester 54-0 last week and has not been stopped by anyone. I picked Southern to win this division in the preseason, but Lacey just has been so impressive. I thought the Lions were good in the preseason, and they have been even better than I thought so far. This is a good spot for Southern, though. The Rams seem to do better when they are counted out rather than when the pressure is on them. My main question is whether Southern’s offense can keep up if Lacey jumps out to an early lead or whether Southern’s defense can put a lid on the explosive Lacey group that has one playmaker after another in quarterback Tom Kelly, tailback Kyle Spatz, do-it-all junior Christian Tutela, wideout Bill Belford, and more. Southern will try to smash Lacey with the run game and Abe Gonzalez and then see if wideout Mike Gesicki can make some big plays in the passing game. The pick: Lacey.
Monmouth (1-3, 1-1) at Manasquan (1-4, 1-2), 1 p.m.: The thought of Manasquan going 1-5 is hard to fathom. The Warriors have played a difficult schedule, with three of their losses coming against top 10 teams. Monmouth enters with confidence after a 13-10 comeback win over Raritan, a team Manasquan beat 42-17 for its lone win. Manasquan always plays well at home and should end a two-game skid here. The pick: Manasquan.
No. 10 Long Branch (4-1, 1-1) at Freehold (1-3, 1-1), 1 p.m.: Freehold’s defense has been underrated, but this Long Branch ground game is just nasty. The Green Wave are big up front and have a great 1-2 punch in Joscil Jackson and Deon Williams. Long Branch will look to continue to gain steam on its way into the Central Jersey Group III playoffs, where it looks to be a prime contender, especially when star tailback Dwight Clark returns from an ankle injury. The pick: Long Branch.
Keyport (4-1) at South River (3-2), 1 p.m.: This is an interesting game. Keyport has won four straight, while South River has lost two straight, but South River has handed Keansburg its only loss, so the Rams are no pushover and are tough at home. The games between these teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s were epic showdowns, usually with a state title or a trip to the state final in the balance. I vividly remember a grandmother in a South River sweatshirt missing about four teeth and f-bombing the daylights out of the Keyport sideline. Keyport quarterback Alex Thomson is starting to get in a groove, particularly with wideouts Tyler Alvarez and Greg Armstrong, but the Red Raiders had to work to put away a winless Mater Dei team last week. They will have to play much better or they are going home with a loss. The incentive is that a win here goes a long way toward cementing a state playoff spot for Keyport. The pick: Keyport.
No. 5 Neptune (4-1, 3-0) at Red Bank (0-4, 0-2), 1 p.m.: Red Bank dropped a tough 31-21 loss to Ocean that it led for three quarters last week and its reward is a ticked-off Neptune team ready to take out its frustration after seeing its 14-game winning streak go up in smoke against Brick Memorial last week. The Scarlet Fliers will look to get the defense back on track after being shredded by the Mustangs, while the offense should continue to be explosive behind senior quarterback Ajee Patterson. The pick: Neptune.
Wall (2-3, 1-2) at Matawan (3-1, 2-1), 6 p.m.: The Huskies are coming off their bye week and are eager to get back on track after a 36-point loss to Neptune in their last game. Wall is coming off a 12-point win over Brick and continues to improve under new coach Nick Gregorio. Matawan’s speed advantage should be the difference in this one, but Wall’s defense has been pretty tough this year. I just think it will be hard for Wall’s offense to get much off the Huskies, who need this one to bolster their run at a high seed in the state playoffs. The pick: Matawan.