What to Watch For: Week Three
Week Two has come and gone, and with nearly every team playing two games and a handful having played three times already the Shore Conference landscape is starting to take shape.
Last week’s big winner was Brick Memorial, which rebounded from a rocky season-opener to thrash Toms River North 52-20. The Mariners were ranked No. 3 at the time while the Mustangs had fallen out of the rankings after losing to Brick 36-6 in Week One. It just goes to show how quickly things can change early in the season.
A number of teams moved to 2-0, including nine of the 10 ranked teams. Manalapan needed a touchdown and extra point with 15 seconds left to avoid the upset bid of Freehold Township and come away with a 21-20 victory for the Braves’ 33rd straight Class A North victory. Howell came from behind to beat Freehold 25-22 and also moved to 2-0 under second-year head coach Luke Sinkhorn. Red Bank Catholic quarterback Eddie Hahn made his season debut in sensational fashion with 301 yards passing and three touchdowns in a win over St. Joseph-Metuchen.
There are not a ton of marquee matchups in Week Three, but some important games do dot the schedule. Central (2-1) hosts No. 4 St. John Vianney (2-0) min the Jersey Mike’s Game of the Week on Friday night in a nondivisional game. Reigning NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III champion Matawan looks to pick up its first win of the season against a Raritan team coming off its bye at 1-0. A pair of 2-0 teams meet in Class B North when No. 7 Ocean welcomes Red Bank, and another edition of “The Civil War” will be played between Toms River South and Toms River North.
Here are some things to watch for this weekend:
Friday Night Fireworks
When Central and No. 4 St. John Vianney meet on Friday night in Bayville it will be a meeting between two of the highest scoring offenses in the Shore. The Lancers enter having scored 39.5 points per game while the Golden Eagles are averaging 32 points per game.
St. John Vianney is dynamic, explosive and balanced with multiple players that can make game-changing plays. Leading the way is senior quarterback Anthony Brown, a Boston College recruit, who has thrown for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 16-of-26 passing. Brown has an embarrassment of riches in the passing game with 6-foot-6 receivers Mike Stapert and Marcque Ellington, senior Jeff Sheard in the slot and the versatile Khalil Haskins either coming out of the backfield or lining up wide. The Lancers’ running game features junior Chris Chukwuneke, who ran for 114 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries in a 49-0 win over Holmdel last week, along with battering ram Calvin Beaty and Haskins. Brown can also take off and run for big yardage. Needless to say it’s a difficult offense to defend.
Central is coming off a 35-7 victory over Barnegat in which junior running back Mike Bickford ran for 165 yards and three touchdowns and the Golden Eagles’ defense allowed just 84 total yards. Bickford is the offensive workhorse after running for a school-record 2,052 yards with 25 touchdowns last season. He will be the focal point of opposing defensive gameplans all season, but is far from the only weapon Central possess. Quarterback Mike Miserendino accounted for nearly 1,500 total yards and scored 15 touchdowns last season, and so far in 2015 he has continued to add that dual-threat dimension to Central’s offense. Senior wide receiver Malcolm Vaughn has also stepped up to give the Golden Eagles a deep threat in the passing game.
St. John Vianney is certainly the favorite entering the game. The Lancers actually have the longest winning streak against Shore Conference opponents with 11 wins in a row dating back to last season. Brown is arguably the best quarterback in the Shore and among the best in the state. He has tons of weapons and the Lancers can score points in a variety of different ways, and that’s not just on offense. Haskins had six interceptions last season and took a few back for touchdowns. In the win over Holmdel Sheard had two interception returns for touchdowns.
If Central’s defense can’t stop Vianney it is going to have to try and keep pace. That will fall on Bickford and the offensive line against a Lancers defense that has been solid against the run. Central’s offense isn’t built to just drop back and throw the ball, so the Eagles need the running game to get some traction to make the play-action game work. If Bickford and company can get a consistent push up the field it will open the rest of Central’s playbook and allow Vaughn to try to use his speed and get behind the safeties for big plays.
A loss for Central would be far from devastating as it’s a nondivisional game against the third-ranked team in the Shore Conference. A win, however, would be one of the program’s biggest wins. St. John Vianney hasn’t seen a back of Bickford’s caliber this season, so this will be a good test for the Lancers’ defense as they try to move to 3-0 with some key Class A Central divisional games on the horizon.
Separation Time in B North
The pecking order will start to set itself this weekend in a number of divisions, and one of those key games is a Class B North tilt between a pair of 2-0 teams, Red Bank and Ocean.
The Bucs visit the No. 7 Spartans on Friday night with first place on the line in the division. Ocean was expected to be a championship contender this season and has not disappointed so far. The Spartans offense is averaging 41 points per game after a 48-21 win over Wall in Week Two, and has benefitted from an outstanding start by senior running back Tyler Thompson. The senior, who boasts multiple FBS offers, has 397 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in two games, erasing any doubts regarding whether he would be the same player after breaking his leg last season. Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett has also been productive with 300 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Ruquan Dean has made his presence felt in the passing game with a pair of long touchdown catches, and receiver Joey Aldarelli and Greyson Stoothoff have been reliable targets for Pickett.
Red Bank is 2-0 after a 30-0 victory over Colts Neck in Week Two. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Sadiq Palmer, a Syracuse recruit, is the Bucs’ star. The 6-foot-3 Palmer already has three touchdown catches and two interceptions this season and is a game-breaking talent. He is basically a highlight waiting to happen whether it be on offense, defense or on special teams as a kick returner. Quarterback Jack Navitsky has been solid with four touchdown passes and running back Alim Godsey ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Colts Neck.
Ocean’s offense has been unstoppable so far this season and it remains to be seen if the Bucs can slow down the Spartans at all. If Thompson is rolling and Pickett has time in the pocket plus easy looks off play-action, Ocean will be in a good spot. It starts with bottling up Thompson for Red Bank’s defense. If the Bucs can do that they have a shot.
Can Howell move to 3-0?
Howell can improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2010 when it hosts Freehold Township on Friday night in a Class A North game.
The Rebels came from behind to beat Freehold, 25-22, last week on a 28-yard field goal by Patrick Handy to start strong in the second year under head coach Luke Sinkhorn. Howell quarterback Mark Iacobino has been reliable with five touchdown passes already, and the Rebels have gotten strong contributions from junior running back Mekai Gandy, senior wide receiver Nic Rossi and others.
Freehold Township nearly shocked the Shore last weekend in a 21-20 loss to Manalapan, which would have ended the Braves’ 32-game Class A North winning the streak. After a 28-14 loss to Freehold in Week One the Patriots looked sharp on both sides of the ball, moving the chains behind senior quarterback Jack O’Brien in new head coach Cory Davies’ “Air Raid” passing offense, and playing a bend-but-don’t-break defense against Manalapan’s powerful rushing attack.
Howell is out to continue its hot start and show it can be a factor in A North, while Freehold Township wants to prove last week’s showing against Manalapan was a sign of things to come. Add in the rivalry aspect of the two schools and it should make for a great atmosphere.
The Civil War
Toms River South heads to Toms River North on Friday night for the 33rd installment of “The Civil War”.
The Indians are 2-0 with wins over Donovan Catholic and Toms River East while the Mariners are coming off a 52-20 loss to Brick Memorial. Toms River North is sure to be in a surly mood after allowing over 500 yards rushing last week, and should be also be better against Toms River South’s option offense after facing a similar offense last week.
The game is also part of iHigh’s Great American Rivalry Series, which highlights some of the top rivalries from around the nation. According to a media release, the winning team will take home the Great American Rivalry Series Champions trophy, presented by the United States Marine Corps. The game’s Most Valuable Player and the top student-athlete from each school will also be recognized as part of the series. Along with those awards, an alumnus from each school will be inducted into the 12th class of the Great American Rivalry Series Hall of Fame.
More to watch:
**Two key Class B Central games are Asbury Park (1-1, 0-1) hosting Mater Dei Prep (2-0, 1-0) on Friday night and Keyport (1-1, 0-1) hosting Point Beach (1-1, 1-0) on Saturday at noon.
**Central Jersey Group III champion Matawan and Central Jersey Group IV semifinalist Neptune will both try to avoid 0-3 starts as the Huskies host Raritan (1-0) and the Scarlet Fliers take on No. 2 Red Bank Catholic (2-0).
**Middletown North looks to start 3-0 for the first time since 2008 when it travels to Freehold on Saturday afternoon.
**Shore is going for its 10th straight win against Shore Conference opponents when it travels to Keansburg on Saturday afternoon.
**Manalapan takes on Sayreville in a key nonconference game Friday night. Sayreville is 2-0 under new head coach Chris Beagan one year after having the final seven games of its season cancelled because of a hazing incident.
Bob Badders covers football for Shore Sports Network. Reach him at email@example.com