2023 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 Football Championship Preview: Point Boro vs. Willingboro
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
WHO: (2) Willingboro (9-2) at (1) Point Boro (9-1)
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Al Saner Field - 830 Laura Herbert Dr., Point Pleasant, NJ, 08742
POINT BORO'S ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Spotswood, 55-7, in the quarterfinals; defeated Cinnaminson, 49-21, in the semifinals.
WILLINGBORO'S ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Monmouth Regional, 42-0, in the quarterfinals; defeated Pleasantville, 57-29, in the semifinals.
POINT BORO'S BEST WINS: 42-20 over Colts Neck; 42-14 over Central Jersey Group 4 finalist Long Branch; 42-28 over South Jersey Group 2 finalist Rumson-Fair Haven.
WILLINGBORO'S BEST WINS: 24-20 over Camden Eastside; 57-29 over Pleasantville.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: These two programs are quite similar in terms of postseason success. The Panthers and Chimeras are each playing in their third straight sectional final and for the second time head-to-head. Point Boro won the Central Jersey Group 2 title in 2021 with a 32-8 win over Willingboro. Last season, Willingboro stunned the undefeated Panthers, 50-30, in the semifinals. Point Boro has four sectional titles in program history (1977, 1978, 2005, 2021) while Willingboro also has four, including three in the last six seasons (1985, 2018, 2019, 2022). Both teams are making their ninth finals appearances all-time and are 4-4 in sectional championship games.
Analysis: One of the driving motivational forces behind Point Boro's 2023 season has been getting back to a sectional final and earning another crack at Willingboro. That time has arrived.
The Panthers and Chimeras will square off for the third straight season in the playoffs and the rubber match will give one program its fifth sectional title. Point Boro scored a 32-8 win to secure the 2021 Central Jersey Group 2 title and Willingboro responded last season with a 50-30 upset in the section semifinals. The manner in which Point Boro lost last year was the stunning part, surrendering 50 points in their only loss of the season after allowing just 7.7 points per game over their previous nine games. Then-freshmen quarterback Lamar Best threw for 208 yards and five touchdowns in that game when the Panthers had no answer for Willingboro's aerial attack.
Fast forward a year and Best has taken his game to another level with 2,209 yards passing and 33 touchdowns plus 603 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. He already has the most touchdown passes (56) in Willingboro history and leads a dynamic offense that has scored 40 or more points seven times and is averaging 38.4 points per game. The receiving tandem of senior Jarelle Taylor Jr. (42 receptions for 649 yards and 15 touchdowns) and sophomore Terrance Knighton (39 receptions for 758 yards and nine touchdowns) has been lethal, while senior tight end Damar Jackson (19-329-3) and sophomore wideout Zahir Bryant (10-228-2) give Best four legit options to throw to. Not many teams are equipped to cover that many receiving threats and Point Boro found this out the hard way last season. The Chimeras have also rushed for 1,895 yards and 25 touchdowns on an average of 6.4. yards per carry, so it's not just the passing of Best that opponents have to be concerned with. Senior Ray'Mir Johnson is the team's leading rusher with 976 yards and 12 touchdowns. Best being a major running threat is a big change from last season when he did not carry the ball much.
The challenges for Point Boro and defensive coordinator Shane O'Connor are significant, but the unit doesn't have to be perfect considering it has an electric offense of its own. Point Boro's defense thrives on forcing turnovers and creating negative plays in the backfield, and they've done their fair share of both this season with 12 turnovers (5 INTs, 7 fumble recoveries), 27 sacks, and 43 tackles for loss. They are allowing 14.1 points per game with one shutout and have seen a variety of offenses ranging from run-heavy units like Colts Neck, a balanced Manalapan offense, and teams with dual-threat quarterbacks in wins over Long Branch and Matawan. Senior Charles "Boom" Davison (3 sacks) and juniors Nick Jankovich (5 sacks), Paul Hagenmeyer (4 sacks), and Slade Samaritano anchor the defensive line with junior Dylan Reitmeyer (74 tackles, 2 sacks), senior Owen Dewysockie (61 tackles, 6 TFL), and junior Colin Obser (85 tackles, 9 TFL) leading the linebackers. The spotlight will be on the secondary against one of New Jersey's best young quarterbacks. Can a defensive backfield that includes Oliphant, Croce, freshman standout Jake Clayton, and senior Brian Simoes prevent Best and company from taking over the game? Point Boro plays a 4-2-5 defense so its hybrid outside linebackers/safeties will be challenged in coverage more so than they have all season outside of facing Rumson and the standout quarterback/receiver duo of Owen O'Toole and Nick Rigby. Pressure from the front seven will certainly help, and the Panthers aren't shy about blitzing, but that could open running lanes for Best to hurt them with his legs. Bend but don't break might be the winning formula.
A few stops and a turnover could be enough for Point Boro's defense because of what its offense brings to the table in averaging a Shore Conference-best 43.1 points per game with eight games scoring 40 or more points. The Panthers are one of the few remaining traditional flexbone, triple-option teams left in New Jersey and they run it at an incredibly high level. Traditionally a ball-control offense used to level the playing field for teams lacking size or explosive athletes, Point Boro's option offense is the exact opposite. The Panthers routinely score on big plays to open up quick, multi-score leads on teams to bury them early. Point Boro has rushed for 3,454 yards and 46 touchdowns on an average of 9.7 yards per carry. Senior quarterback Matt Oliphant was superb as a junior and has been even better this season with 1,558 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns on an absurd average of 10.7 yards per attempt. Oliphant's improved passing ability has taken his game to new heights, as well. When Point Boro throws the ball it's to score touchdowns, and Oliphant has completed half of his passes for scores with 526 yards and 11 touchdowns (2 INTs) on 22 of 30 passing. Senior fullback Jake Croce is the Panthers' all-time leading rusher and enters Friday's game with 929 yards and 12 touchdowns on an average of 8.8 yards per carry. Clayton, Obser, and Simoes are the slot backs and have produced when called upon, but it's all about the two-man game with Oliphant and Croce behind a smart and physical offensive line.
Willingboro's defense has allowed 12.6 points per game with four shutouts. The Chimeras have faced standout teams Northern Highlands (35-26 loss) and Timber Creek (16-14 loss) but the matchup with Point Boro is arguably their biggest challenge considering the Panthers' powerful rushing offense. Junior defensive lineman Jordan Richardson-Wright (7 sacks, 10 TFL) is a player Point Boro will have to get a hat on along with junior Jaelen Johnson (4.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL). Willingboro has forced 24 turnovers and recorded 73 negative plays, which are two things Point Boro's offense cannot afford to have happen. As explosive as they are, the Panthers have to stay ahead of the sticks and avoid giving Willingboro's offense extra possessions.
An area where Point Boro has an edge is on special teams with senior kicker Brayden Forfar, who has converted 51 of 52 extra points and connected on a 32-yard field goal. Willingboro has more successful 2-point conversions than it does extra points made.
Point Boro has also played a great schedule that should have it as prepared as ever for a championship game. With multi-score wins over South Jersey Group 2 finalist Rumson-Fair Haven, Central Jersey Group 4 finalist Long Branch, and playoff semifinalists Colts Neck and Manasquan, the Panthers have played one of the toughest schedules of any Group 2 team in New Jersey.
It will be shocking if this doesn't end up as a high-scoring game. The team that wins the turnover battle and allows the fewest big plays will probably be the one raising a trophy into the night sky.
The pick: Point Boro 38, Willingboro 33