What to Watch For: Week 3 Football Preview
Two weeks of Shore Conference football are in the books as we continue to breeze through September at a pace that is way too fast for us who enjoy the warm weather (doesn’t everybody). After some wild results in Week 2, we head to Week 3 with some important divisional games and one top-10 matchup that could provide plenty of offensive fireworks.
Let’s get right into our Week 2 Shore Conference Football Preview
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: WEEK 3
Saturday Night Special
All eyes will be on southern Monmouth County on Saturday night when No. 5 Howell hosts No. 10 Middletown North in Week 3’s only matchup of teams ranked in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.
This has the makings of another high-scoring game as both teams are coming off impressive offensive showings in Week 2. Howell moved to 2-0 with a 55-35 win over Freehold while Middletown North fell to Red Bank Catholic, 60-41. The question is whether the respective defenses can slow down two of the Shore’s top offenses.
Howell enters averaging 44.5 points per game and has shown enough balance to lead you to believe the Rebels can beat teams in a variety of ways. Case in points was last week when senior Naseim Brantley, one of the Shore’s best wide receivers, had just one reception for zero yards. Howell was still able to score 55 points while Brantley found the end zone twice with a rushing touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown. Howell also got big games from senior running back Nick Chambers and senior wide receiver Ryan Mazik. The offense wasn’t squarely on the back of senior quarterback Eddie Morales, and that’s a good thing. Morales threw for over 2,200 yards last season and had 180 and two touchdowns against Freehold, so he’s going to make plays. But when the Rebels can win, and do so convincingly, without him having a huge game, it speaks volumes about their offensive depth.
Middletown North head coach Steve Bush, who has experience at the NFL and NCAA levels, is widely regarded as one of the Shore Conference’s best coaches. It’s easy to see why given what Middletown North has accomplished during his tenure, including last season when the Lions reached the NJSIAA North 2, Group IV sectional final and earned a win over rival Middletown South on Thanksgiving. Middletown North graduated all-time program greats at quarterback and wide receiver, along with several other standouts, but the Lions haven’t missed a beat so far this year. Even in the loss to RBC, Middletown North showed it can play with the best in the Shore, especially offensively. Junior quarterback Sean Glenn has been very good so far, as has the running back combo of Connor Welsh and Connor Robbins. Defensively, the Lions have one of the Shore’s best defensive linemen in senior Austin Dewise.
This game reminds me of the Howell-Freehold game in that I don’t think either offense will have trouble scoring, and it will come down to which defense can get a key stop or force crucial turnovers, such as Howell did last week. It’s a nondivisional game, so the stakes aren’t as high in that regard, but it’s still an impactful game for rankings and power points. Middletown North won convincingly last year, 38-7, so I’m sure revenge is on the minds of Howell’s players.
An interesting storyline this week revolves around the Middletown South-Manasquan game on Friday night where Eagles head coach Steve Antonucci squares off against his son, Manasquan quarterback Tommy Antonucci.
I remember the emotional toll it took on both Steve and Tommy last season, and that was when Tommy was playing mostly defensive back. Now that he is the Warriors’ quarterback, he is a big part of Middletown South’s defensive game plan. I’m sure it has been a tough week in the Antonucci household and they’re both looking forward to putting this game in the rearview mirror, but they’ll handle it as well as possible and with class and dignity.
Aside from that, Friday night’s clash at “The Swamp” pits two teams coming off wins in Week 2 to even their respective records at 1-1. The Eagles topped Ocean, 28-13, while Manasquan shut out Woodbridge, 30-0.
Manasquan was upended by Long Branch, 28-19, in Week 1, but I think as the season progresses we’ll see that is far from a bad loss as the Green Wave have the potential to win the division title. Senior running back Connor Morgan had over 130 yards and three touchdowns against Woodbridge, and Antonucci showed his playmaking ability with a pair of long touchdown runs in the Long Branch game. Add in junior Canyon Birch and the Warriors have a three-headed rushing attack that can be a load to handle. If the running game is working that will open up the perimeter, where junior wide out James Pendergist can be a major weapon.
Middletown South’s offense hasn’t really found its groove yet with several new starters, including quarterback Ben Kinsella. After scoring just 10 points in a season-opening loss to Red Bank Catholic, the Eagles turned it up a bit with 28 points against Ocean, albeit one came on a punt return touchdown by Rob Zega. Chaz Alessi figures to get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield in Middletown South’s spread pistol attack.
A great equalizer for Middletown South lurks on defense where senior linebacker Jake Krellin is among the very best in all of New Jersey. If he is making plays in the backfield early it will open up a lot for the Eagles’ defense.
There is only one game between undefeated teams on this week’s schedule, and that will take place on Friday night when Manchester hosts Barnegat in a crucial Class B South game.
Barnegat is coming off a win 23-14 over perennial Group I power Shore while Manchester eked out a 22-21 win over Jackson Liberty to set up a big game that most didn’t see coming just a few weeks ago.
Barnegat has really gotten it done with defense over the first two weeks, especially in the second half of games. Defensive ends Sean Morris and Levin Musawa have lived behind the line of scrimmage with six and seven tackles for a loss, respectively. Senior Dillon Muratovic, a transfer from Nutley, has been a great addition on both sides of the ball with 14 tackles and 131 yards rushing. Barnegat’s leading rusher, Charlie Cotton, went down with a leg injury in last week’s game against Shore, so his availability for Friday’s game is in question. He has 198 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Morris has also had a big year at tight end with 11 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, supplying nearly all the passing offense for the Bengals.
Manchester is led by senior quarterback Jerry Ward and senior running back Jalen Glenn. Both went over 100 yards rushing in the win over Liberty with Ward running for 139 yards and a touchdown and Glenn adding 117 yards and a score. Glenn also had 118 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening win over Lakewood, so he’s off to a very good start.
The winner sets itself up to keep pace with division favorite Point Boro. If Donovan Catholic stuns Point Boro on Friday night then the Manchester-Barnegat winner would find itself all alone atop B South.
THE REST OF WEEK 3
Toms River South at Brick Memorial: Both teams won last week to even their records at 1-1, making this a big game in what looks to be a wide-open Class A South division.
Toms River North at Brick: The host Green Dragons enter with a 2-0 record while Toms River North, which finished last season No. 1 in the Shore, is still searching for its first victory.
Southern at Toms River East: The Rams are 1-2 after losing to top-ranked Manalapan last week, and will hope to start a winning streak beginning with the Raiders, who are looking for their first win since 2015.
Monmouth at Matawan: Monmouth is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2006, while Devonte Spann, Devin Williams and Matawan are looking to make it two wins in a row.
No. 2 St. John Vianney at Red Bank: The Lancers have won 31 straight games versus Shore Conference teams and are averaging 62 points per game this season. The Bucs (0-2) have a herculean task ahead of them.
Keansburg at Shore: The Blue Devils will try to bounce back after a loss to Barnegat last week, while Keansburg is coming off a 47-6 wipeout of Highland Park.
Asbury Park at Point Beach: Defending Central Jersey Group I champion Asbury Park is coming off a 20-14 overtime win over Keyport and has played in two overtime games already this season. Point Beach is 2-0, so a win over the Blue Bishops puts the Garnet Gulls in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group I.
Donovan Catholic at No. 8 Point Boro: The Griffins snapped an 11-game losing with a 28-0 shutout of Lakewood last week. Point Boro was dominant in a 27-0 shutout against Lacey and gets to play on its new turf field for the first time.
Wall at Raritan: The Crimson Knights are 2-0 following a 21-10 win over Central. This is a game where we’ll learn the truth about Raritan, which is 0-2, but had to play St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven to open the season.
Freehold Township at Marlboro: The Patriots are suddenly 2-0 after the Week 1 loss to Freehold was reversed after Freehold self-reported using an ineligible player. Marlboro is looking for its first win after a tough loss to Pinelands last week.
Neptune at No. 9 Freehold: The Scarlet Fliers return to action after a bye week and will try for the first win under new head coach Tarig Holman. Freehold is now 0-2 after its Week 1 win was changed to a forfeit loss after it was learned the Colonials used an ineligible player. That player has not been named, so if it’s an important starter we’ll find that out in this game.
No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven at Holmdel: It’s been an emotional week at Holmdel after the passing of junior lacrosse player Jack Dowd. The Hornets are 2-1 after a 45-7 win over Spotswood, but have a tall task in welcoming the Bulldogs, who come off their bye week after a 56-13 win over Raritan in Week 1.
Jackson Memorial at Central: Another pivotal game in Class A South has the Jaguars and Golden Eagles each coming off a loss. Central sophomore Kavon Chambers has three straight 100-yard rushing games, including two 200-yard games, to open his career.
No. 3 Red Bank Catholic at Ocean: The Caseys are averaging over 50 points per game through the first two weeks and have a bevy of offensive weapons. They’ll try to sure up a defense that allowed 41 points last week, against an Ocean team looking for its first win.
Keyport at No. 4 Mater Dei Prep: Sectional finalists a season ago, Keyport is looking for its first win of the season and has a tough matchup with the Seraphs, who are coming off their bye week.
Jackson Liberty at Lakewood: The Lions suffered a 22-21 loss to Manchester last week and will try to rebound against a Lakewood team that is 0-2 and battling injuries to key players.
Lacey at Pinelands: The host Wildcats and junior running back Evan Burton had a thrilling 27-20 win over Marlboro last week, and will take on a Lacey team looking to bounce back after being shut out by Point Boro.
No. 7 Long Branch at Colts Neck: The Green Wave return to action after their bye week to take on the Cougars, who are searching for their first win.
Old Bridge at No. 1 Manalapan: The Braves have yet to allow a point this season and are averaging 39.5 points per game. Old Bridge enters with a 1-1 record.
Managing 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.