2016 U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic Preview
What: 39th 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 Manalapan and Ocean County winner Brick.
Where: Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field at Central Regional High School.
Tickets: $10 at the door.
Broadcast information: The game will be broadcast live on 1160/1310 a.m. with Matt Harmon, Kevin Williams, Ed Sarluca and Brad Burascano. 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, 20-17-1.
Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame inductees: Steve Antonucci, Kevin Callahan and Dick Brinster 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 year's matchup in the Gridiron Classic looks to be a battle between Monmouth County's deep rotation of quarterbacks, star running backs and play-making wide receivers versus a ferocious and dominant Ocean County defensive line. Ocean County also looks to have a standout and cohesive offensive line as it looks to win the war in the trenches on both sides.
Monmouth County features Middletown South's Matt Mosquera, Freehold's Jake Curry and Wall's Matt Cluley running Raritan's multiple-pro offense. Mosquera was the first-team All-Shore punter for Shore Sports Network while also quarterbacking Middletown South to a 12-0 record, the NJSIAA North 2, Group IV title and the No. 1 ranking in both the state and the Shore Conference. Curry is a dynamic dual threat who was also a standout defender, and was a first-team All-Shore defensive back. Cluley missed most of his senior season with injuries and is looking to go out with a bang in his final high school game.
Monmouth County's backfield features a pair of first-team All-Shore selections, and it will need them to be at the top of their games against a loaded Ocean County front. Raritan's Derek Ernst, who led the Shore Conference in rushing last season with 1,777 yards and 22 touchdowns to help the Rockets win the Central Jersey Group II title, is joined by Ocean's Tyler Thompson, who ran for 1,572 yards and 22 touchdowns and will continue his career at the FBS level at UMass. There's also Matawan's Makaya Caesar, a tough between-the-tackles runner and Keyport's Desmond Underwood with Mater Dei Prep's Cole Hardy and Red Bank Catholic's Dylan Murphy potentially seeing some carries.
Rounding out an impressive group of skill players for Monmouth County is a big and athletic group of wide receivers. Red Bank's Sadiq Palmer, a first-team All-Shore selection who is headed to UMass, leads the way along with Asbury Park's Jaedon Stephens. Palmer caught 48 passes for 660 yards and seven touchdowns and Stephens had 34 receptions for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns and was a third-team All-Shore pick. Then there's 6-foot-3 Freehold Township wide out/tight end Nick Galanti, who caught 43 passes for 650 yards and nine touchdowns to help lead the Patriots to the playoffs. St. John Vianney's Jeff Sheard adds a speed dynamic in the slot while Raritan's Jordan Smith, Red Bank's Teddy Mitchell and Howell's Nick Rossi are all capable of making big plays. Raritan's Mason Sheehan and Matawan's Isaiah Phillip are the tight ends.
First-team All-Shore selections Joe Rutkowski of Middletown South and Erik Graham of Shore lead Monmouth County's offensive line along with Shore's Steve Fiumefreddo and Casey Rogers, Red Bank Catholic's Ryan Oneidas, Rumson-Fair Haven's James Oncea, Middletown North's Pat McGowan and Matt Dombrowski, Manasquan's Rob Hart, Monmouth Regional's Tyler Gallagher, Keyport's Evan Smutz, Red Bank's Ricky Wild and Long Branch's Cameron Hills. This group holds the key to victory because if they can stop Ocean County's defensive line from blowing plays up in the backfield, Monmouth County has plenty of weapons to put points on the board.
Defensively, Monmouth County has Freehold's Todd Burger and Howell's Noah Powell playing primarily along the defensive line with Dombrowski, Wild, Oneidas, McGowan and Hart all slated to play both ways. The linebacking corps looks to be the strength of the unit with Matawan's Aliem Shaw and Phillip, Rumson-Fair Haven's Max Pfrang, Ocean's Tyler Rossback and Raritan's Sean Ennis. Palmer, Raritan's Nick Pasquin, Red Bank's Matt Reardon, Matawan's Alex Pierce, Hardy, Stephens and Asbury Park teammate Davon Thompson and Neptune's Rasheed Martin look to comprise the secondary.
One area Monmouth looks to have a major advantage is in the kicking game. They have five kickers on the roster with Red Bank's Jack O'Connor, a first-team All-Shore selection,, St. John Vianney's Joe Rice and Wall's Nick Maciejewski as primary kickers. Mosquera will play quarterback mostly but is one of the best kickers in Shore Conference history, and Galanti also has a big leg on kicks and punts.
As for Ocean County, the talk of practice week was a formidable defensive line that has the look of a unit that could completely take over the game. First-team All-Shore selections Da'Shon Copes of Toms River North, Mike Nobile of Brick Memorial and Tyler Towns of Jackson Memorial are joined by second-team picks Jordan Keefe and Dan Finelli of Brick, along with Brick Memorial man-child Chris Hayes, a third-team lineman. They'll look to thwart Monmouth County's running game and keep the quarterbacks running for their lives.
The group of linebackers is a standout group, as well, with Barnegat's Josh Bowen, Toms River South's Jaden Kosh, Brick's Cory Wilson, Jackson Memorial's Adante Davis, Southern's Pat Walker, Toms River East's Avery DelValle, Lacey's Jacob Post and Toms River North's Christian Lynch and Tom Donovan. DelValle led the Shore in tackles last season with 153. The secondary features Barnegat's Nick Camarato, Brick's Matt Schliefer, Brick Memorial's Elie Lavarin, Donovan Catholic's Alex Rosario, Toms River East's Norion Davis, Pat Saunders and Nick Grande, Central's Malcolm Vaughn and Point Boro's Devin Connelly and Gene Franceschini.
Ocean County's offense will run Toms River North's multiple spread with Central's Mike Miserendino and Point Boro's Noah Husak as the quarterbacks. Both are athletic and excel in the run game, especially Husak, who piloted Point Boro's flexbone triple-option attack to a share of the Class B South division title.
Joining them in the backfield at running back will be Jackson Memorial's Vinny Lee, Barnegat's Paul Wickwire and Donovan Catholic's David Calderon. Lavarin and Walker could also see time in the backfield. The wide receivers are Brick's Javion Harris and Schliefer and Donovan Catholic's Dezmund Hunter with Wickwire, Lavarin and Calderon also potentially lining up wide. Toms River North's Anthony Storino and Lacey's Tarique Smith are the tight ends.
Offensively, Ocean County's offensive line has been overshadowed by its counterparts on the defensive side, but is a very sturdy unit in its own right. Toms River North's Luke Butera, a first-team All-Shore selection, leads the group with teammate Tim Petersen, Brick Memorial's Anthony Nobile, Brick's Alex Trapasso, Toms River South's Kyle Hebrew, Toms River East's Brandon Burdge, Lakewood's Elijah Gill and Manchester's Phil Pender.
Point Boro's Collin Ansbach is Ocean County's kicker.
Prediction: Picking the winner in these games is usually an exercise in futility and on many occasions there are some unexpected plays that decide the game, like Brick Memorial's Karl Kumm, who wasn't even the Mustangs' kicker his senior year, kicking a pair of field goals in Ocean County's 27-7 win last year. Monmouth County has the advantage offensively but Ocean County's defensive line looks unstoppable and its offensive line could also control the line of scrimmage. That's usually the difference in the Gridiron Classic, so I like Ocean County in a low-scoring game. The pick: Ocean County.