What to Watch For: Thanksgiving Games
Football and Thanksgiving. The two are nearly synonymous with each other, and even though the slate of games on Thanksgiving Day isn’t what it once was there are still some longstanding Shore Conference rivalries that will be played out on turkey day.
Next week the Shore Conference will have 10 teams playing for nine sectional titles in what could be a record-setting Saturday that breaks the record of six state titles set in each of the past two seasons. Before that, however, eight teams will play on either Thanksgiving Eve or Thanksgiving Day. Five of those teams will also be playing for state titles on Dec. 3, so much is at stake over the next two weeks for those squads.
It’s hard to believe there are just two weeks left in the Shore Conference football season, but here we are 11 days away from crowning another set of state champions. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Shore Sports Network. Enjoy the feast and, of course, plenty of football action.
Now let’s take a look at what to watch for in Week 12.
Party Like It’s 2002
The Wall vs. Manasquan Thanksgiving Day game is one of the handful of Thanksgiving games still remaining that has any juice to it. The two are bitter rivals and usually produce an exciting contest no matter what their records are.
This year the stakes are ratcheted up several notches because for the first time since 2002 both will be playing for NJSIAA sectional titles the following week. The crowd should be huge and the 50/50 bounty will add plenty of green to someone’s Thanksgiving. We’ll have full coverage of the game with a story and video highlights, and the game will also be broadcast live on WOBM 1160/1310 AM and also streaming right here on ShoreSportsNetwork.com.
After back-to-back 3-7 seasons Manasquan has returned to its winning ways with a 9-1 record and the program’s 18th appearance in a state final. The third-seeded Warriors enter after a 31-27 win over previously-unbeaten Roselle in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals. Roselle had the highest scoring offense in New Jersey, yet Manasquan was able to go on the road and get the win to advance to its first state title game since 2009. Junior running back Connor Morgan ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries while also throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Damaso Jaime. Jaime also had a 34-yard touchdown catch from senior quarterback Jerry Maher and senior Adam Schreck kicked a 34-yard field goals.
Wall is also back as one of top teams in the Shore after four straight losing seasons with an 8-2 record and the fifth appearance in a state final. The top-seeded Crimson Knights rolled to a 49-21 victory over Hamilton where senior running back Sean Larkin ran for 211 yards and five touchdowns and the defense had four interceptions, including two by senior Gene Scott.
The recipe for victory remains unchanged for both teams as each offense is centered on a running game behind a physical offensive line. The teams nearly mirror each other with a standout running back, one main wide receiver and a tight end as the second option in the passing game.
Manasquan’s offense averages 24.3 points per game and is led by Morgan, who has run for 1,316 yards and 14 touchdowns. Maher has thrown for 619 yards with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. Jaime has 16 catches for 219 yards and seven touchdowns and Schreck has 12 catches for 207 yards and four touvhdowns at tight end. Jaime is also a dangerous special teams player with a pair of return touchdowns this season.
Wall has the No. 6 offense in the Shore at 30.1 points per game with Larkin and his 1,167 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in nine games leading the way. The Knights average 249 yards rushing per game as junior Chevesse Covin has 497 yards and three touchdowns, junior quarterback Eddie Scott has 388 yards and three touchdowns and junior Brady McNally has 336 yards and five touchdowns. Wall is a more balanced than Manasquan with Eddie Scott having attempted 116 passes on the season while Maher has thrown just 68 passes. Scott has 725 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions, and his main target is senior wide out R.J. Janeczek with 24 catches for 425 yards and two touchdowns. Gene Scott, his older brother, has 13 catches and two touchdowns at tight end.
Manasquan’s defense is ranked No. 8 in the Shore at 16.7 points per game and has recorded one shutout. Schreck is having a big year at defensive end with 12 sacks and nearly 20 tackles for a loss. Senior linebacker Jack Mallett is the leader of the unit and the team’s leading tackler at over 100. Senior defensive lineman Dylan Pacetti is a standout up front and the secondary is led by Jaime and senior safety Kyle LeBlanc.
Wall’s defense is No. 6 in the Shore allowing 14.7 points per game and also has one shutout. Senior linebacker Kyle Dallicardillo has a team-high 71 tackles and senior defensive end Darryin Valme has a team-high seven tackles for a loss and is tied for the team lead with five sacks. Senior defensive end Mike Andrejco also has five sacks along with six tackles for a loss. Wall’s secondary of Larkin, Janeczek and seniors Shane Richey and Mike Capra have combined for 10 of the team’s 15 interceptions, led by Janeczek’s four.
Given the strengths of each team this will be a game that is won up front. If either team’s running games get stifled it’s going to be tough sledding trying to win the game through the air. Neither Wall or Manasquan are built to win that way. Turnovers will obviously be key, and a big special teams play here or there could turn the tide. Manasquan has the advantage there with Jaime, while Schreck is a solid kicker considering he is also a two-way standout. Wall’s Aidan Mulreed has been almost perfect in converting 25 of 26 extra points and kicking a 30-yard field goal in his only attempt.
Wall has won the last two games in the series. Manasquan is ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 while Wall is No. 8. Manasquan can give itself a chance at a share of the Class B North division title with a win. They Warriors would then need Middletown North to defeat Middletown South to clinch a tie.
There could certainly be some emotional carryover for both teams heading into their respective state finals, but this is really game unto itself that, outside of any injuries, won’t have an impact on either team winning a state championship. There have been countless examples of teams losing big on Thanksgiving only to turn it around and win a championship, and vice versa. The only guarantee is that it will be a playoff-like atmosphere in front of a capacity crowd.
The Battle of Middletown
Middletown North and Middletown South will meet on Thanksgiving with one of the two teams still alive to win a state championship next week. However, for the first time since 1996 it’s Middletown North that will be playing football beyond turkey day.
The Lions reached their first state sectional final in 20 years with a 20-0 shutout over Summit in the North 2, Group IV semifinals. The defending champion Eagles saw their playoff run come to an end with a 42-28 loss to Sayreville in the semifinals of the same bracket, ending any hope of a potential all-Middletown state championship game.
Middletown North is hoping to cap its best stretch in two decades with the program’s fourth sectional title. Under head coach Steve Bush the Lions have posted three straight winning seasons for the first time since 1995-1997, including going 6-4 in 2014 to end a string of 13 consecutive non-winning seasons. The Lions have a balanced offense with one of the Shore’s top quarterbacks and also a defense that is ranked No. 11 in the Shore.
Senior quarterback Donald Glenn has thrown for 2,168 yards and 19 touchdowns, and he has one of the top wide receivers in the Shore in senior Brendan Kube. A first-team All-Shore wide out last season, Kube is having another huge year with 49 receptions for a conference-leading 957 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Connor Welsh is the Lions’ main running back and has 409 yards and four touchdowns in five games. He missed five games in the middle of the season with a broken arm but has returned with back-to-back 100-yard games. Senior Dwight Wilkerson filled in admirably and has a team-leading 691 yards and six touchdowns, while sophomore Connor Robbins has 488 yards and eight touchdowns. Wilkerson is also the team’s second leading receiver with 28 catches for 397 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions average 29.5 points per game.
Middletown North’s defense allows 17.1 points per game. Senior linebacker Nick Kish has a team-high 93 tackles along with a sack and an interception, while Kube has also had a stellar defensive season with 92 tackles and an interception from his strong safety position. Junior defensive end Austin Dewise has had a breakout season and leads the team with nine sacks and 24 hurries, while fellow junior defensive lineman Nicko Cofone has five sacks. Senior outside linebacker Brock Zenker has a team-high three interceptions while Wilkerson, who is also a standout at free safety, has three picks.
Middletown South’s spread offense averages 30.3 points per game, which is No. 5 in the Shore Conference. Senior quarterback Aneesh Agrawal has thrown for 1,398 yards and 15 touchdown passes spreading the ball between seniors Jeremy Joyce, Jeff Lewandowski and Samson Dube. Junior tight end Jake Krellin has become more of a factor in the passing game over the past few weeks, as well. Joyce leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. Sophomore running back Anthony Summey has over 900 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
The Eagles’ defense has several individual standouts with senior strong safety Maxx Imsho, senior linebacker Kevin Higgins, senior defensive lineman Will Gulick and Krellin. Middletown South is 17th in the Shore in points allowed at 17.1 per game.
Middletown South’s defense just gave up 345 yards passing and four touchdowns to Sayreville quarterback Jayson DeMild, so the door appears open for Glenn to have a big game.
Middletown North hasn’t won this game since 2000, so that is the biggest question for Thursday. The spotlight is finally squarely on the Lions after nearly 20 years in the shadow of Middletown South. The state championship next week is obviously the bigger game, but beating Middletown South would be huge for this group and the program in general.
Middletown South is still playing for something tangible, as a win would clinch the outright Class B North division title. There’s the added bonus of ending the season on a high note and keeping the winning streak over its crosstown rival going.
The Rest of Thanksgiving Week
No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven (8-2) at Shore (6-4), Wednesday at 7 p.m.: The Bulldogs are in the Central Jersey Group III final after a 21-13 win over a Somerville team that was undefeated and averaging over 50 points per game. Rumson is trying to win its fourth state title in a row and join Middletown South (2003-2006) and Manasquan (1998-2002) as the only Shore Conference teams to win four straight state championships. Shore fell to Asbury Park, 39-19, in the Central Jersey Group I semifinals to end its two-year reign in the bracket. Shore won last season’s meeting 20-13 as part of a 12-0 season. Rumson’s defense is second in the Shore Conference with 8.1 points allowed per game and has recorded four shutouts. The Devil-Dawg Bowl, coined by our own Scott Stump, is just two years old but is already one of the more intense meetings given the two schools are fierce rivals in every other sport.
Barnegat (4-5) at Pinelands (4-5), Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.: The Bengals and Wildcats meet on Thanksgiving Eve with the chance at a 5-5 season up for grabs. Barnegat won its regional crossover game over Pleasantville, 21-6. Pinelands has its most wins since going 5-5 in both 2009 and 2010, and is coming off a 35-28 overtime loss to Steinert in its regional crossover game.
Asbury Park (7-3) at Neptune (2-7), Thursday at 10:30 a.m.: The Blue Bishops defeated two-time defending champion Shore, 39-19, to reach the Central Jersey Group I final for the first time since 2011. Neptune has been idle since a 20-13 loss to Brick in the Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals. Neptune has won the Friendship Trophy for the past six years in a row in one of the Shore’s oldest rivalries.
Holmdel (2-7) at Raritan (5-4), Thursday at 10 a.m.: Raritan had its five-game winning streak snapped with a 38-22 loss to Lincoln in the first round of the Central Jersey Group II playoffs. Holmdel has won two of its last four games after an 0-5 start under first-year head coach Jeff Rainess. The Hornets fell to Bordentown, 21-20 in overtime, in their regional crossover game.
Red Bank (4-5) at Long Branch (1-8), Thursday at 10:30 a.m.: The Ty Lewis trophy will be up for grabs when the Green Wave and Bucs meet in another of the Shore’s oldest rivalries. Red Bank graduated most of its top players from last year’s team that went 11-1 and reached the Central Jersey Group III final, but can finish 5-5 with a win. The Bucs won their regional crossover game over Hopewell Valley, 13-12. Long Branch is mired in a seven-game losing streak and is coming off a 50-40 loss to Brick Memorial in its regional crossover game.
Lakewood (6-3) at Toms River South (2-7), Thursday at 11 a.m.: The Shore Conference’s oldest Thanksgiving rivalry pits the Piners and Indians at Detwiler Stadium. This will be the 97th meeting between the two teams. Lakewood is coming off a 26-12 loss to Hamilton in the South Jersey Group III quarterfinals. Toms River South has lost six straight since a 2-1 start and is coming off a 37-6 loss to Hammonton in its regional crossover game.
WATCH: Mater Dei Prep's Eddie Lewis return a punt for a touchdown vs. St. Joseph-Hammonton.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.