2015 U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic Preview
What: 38th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic
When: Thursday at 7 p.m. The game will be preceded by the Shore Conference 7-on-7 championship at 6 p.m. between Monmouth County winner Wall and Ocean County winner Jackson Memorial.
Where: Bresett Stadium at Long Branch High School.
Tickets: $10 at the door.
Broadcast information: The game will be live on the radio on 1160/1310 a.m. with the award-winning Shore Sports Network crew of Kevin Williams, Ed Sarluca and Matt Harmon. The audio will also be streaming live online at ShoreSportsNetwork.com. The broadcast begins at 6:45 p.m.
All-time series: Monmouth leads Ocean, 20-16-1.
Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame inductees: Mark Costantino, Chris Barnes and Chris Christopher will all be inducted at halftime.
Rosters, coaches, Hall of Fame bios, game facts and more: Click here to view the official gameday program.
Game breakdown: This looks to be the dynamic quarterbacks and receivers of Ocean County against the explosive backfield of Monmouth County. However, usually the telling sign of the team that is going to win is the performance of the offensive line because it's so difficult to get cohesion up front in such a short amount of time, especially if the linemen are learning a different system than the one they ran on their respective team.
Ocean County has one of the most explosive dual threats in the Shore in Brick quarterback Carmen Sclafani as well as two-way threat Conor Davies from Lacey, who threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the Phil Simms North-South All-Star Classic two weeks ago. Jackson Memorial quarterback Joe DeMaio is another athletic threat who also may line up at wide receiver on some snaps.
Point Beach's Joe Wegrzyniak and Brick Memorial's Connor Owen are punishing, between-the-tackles runners, while Toms River South's Khaleel Greene is the home run hitter who can break a big one on any play. Ocean County is running Jackson Memorial's pro-style, I-formation offense, although it should also be showing some shotgun spread sets similar to what Sclafani and Davies ran with their teams.
DeMaio's teammate, Monmouth University-bound Matt Castronuova, is a deep receiving target as well as a threat on the jet sweep in addition to being a special teams dynamo who returned a kickoff 103 yards for a score in this year's North-South game. Brick Memorial's Karl Kumm is another one to watch at 6-foot-4 with good leaping ability at receiver. Southern's Clay Robinson and Jackson Memorial's Ryan Frasier look to lead the offensive line.
Defensively, Ocean County's defensive line looks to be its strength. Massive 300-pounders Adam Kakar of Toms River North and Joe Puggi of Pinelands are up front in the middle, with Class B South Co-Defensive Player of the Year Xavier Young of Barnegat also in the mix. Jackson Memorial's Brad Greenway and Brick's Chris Kimbiz also are tough up front, although they could end up playing on the offensive line. The linebackers are a stellar group led by first-team All-Shore selection Zach Tetro of Jackson Memorial and Shore Conference tackles leader James Juliano of Brick.
The secondary is also filled with great all-around athletes at corner like Brick's Ja'Quez Johnson, Barnegat's Ricky Gerena, and Brick Memorial safety Joe Hans. The main Achilles' heel for Ocean County could be special teams because they do not have a kicker, so extra points may be an adventure and field-goal attempts may be out of the question. That could be huge, considering Ocean County won last year's game on a field goal in the fourth quarter by Brick's Anthony Starego, who also made two extra points.
As for Monmouth County, all eyes will be on the backfield tandem of Long Branch tailback Dahmiere Willis, who set the single-season Shore Conference rushing record with 2,589 yards and will be playing on his home field. Right there with him will be another star, Rumson's all-time leading rusher, Princeton-bound Charlie Volker.
It will be interesting to see what kind of offense Monmouth County decides to employ. Head coach Mark Costantino of Shore Regional is a staunch Wing-T coach, but it's tough to teach the footwork and timing of that offense in such a short time, so it could be more I-formation with Willis and Volker back there together or one of them at tailback and a physical fullback like Holmdel's Frank Condito leading the way. Howell's Jarvis Leaks is another solid back who is a dangerous receiving threat as well.
Mater Dei Prep's record-setting quarterback Christian Palmer has experience running a somewhat similar offense to the Wing-T in the triple option, although the Seraphs ran the spread in his last two years. Raritan quarterback Riley Sullivan was added to the roster late after Monmouth's Jimmy Green dropped out and ran a pro-style system with the Rockets. Royal Moore also played quarterback for Neptune, although his strength is as a shutdown defensive back.
If Volker and Willis can help establish the run, Monmouth has some talented receivers like first-team All-Shore pick Dan Calabro of St. John Vianney, Red Bank Catholic's Trevor Cowley, and second-teamer Justin Ferrara of Matawan, although they are also defensive standouts in the secondary so it remains to be seen how they are used. Middletown North's Jordan Pitts is another tall threat with good speed along with Mater Dei Prep's Tysaun White. Volker's top lineman, Rumson's Cooper Cuje, leads the group up front along with Middletown South's Brian Joyce and one of the lineman responsible for Willis' monster season, Long Branch's Andrew Huff.
Monmouth has a big advantage in the kicking game because of Shore Regional's Jake Monteiro, a kicker/punter combo who is headed to Rutgers as a preferred walk-on. He has range out to 50 yards and can dramatically change field position with his punting.
Defensively, Monmouth has a nice mix of speed and power. Middletown South's Dan Servidio is undersized but very quick up front, and he had 11 sacks this past season. His Eagles' teammate, Pat Crowe, also is a disruptive player at defensive end along with Neptune's Oshane Curate and Long Branch's John Mimes.
That defensive end group could be crucial since blitzing is not allowed in the game, so teams have to generate pressure with their front four. They also will try to contain three athletic Ocean County quarterbacks who can make plays on the run. Monmouth could move up Long Branch linebacker Hunter Baillie, who led the Shore with 15 sacks, to defensive end to get after the passer regularly.
Monmouth also has some physical interior players up front like Manalapan's Ben Sieczkowski, Neptune's Andrew Holland-Samuels and Matawan's Jake Weber. Baillie, Wall's Rich Eknoian, Red Bank's Jimmy Ferrogine, Manalapan's Joe Mendez and Condito make up the linebacking group, where Matawan's Devon Spann, who also plays running back, could see time.
The secondary looks like a particular strength, which could make for a great match-up with the passing ability of the Ocean County quarterbacks. Long Branch cornerback Dave Colbert led the Shore with eight interceptions, and SSN first-team All-Shore pick Frank Henry of Ocean Township had 134 tackles and 12.5 sacks as a safety. Red Bank Catholic's Mike Cordova is another standout safety who was a two-time All-Shore selection. Plus there's the Moores (not related), Royal of Neptune and Mike of Shore Regional, who also are a pair of playmakers.
Prediction: No one ever knows how these games will turn out. Last year, Ocean County's two touchdowns were a 71-yard return of a blocked field goal and a 26-yard fumble return on a bizarre play in a 17-14 win. I give a slight edge to Ocean County this year because of its balance on offense and what looks like a defense that should be tough to run the ball on, but certainly Willis putting on a show for his home crowd one last time is a real possibility and/or a big game by Volker. The pick: Ocean County.
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