What to Watch For: Week Six
With some huge divisional games headlined by a showdown of top-five teams, Week Six in Shore Conference football has plenty to keep an eye on.
Here are some things to watch this weekend:
Madness in Manalapan. Let's do it.
No. 4 Middletown South (4-1) heads to No. 2 Manalapan (5-0) on Friday night in a gargantuan Class A North showdown, with the Braves having won four straight against the visiting Eagles, which has coincided with four straight Class A North titles for Manalapan.
A Middletown South defense that has four shutouts in five games will face the Shore Conference's highest-scoring offense, a Braves unit averaging an obscene 50.8 points per game, so something will have to give. Both teams have star tailbacks, as Middletown South junior Cole Rogers has rushed for 787 yards and 17 touchdowns on an average of 10 yards per carry, while Manalapan senior Imamu Mayfield has 798 yards and 18 touchdowns on an average of 10 yards per carry.
While Manalapan's defense hasn't been as dominant as Middletown South's, the Eagles did give up 36 points in their biggest test by far this season in a 36-24 loss to undefeated South Brunswick and Syracuse-bound star Dontae Strickland. That means they are out to prove that the shutdown defense they have displayed in three straight shutouts is closer to the real thing than the one that couldn't stop a high-powered South Brunswick team. Led by linebackers Dylan Rogers and Sergio Gonzalez and a secondary headed up by senior Nolan Pereless, this is a fast unit that will have to show it can match the physicality of Manalapan up front.
Meanwhile, Manalapan has shown some chinks in the armor in giving up 28 points against Sayreville and 34 against Middletown North, but it didn't matter because the offense was unstoppable in both games. The front seven is the strength of the Braves' unit, led by seniors Joe Mendez, Ben Sieczkowski and Kyle Mullen.
Both teams will commit themselves to stopping the run, so this game looks to come down to two other key areas: the quarterbacks and special teams. Middletown South junior Matt Mosquera has thrown for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns on 53 percent accuracy, while Manalapan senior Dan Anerella has thrown for 661 yards and 7 touchdowns on 63 percent accuracy with only one interception. We're going to find out which one of those two can make big throws under pressure with the game hanging in the balance because they haven't really had to do it much all season. Middletown South's receivers, led by Spencer Pereless and Tom Coffey, have a slight edge simply because of their experience compared to some newcomers for Manalapan.
Special teams has been absolutely huge for Manalapan in maintaining the upper hand on Middletown South. In all four of their wins, Braves special teams coordinator Dom Lepore has had a wide grin after the game because someone made a huge play for the Braves.
Two years ago, it was current Penn State freshman Saeed Blacknall returning a punt 80 yards in a four-point win. Last year, John Cheung returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown in the win. In a game where field position will be crucial, Manalapan has a major weapon in senior kicker/punter Mike Caggiano, one of the best in the state. With 212 career points, he is one point away from passing Middletown South graduate Connor Ryan to become the all-time leading scorer among kickers in Shore Conference history. He also is a talented punter who pinned Middletown South inside its own 20-yard line multiple times last year.
Mosquera is a talented kicker in his own right who is 25-for-25 on extra points this year and 4-for-4 on field goals after also being perfect in both last year. He gives the Eagles another scoring weapon in the red zone. Middletown South has to at least get a stalemate in the special teams area, which will not be easy considering Cheung is still lurking back there along with another talented returner in senior Dan Debner.
Manalapan has won 29 straight games against Shore Conference competition, and it will take a huge step toward a fifth straight division title with a win here. It also would set up a titanic showdown a week later against No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, which has its own streak of 37 straight wins against the Shore heading into this Friday's match-up with Red Bank. Meanwhile, I would hazard to guess that no team has ever beaten Middletown South five straight times in its history, and the Eagles are gunning for their first division title since winning the old Federal Division in 2009. The winner also gets a bushel of power points that should just about guarantee a high playoff seed and some home games.
B Central battle
While the big schools have their night on Friday, much of Saturday will be about the small schools duking it out in a crucial Class B Central game at Mater Dei Prep. The Seraphs (4-1) welcome defending division champion Shore Regional (3-1), which has had two weeks to prepare thanks to its bye week.
This pits the explosive Mater Dei offense, averaging 40.2 points per game, against a Shore defense only giving up seven points per game. A big key for Shore looks to be the return of junior standout Doug Goldsmith, a fullback/linebacker who has been out with an injury all season but is expected to play on Saturday, according to Blue Devils coach Mark Costantino. Goldsmith is a talented and physical runner in addition to being a standout tackler at linebacker.
It will be up to Goldsmith, linebacker James Bedell, defensive back Mike Moore and the rest of the Shore defense to slow down an offense directed by Seraphs senior Christian Palmer, who has gone nuts over the first five games. He has a combined 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns between rushing and passing, with Tyson Stamper, Eddie Lewis and Tysaun White serving as the primary playmakers in a balanced and diverse offense.
Shore will try to use its punishing Wing-T attack to keep Mater Dei's offense off the field, grinding up the clock behind Goldsmith, Moore and Alex Johnson. In its two toughest games this season against Spotswood and Dunellen, Shore has managed only a combined 17 points, but it hasn't been at full strength, so the Blue Devils look to show their full capabilities on Saturday.
One thing to keep an eye on is that Mater Dei Prep usually goes for the two-point conversion after every touchdown because it doesn't have a regular kicker. Meanwhile, Shore has one of the best in the state in senior Jake Monteiro, so a point here or there could be huge.
A win by Mater Dei would mean that only Point Beach on Nov. 8 would be standing in the Seraphs' way to their first division title in school history. A win by Shore would mean that its showdown with Point Beach on Halloween would all but decide the division title. That game has decided the last two B Central titles, with Shore winning last season and Point Beach taking it home in 2012.
Separation time in Ocean County
This weekend we will see who hangs in right there near the top in the division races in Class A South and Class B South.
On Friday night, No. 8 Brick Memorial (4-1) welcomes No. 7 Jackson Memorial (4-1) for a separation game in Class A South as they both try to keep up with first-place Brick. Both have lost to the Green Dragons already, so the winner keeps the pressure on down the stretch, as Brick still has three divisional games left. Brick will try to regroup after its stunning loss to Wall when it hosts winless Lacey in a divisional game on Friday night.
There will be some great playmakers in the Jackson Memorial-Brick Memorial game, with Mustangs quarterback Tim Santiago coming off a 211-yard rushing effort in a win over Old Bridge, and Jackson Memorial quarterback Joe DeMaio coming from an effort in which he accounted for four touchdowns in a 35-7 win over Toms River North. Senior wideout Matt Castronuova also rolled up 169 yards of total offense and a pair of touchdowns in his debut for the Jaguars after sitting out 30 days following his transfer from Jackson Liberty.
In Class B South, the big separation game involves Barnegat (4-1) at Point Boro (3-2). There is currently a five-way tie for first place in the division, with one divisional loss for each team. Two of those five teams are Barnegat and Point Boro, so either the defending division champion Bengals will continue a push toward a second straight title or the Panthers will bounce back from a loss to Central and get a leg up in the race. Barnegat is also going for a small milestone as it seeks its 50th win in program history in its eight-plus seasons.
Is Wall for real?
The Crimson Knights had the state buzzing for days with their 28-27, double-overtime takedown of previously unbeaten Brick after an 0-4 start. Now the question is whether that will be a one-week aberration or simply a sign of things to come for a young and talented Wall team.
We will find out right away, as the Crimson Knights host one of the four unbeaten teams left in the Shore, No. 9 Freehold (5-0), in a nondivisional game on Friday night. A win might all but guarantee a playoff spot for Wall in South Jersey Group III, while the Colonials look to continue their push for a high seed. The tandem of junior quarterback Jake Curry and senior tailback Josh Dixon has been tough for all of Freehold's opponents to handle, while Wall quarterback Matt Cluley looks to ride the momentum from last week into another standout performance.
More to watch:
**Senior tailback Charlie Volker will make his return on Saturday for Rumson-Fair Haven after missing the last two games, both losses by the Bulldogs, with a high ankle sprain. The Princeton recruit has been practicing all week and is rounding back into form. That ankle will certainly be tested considering Rumson is playing a big Class A Central game at Manasquan, whose field usually resembles the surface of the moon by this point of the season.
**Asbury Park (0-4) will try to get its first win under new coach Bill Hill when it hosts Keyport (1-4) on Friday night.
**Middletown North (3-2) can surpass its win total from last season with a win on Friday night over Howell (1-4) in Class A North.
**Matawan (2-3) at Holmdel (1-3) looks to be a crucial game for both team's playoff hopes on Friday night. The Hornets' last win over the Huskies was in 2005.
**Long Branch senior Dahmiere Willis has a streak of four straight games of 200 or more yards rushing heading into Friday night's game against Ocean.