What to Watch For: Week Four
With Week Four of Shore Conference football spread out over the upcoming four days because of the Jewish holiday, here are some things to watch.
Division races hit a boiling point
Two huge games that could potentially decide division titles are coming up this week.
The first is Thursday night's showdown at Borden Stadium between No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven and No. 5 St. John Vianney in Class A Central. These teams look to be the top two contenders in this division, with the Bulldogs having entered the season as a favorite, and the upstart Lancers off to their best start in 15 years in search of their first division title since 1982 under new coach Mark Ciccotelli.
Rumson-Fair Haven will most likely be without star tailback Charlie Volker, the centerpiece of its offense, who has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain. This is Rumson's chance to show the depth of its program and that it is more than just one player. It still has weapons on offense, led by sophomore quarterback Mike O'Connor, and a group of running backs that includes senior Sam Eisenstadt potentially filling in for Volker will have to pick up the slack.
The Bulldogs' defense will be called on to rise to the occasion against a Lancers offense that hasn't been held under 31 points this season behind standout junior quarterback Anthony Brown, the Shore Conference's top passer. He has spread the ball around, with junior Khalil Haskins and seniors Dan Calabro and P.J. Braccia each having registered games of more than 100 receiving yards. St. John Vianney loves to get its playmakers in space and usually gets solid downfield blocking from its slotbacks and receivers to try to spring plays on the perimeter. Brown is also a threat to break off a long run at any time.
Rumson's defense returned standout linebacker Max Pfrang last week so it looks to be at full strength heading into the game. Brown has not been heavily pressured by any team all season, so the Bulldogs will look to send pressure at him from different angles and force him to make throws on the run and under duress.
St. John Vianney's defense has not surrendered more than 13 points in any game and is a fast and aggressive unit. The Lancers played a six-man front for much of the game against a run-heavy Central team last week, and they love to bring pressure from the edge by walking up their linebackers. They will stack the box and force O'Connor to prove he can beat them by throwing the ball 15-plus times.
Rumson will have a chip on its shoulder for those writing them off because Volker may be out, while St. John Vianney looks to officially announce its arrival as a rising Shore power by beating the defending Central Jersey Group II champions on their home field. It should be a fun match-up.
That is the prelude to another doozy on Saturday night when No. 2 Brick heads to John J. Munley Field, a.k.a, "The Jungle," to face No. 7 Jackson Memorial. Both teams have been dominant to start the season. The Jaguars haven't been held under 27 points and haven't allowed more than 16 in their 3-0 start, while the Green Dragons have been tearing teams apart to the tune of 43.7 points per game, while only having allowed a combined 12 points in three games.
This is the game that decided the Class A South title last year when Jackson Memorial won 9-7. The winner is not completely out of the woods in a deep division, as Jackson still has Toms River North, Toms River South and Brick Memorial lurking, while Brick still has to play Toms River South and Toms River North as well. Regardless, the winner takes over sole possession of first place in the division in addition to netting a haul of power points for some playoff home games.
Jackson Memorial is out to prove that no matter who graduates, the Jaguars will be a championship squad every year. They lost a stellar senior class and haven't missed a beat so far, chopping teams down with their massive offensive line and a running game featuring Vinny Lee and Mike Gawlik. Senior quarterback Joe DeMaio also has weapons to make teams pay for loading the box in wideouts Aaron Curet and Kyle Johnson. Curet, in particular, has been a game-breaking downfield threat.
The Jaguars have the potential antidote to Brick's rampaging offense in the form of their own offense. Opposing coaches have raved about the mammoth size and physicality of Jackson's offensive line, which also includes senior tight end Brody Graham, arguably the most devastating blocking tight end in the Shore Conference as well as a standout defensive end. If Jackson can grind out drives and impose its will, it will allow the Jaguars to kill the clock and keep Carmen Sclafani and Co. frustrated on the Brick sideline.
However, Brick counters with a much-improved defense from a year ago. The Green Dragons have improved dramatically against the run game, with a tough front line led by Chris Kimbiz in the middle and a swarming group of linebackers led by Ray Fattaruso and James Juliano. It all comes down to whether they can get a stalemate at the line of scrimmage against that big Jackson line.
Offensively, Brick has arguably more weapons than any team in the Shore. Sclafani and Fattaruso are capable of going over 200 yards rushing in any game, tight end Simon Bingelis is a 6-foot-5 target, sophomore wideout Ja'Sir Taylor has exploded with seven touchdowns in the last two games, and senior wideout Ja'Quez Johnson is another home run threat. It's a lot to account for, and Brick will try to spread the field and negate Jackson's size by using their speed and forcing the Jaguars to cover the whole field.
Sclafani has been unstoppable thus far, and if the Green Dragons can jump out to a 14-0 lead and force Jackson to play catch-up and throw the ball more than it wants, they will have the Jaguars right where they want them.
This game also has big Central Jersey Group IV seeding implications. Brick is the defending champion, and Jackson Memorial has been realigned into the bracket after making it to the South Jersey Group V semifinals last year. A win by the Jaguars over the defending champs would also stamp them as immediate favorites to win the section.
Jackson Memorial is out to show that all those predicting Brick as the Class A South front-runner in the preseason when the Jaguars are the defending champions were wrong. Brick, which did not have Sclafani due to injury in last year's 9-7 loss to Jackson Memorial, is out to show that the Green Dragons are the better team when at full strength and that they have the goods to go 12-0 this year. All in all, it should be a fun night in "The Jungle."
Upstarts look to continue their hot starts
Freehold Boro will look to move to 4-0 when it hosts Raritan in a nondivisional game on Thursday. The Colonials will try to keep it rolling behind standout tailback Josh Dixon and junior quarterback Jake Curry while taking another step toward cementing a playoff spot after three straight losing seasons.
The fun subplot of that game is that Freehold's offensive coordinator is Andrew Mandeville, a former two-time All-State quarterback at Raritan who led the Rockets to their only undefeated season and only state championship during his junior year in 2004. He faces his alma mater, which enters banged up after losing starting quarterback Riley Sullivan to a concussion last week against Matawan, one game after losing starting tailback Richie Salerno for the year with a torn ACL.
In Class B North, Red Bank is trying to show that its first 2-0 start since 1997 is no fluke when it takes on nemesis Neptune. The Bucs went 1-9 last year, and their only win was a 36-35 double-overtime thriller against the Scarlet Fliers. Red Bank's first two wins this year are over Wall and Colts Neck, who are a combined 0-7, so this is their chance to show they are the darkhorse among the public schools in the division. They will try to beat a Neptune team that has lost two straight against Top 10 teams and looks to get back to the .500 mark with a win.
Quick hits on other things to watch:
**Ocean and Manasquan square off at Vic Kubu Warrior Field on Thursday in a key nondivisional game as far as power points are concerned for the Group III programs. This is one of those swing games that could catapult these teams in opposite directions depending on the outcome. Ocean has had two weeks to prepare after having its bye week last week.
**Manalapan enters the Middletown North game having won 27 straight games against Shore Conference competition. No one has held the Braves under 41 points in a game yet this season.
**Colts Neck, Keyport, Manchester and Asbury Park enter the week in search of their first wins under new coaches.
**Matawan at Monmouth on Friday is a Class A Central game that looks to be big for both teams' state playoff hopes. Monmouth has only made the state playoffs twice in its history, so a win by the Falcons would put them in striking distance. The Huskies are trying to return to the postseason after a one-year absence so this is also important on their end as they try to get back to the .500 mark with a win.
**Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo will take another crack at passing the late Vic Kubu for second all-time in career victories in Shore Conference history, as the two are still tied at 263. The Lions are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, the longest in school history, and have another tall order in a Toms River South team that will look to take out its frustration after a loss to Toms River North.