What to Watch For: Week Seven
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually other Shore Conference games being played this week besides No. 2 Manalapan at No. 1 Red Bank Catholic on Friday night.
Obviously that showdown headlines the weekend, but there are plenty of other important match-ups to keep an eye on. You can check out a full preview of the RBC-Manalapan clash here. Here are some other things to watch.
Big nondivisional games with playoff seeding implications
Four games in particular jump out in this area.
No. 9 Brick Memorial (4-2) heads to No. 5 Middletown South (4-2) on Friday night in a Top 10 showdown that will mean a major boost for the winner in the power points department. Middletown South is sitting in the fifth spot in Central Jersey Group IV, so a win would go a long way toward securing a first-round home game. Meanwhile, Brick Memorial has a shot to make a push at a top two seed in South Jersey Group V with a win.
Both teams are coming off tough losses, as Middletown South fell 21-3 to No. 2 Manalapan, and Brick Memorial was edged 21-14 by No. 8 Jackson Memorial on a late fumble return touchdown. This game is big for both teams' confidence, and it will come down to run defense. The Mustangs will try to get back on track behind junior quarterback Tim Santiago after getting bottled up by Jackson last week, while the Eagles and junior running back Cole Rogers will try to kick it back into gear after getting smothered by Manalapan.
These two teams have played some competitive games down to the wire in recent years, and this should be another good one. This also is a good game to compare the relative strengths of Class A North (Middletown South) vs. Class A South (Brick Memorial).
Lakewood (4-1) heads to No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven (3-2) for a huge game as far as the Central Jersey Group II bracket is concerned. Rumson, which is the defending champion, sits in fourth in power points and can make a big move toward a top-two seed with a win. Lakewood is right behind the Bulldogs, so an upset victory would slingshot the Piners into contention for a first-round home game at the least.
It will be Rumson's potent running attack led by senior tailback Charlie Volker against a swarming Lakewood defense led by senior defensive end Datrell Reed and junior linebacker Amir Tyler. Lakewood's offense enters with confidence after its best showing in years with a 46-0 win over Donovan Catholic, so the question is whether the Piners can put enough points on the board behind Tyler and Temple-bound senior quarterback Chapelle Cook to grind out an upset win or whether Rumson will seize the lead and sit on it.
Point Boro (3-3) heads to Raritan (2-3) in one of those make-or-break games that either sends a team zooming toward a playoff spot or puts it on life support as far as the postseason is concerned. The Panthers are clinging to the eighth spot in Central Jersey Group II, and with a win over the Group III Rockets, they would take a big step toward locking down a playoff berth. Point Boro has lost two straight and has not cracked 13 points in both games, so it will look to get its flexbone offense behind Noah Husak and Jack Fitzsimmons back on track.
Raritan just played undefeated St. John Vianney and hung around for a while before mistakes and the Lancers' dynamic skill players were too much in a 35-14 loss. The Rockets sit in fifth right now in Central Jersey Group III in search of their first state playoff berth in five years, so a win is also crucial for their postseason hopes, especially with a tough game against No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven coming up a week later.
Raritan junior tailback Derek Ernst has been a consistent threat, and senior quarterback Riley Sullivan looks to round into form in his second game back from a concussion. It also will be up to a defense that hasn't held a team under 17 points all year to play assignment football and slow down the Panthers' rushing attack.
Finally, No. 4 Long Branch (5-1) heads to Matawan (3-3) in an old-school match-up with important ramifications for the Central Jersey Group III bracket. The Green Wave, who have won five straight behind dynamo running back Dahmiere Willis, run into a Huskies team coming off a 52-7 win over Holmdel. Long Branch currently is in line for the No. 1 seed in CJ Group III but Carteret and defending champion Hopewell Valley are right behind them, so a win here would go a long way toward locking down a top-two seed and two home playoff games.
Matawan is in fourth in power points in CJ Group III, so the Huskies could give themselves a good shot at a top-two seed of their own with a win. It all comes down to whether they can stop Willis, the Shore Conference's leading rusher, who has rattled off five straight games of at least 200-plus yards rushing. The Huskies finally got their offense humming last week in addition to getting a huge boost on special teams with a pair of kickoff return touchdowns by Shawn Ramcheran. Freshman quarterback L.C. Pearson has been improving by the week, while Long Branch quarterback Jordan Rodriguez showed in a 33-28 win over Ocean last week that he can hurt teams that load up against Willis when he threw three touchdown passes.
Class A South wars continue
Two more key Class A South games on tap this weekend with playoff implications in both.
No. 8 Jackson Memorial (5-1) heads to Detwiler Stadium to face a Toms River South (3-2) team that is in desperation mode after a last-second loss to Southern. The Jaguars need the win to keep the pressure on first-place Brick in the division race and continue their run at the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group IV. This game will be live on the radio on 1160/1310 a.m. as the Jersey Mike's Game of the Week.
Toms River South is tied for the eighth spot in power points in South Jersey Group IV and could make a big move up with a win over the Jaguars to essentially cement a playoff spot. It comes down to whether the Indians' defense, which has struggled to stop the run, can slow down Jackson Memorial's mammoth offensive line and its myriad offensive weapons like quarterback Joe DeMaio, running back Vinny Lee, and wideout Matt Castronuova, who rolled up 316 yards on the ground in a win over Brick Memorial last week. Senior quarterback Tymere Berry and the Indians also will look to get back on track after being held to a season-low 13 points in the loss to Southern.
On Saturday, Southern (3-2) hosts Toms River North (4-2) in another swing game, playoff-wise. Both teams are in South Jersey Group V, with Toms River North currently in seventh in power points and Southern in eighth, so one team is going to make a move while the other will be holding on to make the field.
Southern is sky-high after beating Toms River South 16-13 on a field goal by Brandon Barnetti with one second left in regulation, while Toms River North just buried winless Toms River East 47-22 after rolling up 517 yards rushing. Southern will try to shorten the game with a methodical running attack and efficient passing to move the chains, while Toms River North will try to overwhelm the Rams and force them to play catch-up on the scoreboard by battering them with the tandem of sophomore quarterback Mike Husni and junior tailback Asante Moorer on the ground. Southern's defense has been pretty solid against the run, so this is an interesting match-up in that regard.
Other things to keep an eye on:
**Can Lacey finally end a school-record 11-game losing streak and put head coach Lou Vircillo alone in second in career wins in Shore Conference history? The Lions (0-6) host Jackson Liberty (4-2) in a nondivisional game on Saturday. Either Vircillo will get win No. 264 to pass the late Vic Kubu and move into second all alone behind Warren Wolf, or Jackson Liberty will continue its playoff push with a strong season after losing its top player to transfer in the preseason.
**Freehold Township (3-3) hosts New Brunswick (2-4) as it continues to make a push for just its second state playoff berth in school history and its first since 2001.
**Red Bank (2-3) still has an outside shot at a state playoff berth, but it has to get a win over Ocean (1-4) in Class B North to do it.
**Wall (1-5) at Neptune (3-2) on Saturday is important for both teams' playoff chances. Believe it or not, even with one win, Wall is in the No. 6 spot right now in South Jersey Group III, while Neptune has three wins yet is in 11th in Central Jersey Group IV, three positions away from a playoff berth. Wall is the team with one win, yet this is more of a must-win for Neptune's playoff hopes. Gotta love New Jersey's state playoff system.
**Mater Dei Prep heads up north to play a Metuchen team that looks like it should be a factor in the Central Jersey Group I bracket. Should be a good game for Shore and Point Beach to see how a Seraphs team they have played or will play stacks up against a Metuchen team they could certainly see in the postseason.