What to Watch For: NJSIAA Semifinals
After winning a record six sectional championships in 2014, the Shore Conference has a chance for even more hardware this season with 15 teams remaining in the semifinal round of the NJSIAA Playoffs.
Among the games that will decide who will play for a sectional championship the weekend of Dec. 4 through 6 are four head-to-head matchups between Shore Conference teams. Central Jersey Group III is entirely comprised of Shore teams with Rumson and Matawan facing off and Ocean and Red Bank meeting. Rivals Middletown South and Middletown North meet for the first of two straight games in the North Jersey Section 2, Group IV semifinals, and Red Bank Catholic and St. John Vianney clash in a highly-anticipated matchup in Non-Public Group III.
Let’s take a look at each of the 11 playoff games involving Shore Conference teams.
North Jersey Section 2, Group IV
4-Middletown North (7-2) at 1-Middletown South (9-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
The top-seeded Eagles and the Lions will play twice in consecutive weeks with championships on the line in both instances, but the bigger game is no doubt the playoff semifinal matchup on Friday at “The Swamp”.
Middletown South enters as the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and as the top-ranked team in New Jersey by NJ.com, and is looking to win its first state title since 2006 and finish undefeated for the first time since 2005. It seems impossible the Eagles have not won a sectional title in nine years, but the Eagles haven’t exactly fallen off the map with five appearances in the final since. They blasted West Windsor-Plainsboro North 55-0 in the first round.
Middletown North, meanwhile, enters on a four-game winning streak after defeating Sayreville 31-6 in the first round for its first playoff win since 2000. The Lions last sectional title was in 1996.
Middletown South is the No. 1 team in the state for several reasons, the biggest of which may be how complete a team the Eagles are. There are few, if any, weaknesses with a balanced offense, a suffocating defense and standout special teams unit. Despite missing time early in the season, senior running back Cole Rogers is back up over 1,000 yards with 1,090 and 15 touchdowns, and junior James McCarty has given the Eagles a second option in the backfield with 579 yards and 15 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Matt Mosquera has thrown for 1,046 yards and 14 touchdowns and has spread the ball around nicely. Junior Samson Dube leads the receiving corps with 15 receptions for 285 yards and four touchdowns, and senior Tom Coffey (4 touchdowns) and junior Jeff Lewandowski (3 touchdowns).
The Eagles’ defense is as good as it gets, and is led by the outstanding linebacking corps of senior Dylan Rogers and juniors Kevin Higgins and McCarthy. Not only will the Middletown South defense simply shut down an opposing offense, it will also turn it over will frequency. Defensive backs Maxx Imsho and Coffey have five interceptions. The Eagles’ defense ranks second in the Shore Conference in points allowed with 5.8.
Mosquera is one of the top kickers in New Jersey and has hit 3 of 4 field goals with a long of 47 this season. Lewandowski and senior Tom Marron are also dangerous in the return game, as each has returned a punt or kick for a touchdown this season.
Middletown North has already on more games than it has in any season since 1996 and is riding high entering Friday night’s game. It will certainly be a herculean task to take down Middletown South, but the Lions have plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball to give them a chance.
Junior quarterback Donald Glenn has played great in his second season as the starter, throwing for 1,582 yards and 15 touchdowns. His top target is junior Brendan Kube, who is among the best receivers in the Shore Conference with 45 receptions for 783 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Josh Gomez (14-230, 1 TD) and junior Dwight Wilkerson (18-220, 4 TDs), along with running backs Chad Freshnock and Connor Welsh give the Lions plenty of options in the passing game.
The Lions’ running game got a boost from the return of Freshnock, who missed six games before returning in a win over Freehold Township on Nov. 6. He has two 100-yard rushing games since his return. Welsh, a sophomore, filled in splendidly for Freshnock with 739 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
Defensively, the Lions allow 11.5 points per game, good enough for eighth in the Shore. Junior linebacker Nick Kish is among the conference leaders in tackles with 110, including eight for a loss, and senior defensive end Matt Dombrowski has had a great season with 70 tackles (12 for a loss), nine sacks and an interception.
The bottom line is that Middletown South is the heavy favorite, as it should be as the No. 1 team in the state. Middletown North will have to play a perfect game, force multiple turnovers and have some bounces go its way in order to pull the shocking upset.
Pick: Middletown South
Central Jersey Group V
5-Manalapan (6-4) at 1-South Brunswick (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
The defending-champion Braves and the Vikings meet in the semifinal round this season after Manalapan defeated South Brunswick in last season’s sectional final. When these two programs have met in recent years they have both been among the best public schools in the state. South Brunswick still retains that title, but it’s been a bit of a down season for a young Manalapan squad.
The Braves advanced to the semifinals with a 20-7 win over Trenton while South Brunswick took care of Hunterdon Central, 46-7.
Manalapan is led by its offensive line and running game with senior tailback Marcus Salinas. A first-year starter, Salinas has rushed for 1,258 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior Cody Weiner started the year at quarterback before sophomore Luke Corcione took over. Both have seen time over the last five weeks. Weiner has 554 yards passing and seven touchdowns and Corcione has thrown for 440 yards with three touchdowns. Junior L.J. Holder is the leading receiver with 22 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. The offense ranks 13th in the Shore with 25.2 points per game.
The Braves’ defense is balanced as far as its top tacklers are concerned as senior David Blumenberg and sophomore Sal Tardogno have 42 and 40 stops, respectively. Senior defensive lineman Reily Radosevich has 37 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and three sacks for a unit that has allowed 18.3 points per game.
South Brunswick’s offense is balanced with junior Josh Liao leading the passing game and senior Phil Campbell spearheading the rushing attack. Liao ha thrown for 1,054 yards and 13 touchdowns with senior Mohamed Jabbie and sophomore Justin Shorter as his top targets. Jabbie is a dynamic all-around threat with 1,030 total yards. He has 21 receptions for 445 yards and five touchdowns, while Shorter has caught 20 passes for 370 yards and six touchdowns. Campbell has 606 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, and senior Wendell Allen has added 388 yards and five touchdowns.
Campbell is also a standout safety and leads the team with 82 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and three interceptions. Sophomore Xavier Cargile has been a key cog on the Vikings’ defense, as well, with 56 tackles and a team-best four sacks.
Manalapan is the defending champions and won’t go down without a fight, but South Brunswick has run through nearly all of its opponents with ease since a season-opening loss to Middletown South.
Pick: South Brunswick.
Central Jersey Group IV
5-Allentown (6-4) at 1-Brick Memorial (8-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
Top-seeded Brick Memorial will try to advance to its first sectional final since 2010 while chasing its third sectional title when it welcomes the Redbirds to Ocean County on Friday.
Brick Memorial defeated Jackson Liberty 38-6 in the first round while Allentown edged Freehold 10-7.
The Mustangs have one of the top offenses in the Shore Conference with 32.3 points per game, fueled by its flexbone option attack. Senior quarterback Tim Santiago is second in the conference in rushing with 1,409 yards and 14 touchdowns, and sophomore Tony Thorpe emerged as a standout fullback and now has 1,038 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. Senior Elie Lavarin completes the trifecta as the slotback, and has 492 yards rushing and five touchdowns on over 10 yards per carry.
Brick Memorial doesn’t throw the ball often as Santiago has attempted just 37 passes all season. When he does look to the air (and downfield) it is to senior Matt Cuppari, who has five catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Lavarin is also a threat on screens and quick passes.
Brick Memorial’s defense ranks 10th in the Shore with 12.7 points allowed per game and thrives with a disruptive defensive line and an active group of linebackers. Senior defensive lineman Mike Nobile is tied for the team lead in tackles with linebacker Billy Walsh at 69, and Nobile also leads the Mustangs in hits for a loss (12), fumble recoveries (4) and blocked kicks (2). Senior Chris Hayes has a team-best eight sacks along with six tackles for loss. Both Mike and twin brother Anthony Nobile have five sacks. In the secondary, Santiago has four interceptions and Lavarin has three.
Cuppari is also one of the top kickers in the Shore Conference with a conference-best 61 points. He is 6-for-8 on field goals with a long of 47.
Allentown doesn’t run the triple option, but its offensive philosophy basically mirrors what Brick Memorial does. The Redbirds run a zone-read option out of the shotgun with junior quarterback Jordan Winston and junior running back Joe Mannino. Winston has run for 1,578 yards and 17 touchdowns while Mannino has 1,075 yards rushing an 10 touchdowns.
Allentown also rarely throws the ball, but has put it in the air a little more than Brick Memorial. Winston has thrown for 577 yards and three touchdowns on 65 attempts. Junior tight end Rick Mottram is the leading receiver with seven catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore Xavier Harris has nine catches for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Mottram is a beast on defense for Allentown with 126 tackles (13 for loss), one sack and one interception. Mottram has 80 more stops than the second-leading tackler on Allentown, so he is clearly their best defensive player in the front seven. Senior Samir Queen leads the secondary with four interceptions, while Winston and sophomore Malcolm Milton each have three.
On paper this is a tough matchup for Brick Memorial against a team that has run the ball at will against most teams, but the Mustangs play a very tough schedule and appear to have an advantage in the trenches, especially on defense. Allentown has also not played great defense this season, which is not a good sign against an explosive Brick Memorial offense.
Pick: Brick Memorial.
7-Jackson Memorial (6-4) at 6-Steinert (7-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
When the Jaguars lost three straight games in October to erase a 3-0 start, almost everyone had the Jaguars buried as far as being a state title contender.
But after a 21-7 win over second-seeded Brick in the first round, the defending-champion Jaguars are still around at the most important time of the season.
The Jaguars have had to deal with injuries to starting quarterback Dan Barker and standout senior lineman Dylan Smith, but have found a way to regroup and pick up some momentum. Junior running back Mike Gawlik leads the Jaguars’ offense with 1,187 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. He ran for 215 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries in the opening-round win over Brick. Senior Kyle Johnson has moved from wide receiver to quarterback in Barker’s absence and done a fine job managing the offense. At receiver, Johnson has 313 yards and five touchdowns. He has thrown a pair of touchdowns and also run for two touchdowns.
Senior Tyler Towns has been one of the best defensive lineman in the Shore this season, and is coming off a monster game against Brick. Towns has 16 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss among his 45 tackles. Linebackers Nick Papandrea, Adante Davis and Zack Lubertazzi are the Jaguars’ leading tackles with Gawlik also playing a big role at safety.
Steinert is led by quarterback Kyle Muller, who has thrown for 1.365 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has been able to spread the ball nicely with three players over 250 receiving yards. Connor Braddock has 32 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns and Jordan Morrison has 28 catches for 320 yards and two touchdowns. Kyle Fischer has 29 receptions for 285 yards and three scores.
Alex Rubio is the Spartans’ leading rusher with 689 yards and eight touchdowns. Morrison has 430 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
A big question for Jackson Memorial will be who starts at quarterback on Saturday afternoon. Barker warmed up and appeared to be set to start against Brick, but it was Johnson who got the start instead. If Barker is set to go Johnson would move back to wide receiver to give the Jaguars another offensive option. The Jags could also elect to keep Johnson at quarterback and stay a run-heavy offense. Either way, the Jaguars schedule and pedigree give them the edge against a solid but unspectacular Steinert squad.
Pick: Jackson Memorial.
Central Jersey Group III
5-Matawan (7-3) at 1-Rumson-Fair Haven (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
It’s not too often two defending sectional champions meet in the playoffs, let alone the semifinals, but that’s exactly the scenario when Rumson hosts Matawan on Friday night.
The host and top-seeded Bulldogs are trying for their third straight sectional title after winning the last two Central Jersey Group II championships. Led by a standout defense that is allowing just 6.6 points per game (third in the Shore Conf.) the Rumson will try to hold down Matawan for the second time this season after winning 17-0 in Week Two.
Junior linebacker Mike Ruane is among the best in the Shore and is third in the conference with 114 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and an interception return for a touchdown. Senior linebacker Max Pfrang is the leader of the defense and has 72 tackles and two sacks. Rumson has come through with some incredible defensive performances in the playoffs over the last five years, as well.
Junior quarterback Mike O’Connor leads Rumson’s three-headed rushing attack, which fuels its offense. O’Connor has 787 yards rushing and right touchdowns while junior Matt Vecchiarelli has 624 yards and seven touchdowns and junior Bryan Hess has 660 yards snd seven touchdowns.
Rumson doesn’t pass much with O’Connor attempting just 60 passes. He has 397 yard and eight touchdowns through the air. Senior John Kingdon has 14 receptions for 138 yards and three touchdowns, and 6-foot-6 sophomore Elijah McAllister is 9 catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns.
Matawan started the season 0-3, but has come roaring back with seven straight wins to reach the semifinals as the bracket’s defending champion. The Huskies’ latest win was a thrilling 24-18 triple-overtime win over Hopewell Valley in the first round. so Matawan is as hot as any team in the Shore Conference.
A big reason for the 0-3 start was the absence of several starters, notably sophomore quarterback George Pearson and senior running back Makiya Ceasar. Pearson is believed to be the only freshman to lead a team to a state championship, which he did last season. In seven games, Pearson has thrown for 1,116 yards and seven touchdowns. Ceaser has rushed for 1,067 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games, so obviously their absence was a huge hole for Matawan to fill.
Matawan also has one of the Shore’s best two-way players in senior Shawn Ramcheran. Among his 894 total yards are 481 receiving, 151 rushing and a combined 262 return yards. He has scored 10 total touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Ramcheran has a team-high four interceptions.
Defensively, the Huskies have one of the area’s best linebackers with senior Aliem Shaw, a two-time SSN All-Shore selection. Shaw’s 70 tackles lead the team, and his four sacks are tied for team-high.
Matawan and Rumson have played some epic playoff games in recent years, including each upsetting the other to win sectional titles in 2010 and 2011. Both have been here before as returning sectional champions, so the experience factor is even. The difference maker is Rumson’s defense, which has been incredible in the playoffs the last two years.
3-Red Bank (9-0) at 2-Ocean (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
On the other side of the bracket is another titanic battle that will decide a spot in the Central Jersey Group III title game.
Undefeated Red Bank and Ocean will meet for the second time this season on Friday night in a rematch of Red Bank’s 16-6 victory in Week Three.
Red Bank is in the midst of its best season since 2003 when it went 10-2 and reached a sectional final. The last time the Bucs won a state title was in 1975, so they have a chance to make history in a huge way over the next three weeks. A senior-laden team, Red Bank boasts a top-10 defense and an offense that averages 26 points per game, plus an above-average kicking game, so this is a solid unit from top to bottom.
The Bucs do a little bit of everything on offense, and they do all of it well with three standout playmakers. Senior quarterback Jack Navitsky has thrown for 958 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 463 and four touchdowns. Senior tailback Alim Godsey has 785 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Navitsky’s top target is returning All-Shore wide receiver an Syracuse recruit Sadiq Palmer, who has 42 catches for 575 yards and 5 touchdowns. Palmer has also played running back and scored several touchdowns.
Defensively, Red Bank has a multitude of playmakers at all three levels that make it hard to attack any specific area. Linebacker Chris Outterbridge leads the way with 71 tackles and 12 for a loss, and defensive end Sean Naiman has a team-high 7.5 sacks. Palmer has four interceptions and Matt Reardon has three patrolling the secondary. Righteon Johnson and Jack Haytaian have been impact players along the defensive line, as has Kevine Jackson in the back end.
A big factor for Red Bank is its kicking game with senior Jack O’Connor, who has connected on 9 of 10 field goals with a long of 42, and is also a top punter.
Since losing to Red Bank in Week Three, Ocean has won six straight games as it goes for its fourth sectional title and fist since 2005. The Spartans’ offense is balanced and explosive, and has really hit its stride over the second half of the season. Senior running back Tyler Thompson came back from a broken leg suffered last season to return to old form. Thompson, who has interest from multiple FBS teams, is third in the Shore Conference with 1,10 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns for his third 1,000-yard season. Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett has improved after a very good sophomore season to throw for 1,308 yards and 16 touchdowns to just one interception.
Pickett has two very reliable possession receivers in Greyson Stoothoff and Joey Aldarelli, and a big-play threat in senior Ruquan Dean. The running back is a weapon out of the backfield or lined up wide, and has a team-high 402 yards on 17 catches with 5 touchdowns. Thompson is also very dangerous on screens and quick passes.
Ocean’s defense is allowing 15.6 points per game and led by the linebacking unit of seniors Tyler Rossback, T.J. Saldutti and Erik Rant. The Spartans secondary is also strong with Stoothoff and Dean with three interceptions each.
These two teams are very even, and that should make for a fantastic game on Friday night. Red Bank’s defense has been great all season while its offense has scored enough while coming up with clutch plays. Ocean’s offense is firing on all cylinders now, however, so it will be a big test for the Bucs. They held Thompson under 100 yards in the first game, and will need to do the same to force Ocean’s hand.
Pick: Red Bank.
Central Jersey Group II
6-Raritan (4-5) at 2-Delaware Valley (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
After a 3-0 start and a spot in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, things went south for Raritan with five straight losses. The Rockets found a way into the playoffs, however, and salvaged what had nearly become a lost season with a huge playoff victory.
The Rockets upended Point Boro 17-7 to avenge a regular-season loss to the Panthers, and in doing so secured the program’s first postseason win since 2009 and first under head coach Anthony Petruzzi. A 4-5 team doesn’t look very imposing on paper, but Raritan has a very good chance to pull an upset against the second-seeded Terriers.
Raritan’s offense revolves around senior running back Derek Ernst, who became the starter via injury early last season and has never looked back since. After a 1,500-yard season as a junior, Ernst has 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Rockets also have a 1,000-yard passer with junior quarterback Marc Carnivale, so it’s not all Ernst all the time for Raritan. The Rockets also spread the ball around evenly between seniors Jahciere Jones, Nick Pasquin, Mason Sheehan and Jordan Smith.
The Rockets’ defense hasn’t had a great year statistically in allowing 21.5 points per game, but are coming off a very goo performance against a power-running Point Boro team.
The Terriers run the single wing and almost exclusively run the ball. Quarterback Joey Donnelly has attempted just 25 passes all season. Senior Corey Shedlock leads them in rushing with 1,280 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Donnelly has 539 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior Ryan Romaine has 416 yards and four touchdowns. When the Terriers do throw the ball it is to junior Matt Donnelly, who has 160 yards and two touchdowns on just four receptions.
Senior Derek Kugelman leads Delaware Valley in tackles with 105, while junior Brad Apgar has five sacks and Romaine has two interceptions.
Raritan certainly has the opportunity to pull the upset, but the trip out to Frenchtown in Hunterdon County is not an easy one, and the Terriers are a one-loss team whose only defeat has come against undefeated Cranford.
Pick: Delaware Valley.
Central Jersey Group I
4-Florence (6-3) at 1-Shore (9-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
The Blue Devils are one of the most overwhelming favorites to win a sectional title in any bracket, and they welcome the Flashes to West Long Branch on Friday night as they go for their second straight sectional title.
Shore has blown out almost every team on its schedule with a blend of suffocating defense and a relentless rushing attack. In the quarterfinals Shore took care of Burlington City 36-0. The Blue Devils’ defense is No. 1 in the Shore Conf. in points allowed with 5.6 per game and has not allowed more than seven points in any game. Offensively they are scoring 35.9 points per game, which is fourth in the conference.
The Blue Devils have two main running backs in their Delaware Wing-T offense in seniors Jack Britton and Doug Goldsmith. Britton is averaging a ridiculous 13.8 yards per carry with 762 yards and 11 touchdowns. Goldsmith is more of a battering ram fullback with 661 yards and seven touchdowns. Seniors Alex Johnson and Devin McLaughlin have also received a handful of carries per game, as has junior quarterback Matt Pennel.
Obviously Shore doesn’t throw the ball much, but when they do it will be Pennel (380 yards passing, 5 TDs) looking for senior tight end Connor Rempel, who has 137 yards and 3 touchdowns on 6 receptions.
Goldsmith is the leading tackler on defense with 94, and the Blue Devils have several standouts including Rempel, Britton, Pennell and senior defensive linemen Jeremy Radaelli, Steve Fiumefreddo and Eric Graham.
Senior kicker George Notte has connected on 5 of 9 field goals with a long of 29.
Florence is a long-time Group I power under legendary head coach Joe Frappoli. The Flashes have won six sectional titles and reached 13 finals, so they are a long and storied program. They are coming off a 41-20 win over Middlesex. They use a run-based offense led by running back Joe Foga and his 1,069 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Shore has been a buzzsaw all season and it’s hard to see that changing.
7-Keyport (6-4) at 2-Palmyra (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
After stunning Asbury Park 21-18 in the quarterfinals for its first playoff win since 2010, the Red Raiders will go on the road and try to pull another upset against Panthers.
Keyport has turned in a solid season under second-year coach John Paczkowski after going 3-7 last year. Leading the way for the Red Raiders are running backs Desmond Underwood and Ky’Sun Pryor, who have combined for `1,762 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. Underwood leads the team with 972 yards and nine touchdowns while Pryor has 790 and eight touchdowns. Quarterback Chris Hogrefe has thrown for 467 yards and three touchdowns.
Palmyra has been a force this season and enters on a six-game winning streak after a 27-18 loss to Woodrow Wilson in Week Four. The Panthers defeated Point Beach 34-16 in the first round.
Keyport saw pass-heavy Asbury Park twice this season, but they haven’t faced an aerial attack as proficient as Palmyra’s this season. Senior quarterback Max Smyth is one of the state’s leading passers with 2,279 yards and 23 touchdowns. He has two big-time receivers in senior Kelvin Harmon and sophomore Taj Harris. Harmon has 924 yards and 11 touchdowns on 53 receptions and Harris had 845 yards and nine touchdowns on 39 catches. Palmyra also has a solid running game led by sophomore Elijah Karnjay (874 yards, 12 TDs).
Before this season, Keyport’s last playoff win was against Palmyra. That’s a nice tidbit, but it won’t help the Red Raiders on Friday night. Palmyra’s offense looks like it will be a little too much.
South Jersey Group V
4-Toms River North (9-1) at 1-Lenape (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
Traditionally at or near the top of the list of toughest public school brackets, South Jersey Group V features powers Cherokee and Williamstown. Toms River North is a power as well this season, and the Mariners have as good a chance as any to take home a sectional title.
To do that they will have to go through top-seeded Lenape for the second straight season. Last year Toms River North took them down as the No. 8 seed, and will once against travel to Burlington County on Friday night.
Since a Week Two loss to Brick Memorial, the Mariners have won eight games in a row and are playing the way many figured they would give the talent up and down their roster. Junior quarterback Mike Husni has his second straight season of 1,000 yards rushing and passing and is a brilliant playmaker. Husni has 1,259 yards passing and 13 touchdowns and 1,026 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Senior tailback Asante Moorer is one of New Jersey’s most punishing runners and has been a physical force for much of the season. He enters the game with 1,250 yards and seven touchdowns.
Junior Darrion Carrington is one of the Shore’s leading receivers with 31 receptions for 624 yards and five touchdowns, and junior Bryce Watts is also a big-play threat on the perimeter. Sophomore running back Daryn Blackwell has also played a key role with 294 yards of offense and five total touchdowns.
Defensively, Toms River North has one of the conference’s best players in senior defensive lineman Dashon Copes. The tackle leads the Mariners in stops with 90 (14 tackles for loss) along with 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Junior linebacker Pete Laquaglia has also had an outstanding year with 85 tackles, including 12 for a loss, plus three sacks.
Lenape primarily runs the ball with sophomore Jojo Kellum, who has 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior quarterback Bryce Long has thrown for 848 yards and eight touchdowns and also rushed for seven touchdowns. Both Josh Flowers and Ryan Shuts have three touchdown receptions each.
Despite two seasons as the No. 1 seed in the bracket, Lenape is a newcomer to playoff success. The Indians won their first state playoff game in program history last week with a 7-0 win over Rancocas Valley. This is just the program’s fifth playoff appearance.
Toms River North, meanwhile, has won five sectional titles in five trips, the last coming in 2007.
Pick: Toms River North.
Non-Public Group III
5-Red Bank Catholic (8-2) at 1-St. John Vianney (10-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
On a weekend filled with Shore Conference teams squaring off against each other with a berths in the sectional finals on the line, the matchup between St. John Vianney and Red Bank Catholic may very well be the most anticipated.
Red Bank Catholic has been the standard-bearer for the Shore Conference over the last six seasons with a 57-8 record, five division titles and a state sectional title won last season. St. John Vianney had been a middling program for the past 20 years until breaking out with 10 wins and a trip to the sectional semifinals last season.
St. John Vianney is ranked in the top five in the state and No. 2 in the Shore Conference, boasting an amazing offense led by one of New Jersey’s best quarterbacks. Senior Anthony Brown, a Boston College recruit, has accounted for over 2,300 yards of offense and 37 touchdowns, which is eight short of breaking the Shore Conference single-season record. His may be the main offensive threat, but he’s far from the only big-time offensive player on the Lancers’ roster.
Junior running back Chris Chukwuneke has run for 657 yards and 10 touchdowns while Brown has over 500 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior Khalil Haskins is a threat both running and receiving, and 6-foot-6 receiver Mike Stapert has been Brown’s favorite target with 684 yards and eight touchdowns. Fellow 6-foot-6 tower Marcque Ellington along with senior Jeff Sheard give Brown plenty of options when he drops back.
With an offensive averaging 45 points per game, it’s easy to forget about the other side of the ball. St. John Vianney’s defense has been among the best in the Shore this season and enters allowing just 8 points per game. Tyler Tedeschi, Calvin Beaty and Mike Bordfeld form a fierce unit of linebackers, and junior Micah Clark is a force along the defensive line. Sheard and Haskins both have three interceptions each as defensive backs.
Red Bank Catholic suffered regular-season losses to Red Bank and Ocean, but is still a formidable unit with UConn-bound quarterback Eddie Hahn and standout senior running backs/linebackers Dylan Murphy and Mike Wilen.
Hahn has thrown for 1,614 yards and 11 touchdowns while also rushing for 414 yards and four touchdowns. Murphy and Wilen have combined for 1,241 yards and 20 touchdowns. Murphy leads the team in both rushing yards and touchdowns with 644 and 14. Wilen has 597 yards and six touchdowns.
Hahn's favorite target is senior Mike Balzofiore, who has hauled in 34 passes for 631 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Max Hazard and seniors Dan Lukawski and Liam McArdle also have touchdown receptions.
Murphy leads RBC's defense with 111 tackles while Wilen is second with 90, but leads the team with nine tackles for loss. Senior Charlie Gargiulo has seven sacks and junior Nasir Darnell has six. Hazard leads the secondary with four interceptions. Red Bank Catholic has allowed a 100 yards rusher in four of its last five games, however, so they will need to reverse that trend against St. John Vianney's potent offense.
Pick: St. John Vianney.