Week Three Shore Conference Football Picks
Bringing up last week’s picks is like bringing up politics or awkward family tensions at the dinner table at Thanksgiving – it’s just a bad idea all around.
I pretty much got brutalized, although at least I didn’t feel alone. At one point I got a text message from a coach who was scouting a game that said, “The one thing I know about Shore Conference football this year is that I know nothing about Shore Conference football.”
While I mostly did well on the high-profile games, with the exception of snubbing Shore Regional before the Blue Devils routed Asbury Park, the middle-of-the-pack toss-up games and some surprises from teams that have struggled in recent seasons just killed me. That, and a lack of guts. I knew Marlboro had a chance to beat Howell, but I didn’t have the cojones to say the Mustangs would end a 13-game losing streak. Being close to making the right pick goes in the horseshoes and hand grenades department.
This week presents plenty more difficult challenges among the teams just out of the top 10 jockeying for a spot among the Shore’s elite.
The Game of the Week without a doubt is No. 10 Long Branch at No. 2 Neptune on Saturday. A pair of old-school rivals square off in a huge Class B North game. Will Long Branch reclaim its spot as a team to be feared among the Shore Conference heavyweights? Or will Neptune extend the Shore Conference’s longest current winning streak to 13 games? Can’t wait to find out.
Last week: 17-7
Toms River North (1-1, 0-1) at No. 4 Southern (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.: This game will be live on the radio on 105.7 “The Hawk” f.m. and 1310/1160 a.m., and it should be a good one. Southern has not allowed a point this season, while Toms River North needs this game to get right back into the Class A South race after a loss to Lacey last week. Toms River North moved the ball last week but was undone by mistakes on fumbles and interceptions, so if it cleans up the miscues, this should be a hard-fought game. Southern’s offense has shown flashes but has been more methodical than explosive so if this turns into a high-scoring game, that should favor the Mariners. However, Southern’s defense is physical and experienced. I picked the Rams to win Class A South, so I’m not backing off that now. The pick: Southern.
No. 6 Brick Memorial (2-0, 1-0) at Jackson Memorial (1-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.: This game has upset potential, as Jackson Memorial always plays the Mustangs tough and beat them last year. Plus, the Jaguars come in with plenty of newfound confidence after finding their offensive stride in a 33-17 win over Toms River East last week. Junior Khani Glover could be the next standout tailback for Jackson Memorial. Brick Memorial is led by do-it-all junior Mike Basile, who scored five touchdowns in the win over Middletown North last week. Memorial has been a big-play team, as Basile has a pair of pick sixes on defense this year in addition to the offensive fireworks. Jackson’s large group of new players is not new any more with two games under its belt. Brick Memorial’s defense also has been shaky at times in the first two weeks. This game is going to be a dogfight, but I see Brick Memorial relying on its veterans to find a way on the road against a tough team and a quality program. The pick: Brick Memorial.
No. 5 Lacey (2-0, 1-0) at Toms River East (0-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.: The Lions have looked as impressive as any team in the Shore in the first two weeks, while Toms River East is in desperation mode with an 0-2 start. The Raiders’ offense has not been as improved as it had hoped so far, but did look better last week in a loss to Jackson. Lacey just has so many weapons, plus a lot more offensive balance. The speed of senior wideout Bill Belford allows them to stretch the field, and senior Kyle Spatz can still pound teams with the running game between the tackles. Plus, they have an army of underneath receivers and other playmakers led by junior Christian Tutela. Junior Tom Kelly looks much more comfortable in the pocket than he did last year, and he also is a threat to run. That is a lot to handle. The pick: Lacey.
Howell (0-2, 0-1) at No. 9 Middletown South (1-0, 0-0), 7 p.m.: The Eagles have their home opener at The Swamp and could make it two shutouts in a row to start the season when they welcome the Rebels, who just lost to a Marlboro team that was on a 13-game losing streak. Howell has scored 15 total points in its 0-2 start with starting quarterback John Quinlan out with a knee injury. The task only gets tougher against a formidable Middletown South defense led by junior defensive lineman Taylor Hendrickson. Offensively, Middletown South will look to work out any kinks and get things locked in with a huge showdown against No. 3 Manalapan looming next week. The pick: Middletown South.
No. 3 Manalapan (2-0, 1-0) at Middletown North (0-1, 0-0), 7 p.m.: The Braves have been impressive over the first two weeks and rolled over Freehold Township 33-0 to stretch their divisional winning streak to 13 games. Middletown North suffered from a slow start like virtually every team that has a first-week bye does, but gave Brick Memorial a fight for the final three quarters before losing 36-21. This is the definition of a trap game for Manalapan. Looming next week is No. 9 Middletown South in a major Class A North showdown, but if the Braves aren’t careful, Middletown North is improved enough offensively to sting them with a big loss. Manalapan senior wideout Anthony Firkser has been unstoppable in the first two weeks with four touchdown catches and nearly 300 yards receiving, and senior quarterback Mike Isabella has been outstanding with his accuracy. It sounds strange given that Manalapan has had a 2,000-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons, but Middletown North wants to make the Braves beat them by grinding out drives and running the ball rather than hitting the big play to Firkser or junior Saeed Blacknall. I still think Manalapan is too well-coached to get caught in the trap. The pick: Manalapan.
St. John Vianney (1-1, 0-1) at No. 1 Red Bank Catholic (2-0, 1-0): This game is symbolically important as much as it’s important for the Class A Central standings. When Andy Carlstrom took the St. John Vianney job last year, his stated goal was to work toward building a program on the level of RBC. We’ll see how far along the Lancers are in that quest when they face a team that has not given up a point yet this season and has run for 280-plus yards in both games. RBC may be without Rutgers-bound senior two-way lineman Josh Klecko due to a knee injury suffered last week in the win over Manasquan, but the Caseys have a ton of depth up front on both sides. RBC will look to hammer the Lancers in this game to send a message about which parochial school is still the king around here, while St. John Vianney will try to knock RBC off its lofty perch and get more stars at the youth level to start considering the Lancers. They have the ability to make it interesting by hitting a few deep passes against the RBC secondary, but it depends if they can protect quarterback Billy DeMato long enough for him to get the ball out against the Caseys’ ferocious rush. St. John Vianney just gave up 35 points to a Rumson team whose running attack is not on the level of RBC’s unit, so it remains to be seen whether the Lancers can stop the Caseys from going up and down the field six yards at a time. The pick: Red Bank Catholic.
Holmdel (2-0, 0-0) at No. 7 Rumson-FH (2-0, 1-0), 7 p.m.: The American Express Game of the Week looks interesting for the first time since the Bulldogs handed Holmdel its only loss in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals in a 10-1 season in 2007. The rejuvenated Hornets are out to prove that the first two weeks were no fluke, while Rumson looks to continue a domination of Holmdel that goes back more than 15 years. Holmdel has not allowed a point yet this season and is much improved offensively with senior quarterback Rob Cantelli running the show. The Bulldogs passing attack was lethal last week behind Danny Roberto in a 22-point win over St. John Vianney. Holmdel may make this close and show it has closed the gap, but Rumson gets the nod given all of its success against the Hornets and overall. This could also be a crucial power-point game for the winner as far as the state playoffs are concerned. The pick: Rumson-FH.
Point Boro (2-0, 1-0) at Central (1-1, 0-1), 7 p.m.: This is a pivotal Class B South match-up. Point Boro needs the win to stay at the front of the standings, while Central has to have this game to get right back into the race after losing to Jackson Liberty last week. The Panthers’ offense has looked good with senior Chris Oliphant now running the show and has had more balance with deep shots down the field to senior wideout Kyle McGarry to complement an always-tough running game. Central’s offense has been all over the place, scoring 29 points in the opener and then getting shut out by a Jackson Liberty team that had never shut out a Shore Conference opponent in its six-year program history. Central is a hard team to figure out right now, but the Golden Eagles are usually tough at home. I still think this division is coming down to Point Boro and Barnegat with Jackson Liberty as the sleeper. The pick: Point Boro.
Jackson Liberty (2-0, 1-0) at Manchester (0-2, 0-1): The Lions are 2-0 for the first time in program history and should make it 3-0 after facing a young Hawks team that was shut out by Barnegat last week. The Lions’ defense is vastly improved, and do-it-all sophomore Matt Castronuova is a rising star in the Shore. That defensive momentum from last week should continue, and Bob Davies will run the offense efficiently and hit passes off play-action for key plays. The pick: Jackson Liberty.
Lakewood (1-1, 0-1) at Pinelands (0-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.: Lakewood senior star quarterback Tyrice Beverette is expecting to return after being held out for precautionary health reasons last week in a loss to Monsignor Donovan, and I’m sure Pinelands is really psyched about that. The Wildcats are struggling just to be competitive at this point. The pick: Lakewood.
Monsignor Donovan (1-1, 1-0) at Barnegat (1-1, 1-0), 7 p.m.: Barnegat needed to bounce back last week and the Bengals did it with a 27-0 win over Manchester to get them back on track. The Griffins did the same, rebounding from a rout in the season opener to beat Lakewood. After being humbled in a 3-touchdown loss to Holmdel, I think Barnegat will start to gain steam and make a run at a second straight division title with reinforcements on the way in another two weeks in sophomore standouts Cinjun Erskine and Sam Madden. The pick: Barnegat.
No. 8 Matawan (2-0, 1-0) at Ocean (1-1, 0-1), 7 p.m.: What a tricky game to pick. Ocean hasn’t played in two weeks because it had to forfeit to Neptune due to an impetigo issue last week. The Spartans also will be posthumously inducting John Key, the former Spartans star and recent Asbury Park assistant coach, into the Hall of Fame less than two hours before the game. Key died at 37 years old in a car accident last year. Meanwhile, Matawan got out by the skin of its teeth last week in a 21-14 overtime victory over Freehold. Will Ocean be rusty or rested? Was last week a wake-up call for Matawan or a sign of more tight games to come? Hard to determine. Matawan’s run defense is usually solid, but Freehold’s Cequan Smith-Rush had close to 140 yards along with two touchdowns against the Huskies last week. Now comes Ocean super frosh Tyler Thompson along with sophomore Royal Moore and senior quarterback Andrew Mehr to test the Huskies. I think Ocean will give Matawan all it can handle, but the Huskies have proven themselves repeatedly in recent seasons and remain the favorite. The pick: Matawan.
Spotwood (1-1) at Point Beach (2-0), 7 p.m.: Keansburg just hung 48 on Spotswood last week and senior quarterback Ryan Kurtz ran for 261 yards and four touchdowns, so I can’t imagine the numbers Point Beach might put up with a three-pronged running attack featuring Kyle Samaritano, Andre Cochran and Danny Tighe. It’s certainly possible that the Beach will put up 40-plus points for a third straight week. The pick: Point Beach.
Mater Dei Prep (0-2) at Dunellen (1-1), 7 p.m.: Mater Dei Prep had Cardinal McCarrick on the ropes up by 19 but couldn’t close it out for a gut-wrenching loss last week, while Dunellen got buried by a good Point Beach team. I gave Mater Dei Prep the nod last week against Cardinal McCarrick, but unfortunately the result of that one has me backing off this week. The pick: Dunellen.
Cardinal McCarrick (1-1) at Keyport (1-1), noon: Keyport rallied for a confidence-building, 25-23 win over Highland Park last week and now gets a very winnable game against Cardinal McCarrick. The Eagles enter with some momentum after a comeback win over Mater Dei Prep, but Keyport should be able to make enough plays in the air and on the ground to take care of this one. The pick: Keyport.
Marlboro (1-1, 1-0) at Colts Neck (2-0, 0-0), 1 p.m.: This game just got a whole lot more interesting, didn’t it? Marlboro got off the schnide last week with a 16-8 win over Howell that halted a 13-game losing streak. Colts Neck buried North Brunswick 49-7 thanks to big days all around by running back Anthony Gargiulo, quarterback Michael Campbell and receiver Tim Vangelas. Marlboro is clearly improved from last year, but if the Mustangs get this one, that will really open some eyes. I think Colts Neck’s offense got the confidence it needed with its performance last week and will be tough to slow down because of its balance. I could see Vangelas having another big day. The pick: Colts Neck.
Raritan (0-2, 0-0) at Manasquan (0-2, 0-1), 1 p.m.: It’s the Desperation Bowl, as both of these perennial contenders have to have this game or it will most likely signal a lost season for one of these two proud programs. Manasquan hasn’t even been 0-2 since 1988, and it may have last started 0-3 in 1888. The Warriors have struggled to score with an offense that has been entirely one-dimensional with the running game. Raritan has given up 41 and 49 points in its first two games against two quality programs in Neptune and Carteret. Something has to give here. Throw in the fact that Raritan is believed to have never won on Manasquan’s home field and there is some juice to this game. Raritan has been leading into the second half or third quarter in its last two trips to Vic Kubu Warrior Field only to watch as Manasquan pulled off one of its patented comebacks. Raritan has to run the ball better than it has showed and find a way to get stops on defense, while Manasquan has to get some kind of semblance of a passing game so that the Rockets don’t have everyone and the water boy packed into the box on every play. Manasquan has lost its last two home games, so the magic is starting to wear thin, but the Warriors always seem to find a way at home against Raritan. The pick: Manasquan.
Wall (1-1, 1-0) at Freehold (0-2, 0-1), 1 p.m.: Freehold essentially has to have this game or it’s probably headed to Consolation Gameville, which is a dreaded place filled with three fans at the game. However, Wall showed plenty of heart and ability with a 34-28, double-overtime takedown of a favored Red Bank team last week for the inaugural win at Wall for new coach Nick Gregorio. Logic would say that if Freehold could take Matawan to the absolute brink in a 21-14 overtime loss last week, it should be able to pull this one out, but Wall is out to surprise some people. I am very torn on this one, but I feel like Freehold’s desperation will force the Colonials to find a way or be doomed to playing out the string. The pick: Freehold.
No. 10 Long Branch (2-0, 0-0) at No. 2 Neptune (2-0, 1-0), 1 p.m.: This is the Game of the Week in the Shore Conference, as two old rivals will slug it out on the turf in front of what should be a big and loud crowd at Memorial Field. Neptune hasn’t played in two weeks because it had a forfeit from Ocean last week, while Long Branch won an emotional 27-0 game over Monmouth last week. Long Branch has some quality skill on offense despite the absence of injured standout Dwight Clark at tailback. Senior quarterback Avry Griffin, junior wideout Shabazz Shuler, senior running back Deon Williams and monster fullback Joscil Jackson give them an array of weapons. Neptune has plenty of its own with senior quarterback Ajee Patterson, wideouts Keith Kirkwood and Geoff Fairbanks and running back Myles Martin. The question is whether Neptune will be rusty from the layoff or fired up to get on the field. While the skill players in this game are tremendous, it will come down to which team wins the line of scrimmage. Can Long Branch’s O-line allow the Green Wave to jackhammer Neptune with Jackson and then go up top to Shuler or the other receivers? Can Neptune’s O-line give Patterson room to let plays develop to take shots downfield or have running lanes to tuck it and take off? One thing I know is that the players who do well in this type of game will be slapping those highlights on their film and shipping them out to colleges by Sunday. I’m looking forward to it, and it should be exciting. One final wrinkle: Neptune has the Shore Conference’s longest current winning streak at 12 games. The second longest streak? Long Branch, which enters on a 7-game streak. The pick: Neptune.
Shore Regional (2-0) at Metuchen (0-2), 1 p.m.: Both of Metuchen’s losses have been in close games, but I think Shore is on another level from most of these Group I teams in Middlesex County. The Blue Devils rolled over Asbury Park last week and their defense has been excellent through the first two weeks. They will do what they always do – pound the ball with fullback Jack Kelly, go up top on play-action with quarterback Matt Muh, and stifle the opponent while creating multiple turnovers on defense. The pick: Shore.
Keansburg (2-0) at South River (2-0), 1 p.m.: This is a great test to see how far Keansburg has come in its resurgence. South River has emerged from the Witness Protection Program to start to work its way back to its usual prominent spot among the small schools in Middlesex County. Keansburg’s offense is clearly much improved from last year behind senior quarterback Ryan Kurtz. I sold the Titans short last week against Spotswood, but now I am on the bandwagon. Hopefully they deliver. The pick: Keansburg.
Brick (0-2, 0-1) at Toms River South (0-2, 0-1), 7 p.m.: This is a very tough one to pick. The definition of a toss-up game. Both teams are coming off shutout losses and need this game to keep some hope alive in their respective seasons. Brick’s defense has shown flashes of turnover-producing ability, while the Indians’ defense did a decent job against a very good Southern team last week. I literally just flipped a coin. Toms River South was tails, so that’s what I’m going with. The pick: Toms River South.