What to Watch For: Week Nine
November is here, and in New Jersey high school football that means it’s time for the state playoffs.
The NJSIAA state sectional playoffs begin next week, meaning Week Nine’s games are the final opportunities for teams to either improve their postseason positioning or quality all together. The Shore Conference will be well represented once again in the state playoffs with 24 teams already having clinched berths, and several more looking to get into their respective sectional tournaments based on what happens this weekend.
Week Eight brought several upsets as well as a clash of the titans in Class A South. Jackson Liberty, the Jersey Mike’s Team of the Week, kept their playoff hopes alive in a huge way by taking down previously-unbeaten Point Boro, 25-22 in overtime. The victory give the Lions hope they can make the playoffs for the second time in program history.
The marquee game of last week saw Toms River North hand Brick its first loss with a 26-14 victory. The Mariners claimed a share of the Class A South title and should be a top-four seed in South Jersey Group V.
Ocean likely landed itself the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group III with a thrilling 42-35 comeback victory over Red Bank Catholic, while Freehold earned a big 28-13 win over Manalapan as the Colonials look to grab a top-four seed in Central Jersey Group IV. Freehold Township also came through with a crucial victory, besting Edison 52-28 to all but clinch the No. 8 seed in Central Jersey Group V. The Patriots have made just one playoff appearance in program history (2001).
Colts Neck picked up its first victory of the season with a 13-0 shutout of Wall, while Pinelands also got into the win column with a 28-21 win over Manchester.
Many teams have already played their eight games that count toward playoff power points, but there are still some huge games this weekend that have both state playoff an Shore Conference divisional implications.
Asbury Park heads to Shore in a mammoth Class B Central game on Friday night, and Point Boro hosts Lakewood on Saturday to decide the Class B South championship. St. John Vianney can clinch the outright A Central title and Middletown South can claim at least a share of the A North title with wins this weekend.
Here’s what to watch for in Week Nine:
A Battle in Blue
It all comes down to one game in Class B Central when Shore, ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, hosts Asbury Park on Friday night.
Shore has won 15 games in a row and is looking for its third straight outright B Central title. The Blue Devils are 7-0 this season and have ran through nearly every team on their schedule with ease, outscoring opponents 267-43.
Since dropping its first game of the season, 13-6 in overtime to Point Beach, Asbury Park has won six games in a row and put itself in a position to win both division and state championships under first-year head coach Tim Fosque.
Shore has already clinched at least a share of the division title and can take the title all for itself with a win. An Asbury Park victory gives the Blue Bishops a share of the title with the Blue Devils. Asbury Park’s last division title came in 2008 when it won the Patriot Division title and the second of its three straight state titles.
The division title isn’t the only thing on the line. Both teams enter tied for first place in Central Jersey Group I with 100 power points, so the winner will claim the top seed.
Shore has a very balanced rushing attack in its Delaware Wing-T offense that has been led by seniors Jack Britton and Doug Goldsmith. Britton has run for 589 yards and nine touchdowns on just 40 carries for an average of 14.7 yards per rush. Goldsmith has a team-high 89 carries for 437 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Blue Devils have attempted just 30 passes all season, but have used those instances to create big plays. Junior quarterback Matt Pennel has completed 17-of-30 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns. His favorite target has been senior tight en Connor Rempel, who has six receptions for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
Shore’s defense was the No. 1 unit in the conference last season and hasn’t missed a beat. The Blue Devils have not allowed more than one touchdown in a game all season and enter Friday allowing just 6.1 points per game. Goldsmith leads the unit with 60 tackles while sophomore Mike Rosati has a team-best four sacks and Britton has four interceptions.
Asbury Park has scored 27 points per game with an offense that features several dynamic playmakers. Senior quarterback Davon Thompson has led the attack with 956 yards passing and 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He is also the team’s leading rusher with 354 yard and two touchdowns on 58 carries. His connection with senior wide receiver Jaedon Stephens has been crucial to the Blue Bishop’s success. Stephens is averaging 22.6 yards per reception with 27 catches for 610 yards and 11 touchdowns. Asbury Park has a bunch of playmakers, but its offense starts with them.
Senior running backs Trevor Saunders and Charles Sanders are both threats on the ground. Saunders has 307 yards rushing and four touchdowns and also has 141 receiving yards and a touchdown. Sanders has rushed for 270 yard and three touchdowns.
Defensively, Asbury Park is allowing 12.4 points per game. Sanders leads the team in tackles while Nymeir Agologos and Calvin Simmons-Carter each have three sacks.
This will come down to Asbury Park’s ability to solve Shore’s defense. Even if the Blue Bishops can slow down the Blue Devils’ rushing attack, they still have to find a way to get their playmakers in space. Getting a lead would be huge for Asbury Park to make Shore play from behind, which it hasn’t had to do at all this season.
There’s also a good chance this is the first of two meetings this season between Shore and Asbury Park. Central Jersey Group I features Shore, Asbury Park, Keyport and Point Beach - all Class B Central teams - and the Blue Devils and Blue Bishops will likely be the top two seeds.
Get Your Title Here!
Another division title is on the line when Lakewood heads to Point Boro on Saturday looking to claim the outright Class B South division title.
The Piners’ lone defeat this season came to No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven in a nondivisional game while Point Boro suffered its first loss last week when it was stunned by Jackson Liberty, 25-22, in overtime. Lakewood has already clinched at least a share of the division title, its first since taking the Constitution Division title in 2000, and can win the title outright with a win. Point Boro needs a win to share the title with Lakewood, and it would be its first division championship since winning the National Division title in 2008.
Point Boro and its triple-option offense are averaging 23.9 points per game with senior quarterback Noah Husak leading the way. Husak has rushed for over 700 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first year as the starter, and twin brother Nate at fullback along with slot backs Devin Connelly and Gene Franceschini have formed a formidable unit. Stretching the field on the perimeter is wide receiver Hayden Frey.
Point Boro’s defense was among the top 10 units in the Shore last season, and the Panthers are currently eighth in scoring defense with 11.5 points allowed per game. They will need their swarming defense to be at its best against one of the Shore Conference’s best player.
Senior running back Amir Tyler is the Piners’ leader and one of the most explosive players around. The Temple recruit has rushed for 885 yards and 16 touchdowns this season on just 79 carries. That comes out to an eye-popping 11.2 yards per carry. He also has a receiving touchdown, a punt return touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown. When the ball is his hands, good things happen for the Piners. He paces a Piners’ offense that is sixth in the Shore in scoring at 34.4 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Zyhier Jones thrown for 322 yards and five touchdowns and is also a threat with his legs. Adi Palmer has been his top target.
Tyler is also the Piners’ leading tackler with 61 for a defense that has yielded 17.3 points per game. Sophomore defensive lineman Josh Lezin has also had a terrific season and boasts a team-best five sacks. He will be a key factor in slowing down Point Boro’s option offense.
The challenge for Lakewood is to slow down Point Boro’s offense so it doesn’t put together drives of 10-plus plays to take time off the clock and keep Lakewood’s offense off the field. Lakewood has plenty of players playing both ways and not a ton of depth, so that will be a big factor.
The Piners need to play mistake-free football and hit some big plays early to get Point Boro off its gameplan. Any time a team can put an opponent that almost exclusively runs the ball in a position where it has to throw, it is going to be in good shape.
Point Boro obviously wants to run its offense and score after long drives, which would accomplish both taking time off the clock and limiting the offensive possessions for Lakewood.
Can Freehold push No. 1 Middletown South?
The Eagles, who are also the No. 1 team in New Jersey as ranked by NJ Advance Media (The Star-Ledger), have been a wrecking ball all season and haven’t truly been tested since being down 21-3 to South Brunswick in a game they won 41-21 in Week One.
Middletown South (7-0) had a bye last week after beating No. 6 Brick Memorial 21-3 in Week Seven, and can clinch at least a tie for the Class A North division title with a win over Freehold on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles have the No. 2 scoring offense and No. 3 scoring defense in the Shore Conference and several of the Shore’s top players. Senior running back Cole Rogers has 725 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, and junior James McCarthy has 478 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Matt Mosquera has thrown for 770 yards and 11 touchdowns and is also one of the state’s best kickers.
Middletown South’s defense is led by senior linebacker Dylan Rogers, who, along with junior linebackers Kevin Higgins and McCarthy, form the strength of the defense. The Eagles are also ball hawks in the secondary. Junior Max Imsho is tied for the conference lead in interceptions with five, and senior Tom Coffey is right behind him with four picks.
After three straight losing seasons, Freehold has already clinched its second straight winning season under head coach Dave Ellis. The Colonials are looking to pull what would be a shocking upset behind two of the Shore’s best players in senior quarterback/safety Jake Curry and sophomore running back/linebacker Ashante Worthy. Curry has thrown for 1,043 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 534 yard and seven touchdowns. Worthy is third in the Shore in rushing yards with 1,074 and eight touchdowns. He also has 242 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Curry also leads the Colonials’ defense with 72 tackles and five interceptions, which is tied for the most in the Shore. Todd Burger leads the defense with four sacks.
More to watch:
**The atmosphere won’t be what it was last year when No. 10 Red Bank Catholic (6-2) hosts Jackson Memorial (5-3) on Friday night, but this is a game between two solid playoff teams that will be key for momentum. The Caseys look to be the No. 5 seed in Non-Public Group III where they are the defending champions, while the Jaguars are likely to be seeded seventh in Central Jersey Group IV. Jackson is the defending champion in that section, as well.
**St. John Vianney can clinch the Class A Central title outright with a win over Manasquan on Friday night. The Lancers won the title last season and have never won consecutive division titles.
**Wins by Brick and Brick Memorial on Friday night will create a tri-championship for the Class A South title with Toms River North. Brick plays at Toms River South (4-3) and Brick Memorial hosts Southern (3-5).
**Two nonconference games that will have a big impact on several Shore Conference teams’ playoff possibilities are South Plainfield (6-1) versus Colonia (6-2) and Hopewell Valley (6-2) hosting Northern Burlington (4-3). A South Plainfield win would push the Tigers in to a top-three seed in a Central Jersey Group III section that features Rumson-Fair Haven, Red Bank, Ocean and Matawan. A win by Hopewell Valley over Northern Burlington would give Jackson Liberty the No. 8 seed in Central Jersey Group IV for its second playoff appearance in program history.
**Middletown North hosts Freehold Township on Friday night where a Lions’ will win sets up a divisional championship game with Middletown South on Thanksgiving.