What to Watch For: Week Four
The Shore Conference landscape continued to take shape in Week Three with several teams starting to separate from the pack.
There are 12 unbeaten teams remaining at the Shore, eight of which are ranked in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10. There aren’t many surprises among the group. Top-ranked Middletown South followed by Red Bank Catholic, Jackson Memorial and St. John Vianney were all expected to be top-flight teams this season. No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven has been lights-out defensively in its two games - literally - in recording two straight shutouts. No. 6 Brick has been dominant in starting 3-0, allowing just six points all season, and No. 7 Manalapan has kept the train rolling after winning its first state championship last season.
After losing by 30 points to Brick in its season-opener, all No. 8 Brick Memorial has done is average 50 points over its last two games. The team that has surprised the most so far has been No. 9 Red Bank, which stunned Ocean 16-6 last week with a fantastic defensive performance. The Bucs have allowed just 17 points in three games. Meanwhile, No. 10 Toms River North rebounded after getting run over by Brick Memorial to beat rival Toms River South 55-20 and jump back into the top to.
Raritan is the next team to watch as the Rockets have started 2-0 with wins over Manasquan and Matawan, the latter of which was a 40-3 wipeout last week. Shore leads Class B Central with a 3-0, 2-0 mark while Lakewood (3-0, 3-0) and Point Boro (3-0, 2-0) are tied top Class B South with Jackson Liberty (2-1, 2-0).
Week Four will be interesting because of the two huge divisional matchups on tap coupled with what will be a stormy weekend with Hurricane Joaquin bearing down on the east coast. No. 6 Brick will host No. 3 Jackson Memorial in a titanic Class A South matchup on Friday night at Keller Memorial Field. This regular-season game has decided the division title the past two seasons. In Class A Central, No. 4 St. John Vianney hosts No. 5 Rumson where the winner will take a major step toward securing the division title.
Freehold vs. Raritan, Neptune vs. Red Bank, Manasquan vs. Ocean and Lakewood vs. Jackson Liberty are all solid games to watch, as well.
Here’s what to watch for in Week Four:
There are many big games on the horizon over the next few weeks, but Week Four is the first time this season there will be games involving top-five teams.
The Jersey Mike’s Game of the Week pits undefeated and sixth-ranked Brick hosting undefeated and third-ranked Jackson Memorial on Friday at 7 p.m. Not only does this match up feature the top two teams in Class A South, it continues a stretch of three games between the programs that have had major implications. Two seasons ago it was the Jaguars edging Brick 9-7 in early November to clinch the Class A South division title. Last season Brick won an epic 30-24 overtime game during Week Four and went on to capture the division crown, but Jackson returned the favor with a 44-0 win in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals on its way to capturing the sectional title.
Jackson has mauled all three of its opponents - Jackson Liberty, Lacey and Southern - so far and enters the game scoring 41 points per game and allowing just three. Junior running back Mike Gawlik is averaging an unreal 16 yards per carry with 321 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 20 carries. Junior quarterback Dan Barker has been nearly perfect with 350 yards, 7 touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing 72 percent of his passes. The offensive line has also not missed a beat after graduating a good chunk from last season’s unit.
Because Jackson has been so dominant most of its top players haven’t played much in the second half, as evident by their statistics. That will change this week against Brick, which has been eager to see the Jaguars again after being blown out in the playoffs last season.
Brick has been led by a suffocating defense that has allowed just six points in three games and has recorded consecutive shut outs en route to a 3-0 start. Junior wide receiver Ja’Sir Taylor has been the dynamic playmaker Brick needed after graduating standout quarterback Carmen Sclafani, averaging 16 yards per carry with 229 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns while catching 3 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, an average of 42 yards per catch. He is actually Brick’s leading rusher with junior Jay Obenauer right behind him with 215 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 carries. Aside from a 36-6 Week One victory over Brick Memorial, the Dragons have also held big leads at halftime and haven’t had to play their starters deep into games.
Jackson’s offensive line was one of the most dominant units in the Shore last season and has played at a high level this season. Brick entered the season with an underrated group of veterans up front, but showed their abilities in the win over Brick Memorial and have been excellent all season. Both teams use mostly a two-platoon system, so it won’t be the same guys going against each other on both sides of the ball, but this is the matchup that will likely dictate the game.
Both teams use run-first offenses, and Jackson in particular has really used its run game to benefit Barker in the passing game. Brick hasn’t thrown the ball much with senior Tom Zbranak, who has completed 7 of 17 passes for 190 yards with 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. If either team is forced to throw that appears to favor Jackson Memorial. There’s still the question of how Barker will respond if the Jaguars’ running game is bottled up and he has multiple blitzers in his face.
The only guarantee for this game is that it will be physical and intense. Rain or shine, this figures to be a battle that rages deep into the fourth quarter.
At the same time (weather permitting, of course) 34 miles north, No. 4 St. John Vianney and No. 5 Rumson will tangle in a crucial Class A Central game. Last season the Lancers rallied for a 35-28 victory with 21 unanswered points in the second half. They went on to win the division title and tie a single-season school record for wins with 10. Rumson didn’t win the division title, but went on to win the Central Jersey Group II sectional title.
The weather will play a big role in this game. St. John Vianney has a dynamic and balanced offense led by senior quarterback Anthony Brown, a Boston College recruit, who has thrown for 566 yards and 7 touchdowns while also running for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Chris Chukwuneke has emerged as the top running back with 256 yards and 5 touchdowns on 26 carries. This has allowed the Lancers to use senior Calvin Beaty mostly on defense where he is a standout linebacker.
If the wind and rain are intense enough to affect the passing game it will take away a major weapon for St. John Vianney. Brown has plenty of weapons with 6-foot-6 seniors Mike Stapert and Marcque Ellington along with Jeff Sheard and Khalil Haskins, but all but Haskins, who is an all-purpose threat, would have their roles severely limited in a driving rain storm.
Rumson and its power running game and shut-down defense are built to play in bad weather. Junior quarterback Mike O’Connor and junior running back Matt Vecchiarelli have steered the offense behind a solid offensive line, only taking to the air occasionally. Stormy weather affecting the passing game does little to get the Bulldogs out of their gameplan. Battling Rumson’s defense, which hasn’t allowed a point in two games this season and three straight dating back to last season’s Central Jersey Group II final, is tough enough without having to worry about the weather. It’s pretty clear that a rainy, windy night benefits Rumson.
St. John Vianney also has the Shore Conference’s longest winning streak against conference opponents at 12 games, so that adds another point of intrigue to the game.
Can Red Bank continue its great start?
In taking down Ocean 16-6, Red Bank moved to 3-0 for the first time in over a decade and into the Shore Sports Network Top 10 at No. 9. The Bucs stopped an Ocean offense that was averaging 41 points per game prior to last week, and kept the Spartans’ running game led by senior Tyler Thompson in check. Junior linebacker Chris Outterbridge had a monster game with 10 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and a 28-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
The Bucs take on Neptune Thursday at 5 p.m. after the game was moved from Friday night as schools try to get their games in around the impending storm. This is a dangerous game for Red Bank despite Neptune being 0-3. The Scarlet Fliers first three opponents were then-No. 8 Ocean (34-28 loss), No. 1 Middletown South (42-0) and No. 2 Red Bank Catholic (35-0), so they’ve had to face the Shore’s top two teams plus a talented Ocean team already. Neptune’s team speed will test Red Bank in all phases. A win and a move to 4-0 would be a major milestone for a program that has struggled since winning 10 games and reaching a sectional final in 2003.
Neptune, meanwhile, could salvage its season with a win. After Red Bank the Scarlet Fliers have Colts Neck (0-3), Wall (1-2) and Long Branch (1-2) on their schedule and will have a chance to make a playoff push despite a tough start. Expect head coach Rodney Taylor to have his squad fired up.
B South showdown
Jackson Liberty hosts Lakewood on Friday night in a battle of unbeaten teams within Class B South.
Since a 41-0 loss to Jackson Memorial to open the season, the Lions have won two straight games by a combined four points. They edged Manchester 7-6 before rallying to defeat Barnegat 20-17 last week.
Lakewood is 3-0 overall and in B South with wins over Central, Pinelands and Manchester. The Piners have not won a division title since 2000 and would be halfway there with a win over Liberty. Point Boro is also 3-0 and unbeaten in B South, and the Panthers host Manchester Thursday night.
Over the past few seasons, however, Class B South as been a free-for-all until the last week of the season. To declare anything after Week Four seems destined to backfire.
More to watch:
**Raritan (2-0) and Freehold (2-1) will meet in a nondivisional game on Friday night in Hazlet. The Rockets defeated Manasquan 26-14 in Week One, had a bye the following week, and came off that to crush Matawan 40-3. Freehold opened a 26-0 lead on then-No. 10 Middletown North last week and held on to win 26-20. Sophomore running back Ashante Worthy is averaging 175 yards rushing per game for the Colonials.
**Manalapan takes its 33-game Class A North winning streak into Middletown North on Friday night. Braves senior running back Marcus Salinas has 468 yards rushing in three games. Middletown North may once again be without senior running back/linebacker Chad Freshnock, who was injured in a Week Two win over Marlboro and did not play in last week’s loss to Freehold.
**Manasquan and Ocean meet in a key nondivisional game on Friday night. The Warriors have won two straight, beating Monmouth Regional and Holmdel after a loss to Raritan to open the season. The Spartans will try to bounce back after a loss to Red Bank last week.