Wildcard Wednesday: Sectional Semifinals – Matawan vs. Manasquan
Heading into this weekend’s state sectional semifinals, one of the most highly-anticipated games is a showdown between old rivals Manasquan and Matawan on Saturday at Vic Kubu Warrior Field in Manasquan.
The Warriors have won 23 straight home games, while Matawan has eliminated Manasquan in the state playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Manasquan is seeking its third trip to the CJ II final in the last four years and looks to add to its Shore Conference-record 11 sectional titles in its history. Matawan is looking to reach three straight state finals for the first time in its own proud history and is trying to win its sixth sectional title overall, which would tie Brick and Keyport for the third-most in Shore Conference history.
I spoke with two rival coaches who had either scouted or played both of these teams during the season, and here is their combined anonymous take on what to expect on Saturday.
Matawan (7-2) at Manasquan (9-0), 1 p.m.
When Manasquan is on offense: “They’re running the same plays like power, inside zone and play-action that they’ve run over the years, just out of the pistol and the shotgun. (Senior quarterback Tyler) Saito is having a great year. They like to roll him out right, and they will throw on first or second down, which is something they haven’t done in the past. You used to be able to rely on them to run on first and second down and then either run play-action (pass) or three yards and a cloud of dust on third down. Now they have the ability to throw on any down and hurt you.
Saito is a big quarterback with a strong arm and a kid who is a veteran who has played in a lot of big games in his career. I don’t expect the atmosphere to bother Saito one bit. Plus, he’s got three kids (Connor Grogan, Bryan Abadrabo and Josh Aromando) who are capable of catching the ball for first downs or touchdowns. Over the years, they would run, run, run and then go for the home run pass, but now they will throw the ball to move the chains.
They’re good off turnovers or a big play in the game. They like to play-action pass and go deep for the quick score to go for the kill when they think their opponent is rattled. Their willing to be aggressive.
Running-wise, Kodie McNamara and Joe Murphy run hard. They’re not breakaway backs like (Manasquan) has had in the past, but they’re both solid high school running backs.
Against Matawan, you want to make sure your wide receivers do a good job of slowing (Matawan senior safety Larry) Alston down by getting a body on him and keeping him from getting a full head of steam when running at McNamara and Murphy. Some of the biggest hits we’ve seen by anyone this season were delivered by Alston, and you don’t want that happening to McNamara or Murphy.
Saito has to throw the ball on time, prior to Matawan’s defensive backs coming out of their breaks because their DBs are very quick and athletic. Saito sometimes holds the ball too long and has an elongated delivery. Squan’s line will give him time to throw, so he just has to get rid of the ball quickly.”
When Matawan is on defense: “They are very physical and very athletic in that 4-3 scheme. They do a very good job of keeping everything in front of them and putting hats on the ball. They do not give up a lot of points and have been very good defensively in the last two or three years.
They’re not huge up front, but they have good size and their linebackers flow to the ball. Their secondary is very athletic, and they’ve got the human vacuum, Larry Alston. If anyone misses a tackle, he swoops in and vacuums the person up. He just kills running backs. Manasquan’s wide receivers have to get a block on him and force their cornerbacks to make tackles.
Matawan wants to make sure they keep Saito in the pocket on play-action or sprint out, and if they blitz him, bring the pressure up the middle and get in his face. It sounds weird given Manasquan’s history, but you want to make Squan run the ball to beat you.’’
When Matawan is on offense: “They want to get the ball in Larry Alston’s hands as much as possible and try to wear Manasquan down. I expect Matawan to run stretch and get outside, and then come back with a counter.
It’s a contrast in styles – Matawan wants to make it a street right of three yards to the death, while Manasquan is going to want to spread them out, throw the ball, and formation them to run the ball. It’s totally a contradiction of what both programs are usually about. Usually Matawan wants to spread you out and Manasquan wants to run the ball.
There’s nobody else that scares you offensively besides Alston because Cassius Williams (who is out for the season with a torn ACL) is not in the lineup. A big question mark with Alston is fatigue because he is on the field for pretty much every play on both sides of the ball. Can Manasquan wear him down?”
When Manasquan is on defense: “There are some tendencies that Matawan shows offensively, but the main thing is trying to gang tackle Larry Alston and frustrate him as much as possible. You want to be physical with him on special teams, offense and defense to try to wear him down. If he takes a play off, make him pay for it.
It comes to down to Manasquan tackling well defensively. If they can tackle Alston consistently without allowing him to get yards after contact, they will be in this game.
Special teams are also huge. The team that wins the battle of field position in this game will win. Matawan’s kid (kicker/punter Mike Creamer) is good, so he could be very important in this game by forcing Manasquan to drive long distances to score. This is going to be a great game, and I still couldn’t really say who is going to win because Matawan is very tough, while Manasquan is almost unbeatable on that field.’’