2023 NJSIAA Football Group 5 State Championship Game Preview: Toms River North vs. Passaic Tech
NJSIAA GROUP 5 STATE FINAL
WHO: Toms River North (11-2) vs. Passaic Tech (13-0)
WHEN: Monday, Nov. 27, 8 p.m.
WHERE: SHI Stadium at Rutgers University - 1 Scarlet Knight Way, Piscataway, NJ 08854
PASSAIC TECH'S ROAD TO THE STATE FINAL: Defeated Bayonne, 42-0, in the North 1, Group 5 quarterfinals; defeated Union, 35-8, in the semifinals, defeated Montclair, 34-27, in the North 1, Group 5 sectional final; defeated Union City, 14-0, in the Group 5 semifinals.
TOMS RIVER NORTH’S ROAD TO THE STATE FINAL: Defeated Southern, 49-7, in the Central Jersey Group 5 quarterfinals; defeated Freehold Township, 54-13, in the semifinals; defeated Washington Township, 49-14, in the Central Jersey Group 5 final; defeated Cherokee, 33-6, in the Group 5 semifinals.
PASSAIC TECH'S BEST WINS: 13-6 and 14-0 over North 2, Group 5 sectional champion Union City; 34-27 over Montclair in the North 1, Group 5 sectional final.
TOMS RIVER NORTH’S BEST WINS: 14-7 over Millville; 42-21 over Group 2 finalist Rumson-FH; 21-7 over Middletown South; 49-14 over Washington Township in the Central Jersey Group 5 final; 33-6 over Cherokee in the Group 5 semifinals.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Toms River North is the defending Group 5 champion after finishing 14-0 last season in the inaugural year of the NJSIAA group finals, defeating Passaic Tech, 28-7, in the state final. The Mariners have won eight sectional titles in 10 appearances in the finals after a dominant 49-14 victory over Washington Township in the Central Jersey Group 5 championship game. They are 25-14 all-time in the playoffs across 21 appearances in the postseason...Passaic Tech has five sectional titles in its history, including titles in the last two seasons and in 2015, all of which have come under current head coach Matt Demarest.
Toms River North's defense vs. Passaic Tech's offense
To beat Tom River North, you have to score at least 21 points because holding down the Mariners' offense is not something public schools have had much success doing over the last two seasons. The Bulldogs enter the Group 5 final averaging four touchdowns per game led by a punishing ground attack spearheaded by senior Trashon Dye. One of the state's top two-way players, Dye has rushed for 1,997 yards and 22 touchdowns on an average of 7.6 yards per carry. He is their main ball carrier by a large margin as the player with the second-most carries is senior Yankel Ortiz with 39 carries for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Ma'Kao Taylor is Passaic Tech's quarterback and he has thrown for 1,245 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Senior Cashmere Jones is the leading wideout with 21 catches for 394 yards and four touchdowns. The passing game does enough to keep teams honest, but Passaic Tech's bread and butter is the running game with Dye. Stop that, and you stop the Bulldogs.
That appears to play right into the strength of the Toms River North defense. The only team that was able to line it up and get meaningful yards with their running back was Donovan Catholic in a 21-7 victory, and a 60-yard chunk came on a late touchdown run. In the playoffs, Toms River North has allowed just 40 points in four games, and 13 of those came with backups in the game late in the fourth quarter. The Mariners have allowed an average of just 45.5 rushing yards per game during the playoffs. Overall, the Mariners have yielded 10.5 points per game with three shutouts, and that number sinks to a measly 7.4 points per game vs. public schools.
The Mariners' imposing size that flattens teams on the offensive side is just as beastly on defense with star 6-foot-7, 300-pound junior Jaelyne Matthews leading the way up front with 75 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 14.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore defensive lineman Giovanni Anglin has enjoyed a strong debut season with 73 tackles, 3 sacks, and 14.5 tackles for loss. If the defensive line wins consistently it could be a long day for Passaic Tech. Toms River North's linebackers have been outstanding all season with seniors Christian Olivieri (109 tackles, 13.5 TFL) and Anthony Rodriguez (99 tackles, 16 TFL) and juniors Blaise Boland (90 tackles, 10 sacks, 26.5 tackles for loss) and Eddie Slosky (74 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 15 TFL) all turning in All-Shore caliber seasons. And if that wasn't enough, the secondary is awesome with seniors Micah Ford, Jeremiah Pruitt, Tareq Council, Josh Moore, and Luke Oizerowitz, and junior Nasir Jackson. The unit is not only difficult to score on, but it also creates a huge amount of negative plays with 31 sacks and 145 tackles for loss and forces plenty of turnovers with 11 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. They have returned a whopping five interceptions for touchdowns in their last three games - two each by Ford and Pruitt and another by Council. The fewest points Toms River North has scored against a public school over the last two seasons was 14 in a 14-7 win over Millville in Week 0 of this season. The only teams to score more than two touchdowns vs. the Mariners during that span are Washington Township (21) in Week 0 of last season and Group 2 finalist Rumson-Fair Haven (21) this season.
Toms River North's offensive vs. Passaic Tech's defense
Once again it will be strength vs. strength between these two units. Passaic Tech has to find a way to slow down Toms River North's offense to have a chance. This is the crux of the matchup.
The Bulldogs have allowed just 6.7 points per game this season with five shutouts, including a 14-0 win over Union City in the Group 5 semifinals. They have held 10 of 13 opponents to one touchdown or fewer. However, doing the same vs. Toms River North is an entirely different challenge as Passaic Tech found out last season in a 28-7 loss in the Group 5 final. And that was with Micah Ford in and out of the game with severe cramps. The Mariners ran for 279 yards with Ford and Moore both going over 100 yards and Ford threw for 117 and three touchdowns.
Toms River North's overpowering offense averages 36.8 points per game - 40.4 vs. public schools - and is centered on a devastating running game. The offensive line is massive with Matthews, one of the top offensive line recruits in the country, as one of the tackles, and 6-foot-7, 305-pound senior Justin Kaye as the other tackle. Junior right guard Hathem Hoorany is 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds and senior left guard CJ Valenti is 5-foot-11 and 275 pounds. The center is 6-foot-1, 275-pound junior Colin Keating. Together, they have paved the way for the Mariners to run for 3,396 yards and 37 touchdowns on an average of 8.1 yards per carry.
The Mariners have multiple stars on offense led by the reigning Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year, senior quarterback Micah Ford. Verbally committed to Stanford University, Ford has turned in another outstanding season despite missing four games due to an injury. He's rushed for 1,478 yards and 13 touchdowns on an average of 9.5 yards per carry and has thrown for 767 yards and 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Senior running back Josh Moore has 827 yards and eight touchdowns on an average of 7.7 yards per carry. Junior running back Mordecai Ford has showcased big-play ability with 386 yards and six touchdowns on just 25 attempts, but the bulk of those stats have come in relief.
Toms River North can also burn you through the air with multiple weapons. Pruitt has 19 catches for 483 yards and nine touchdowns, Council has 18 catches for 306 yards and five touchdowns, junior Camryn Thomas has 15 catches for 302 yards and four touchdowns, and Jackson has nine catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The Mariners throw it about 25 percent of the time and when they do it's usually for a big play.
Leading the Passaic Tech defense that yields less than a touchdown per game is Trashon Dye with 127 tackles (8 TFL) and fellow senior linebacker Jordan Alston with 120 tackles. Senior linebacker Travon Dye (4 sacks, 13 TFL), senior defensive lineman Kaiden Rex (8.5 sacks, 8 TFL), senior defensive lineman Owen Wescott (5 sacks), and junior linebacker Aarom Mendoza (12 TFL, 2.5 sacks) are the backfield disrupters among the defensive front. Jones (97 tackles, 7 INTs) leads a ball-hawking secondary that has picked off 19 passes and returned five of them for touchdowns. Junior Joel Perez has five interceptions and senior Jovan Tyrell has four interceptions, two of which he has returned for touchdowns.
This is another area Toms River North excels in. Senior kicker Yianni Papanikolas has converted 59 of 61 extra points and has one field goal (33 yards). Council and Jackson are dangerous on punt and kick returns, respectively. Council has returned two punts for touchdowns and Jackson has a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Passaic Tech senior kicker Efrain Sanchez has made 36 of 43 extra points and connected on a 27-yard field goal. Jones has returned one punt for a touchdown and Tyrell has a kick return touchdown.
Toms River North has a chance to put itself into the pantheon of Shore Conference teams by winning a second straight Group 5 state title. They have one of the best senior classes in recent Shore Conference history and have been nearly untouchable against public schools over the last two seasons. Passaic Tech is obviously a very good team that enters with a 13-0 record and surely has revenge on its mind. However, what Passaic Tech does well, Toms River North does better. They have the ability to jump on teams quickly with a dynamic offense and then unleash a ferocious pass rush that helps force turnovers. The Mariners are the heavy favorite for a reason, and on Monday night the senior class will cement its legacy as one of the best the Shore has ever seen.
The pick: Toms River North