Central Jersey Semifinals: 10 Shore Conference Teams Playing for a Spot in State Finals
With most of the Shore Conference teams being aligned in the Central Jersey brackets it’s been a section where local teams have thrived over the years. Last season the Shore won four of the five championships and two seasons ago it was a clean sweep with Manalapan in Group V, Jackson Memorial in Group IV, Matawan in Group III, Rumson-Fair Haven in Group II and Shore in Group I all taking home titles.
There is the potential for another major haul of hardware for the Shore with a guaranteed champion coming out of Central Group I and Manalapan favored to win Group V. There’s also a guaranteed finalist in Central Group IV with Brick and Freehold squaring off in one of the semifinals.
Jackson Memorial is going for its third straight state title and Rumson is out to join a select group with its fourth straight crown. Both have difficult road games to reach the championship game but are proven commodities this time of year. Manasquan has an unbeaten opponent on the road in its quest to reach a state final for the first time since 2011 and add to its Shore-record 11 state championships.
Here’s a look at the seven semifinals between involving Shore Conference teams.
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP V
(5) South Brunswick (7-2) at (1) Manalapan (10-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
Winner plays the winner of (3) Old Bridge at (2) Piscataway in the final, time/site/date TBA
Game breakdown: Manalapan is trying reach its fifth final in the last six years and comes in as a sizable favorite against a South Brunswick program is has faced several times in the postseason over the past few years. The Braves won their first sectional title in program history by beating the Vikings in 2014, and South Brunswick edged the Braves in the semifinals last season on its way to winning the championship.
Manalapan’s highly touted class of juniors has come into its own this season and has led the Braves on a rampage that has them 10-0 and projected by win it all. Manalapan’s 21-10 comeback victory over second-seeded Piscataway in Week 8, at Rutgers no loss, gave a glimpse of what the future may hold.
The Braves’ offense is third in the Shore averaging 38.7 points per game and can beat you in a variety of different ways. Manalapan has traditionally been the most balanced team in the Shore out of its multiple-pro offense, and this year is no different. Junior quarterback Luke Corcione has enjoyed a breakout season with 1,584 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 61 percent completion rate. Even more remarkable is that he’s thrown only one interception in 163 attempts. He has a bevy of wideouts to throw to, including Temple recruit L.J. Holder. Junior Scott Scherzer leads the team with 35 catches for 603 yards and 6 touchdowns, but Corcione will spread the ball around. Holder has five touchdown catches and senior tight end Mike Taylor has seven. Junior running back Naim Mayfield and junior fullback Chris Maksimik are also weapons out of the backfield with 20 receptions and four touchdowns combined.
The bread and butter of Manalapan’s offense is still its running game, and it has one of the Shore’s best tailbacks with Mayfield who has rushed for 1,397 yards and 18 touchdowns on an average of 9.3 yards per carry. He only played the first half in a 49-0 wipeout of New Brunswick in the quarterfinals, but still rolled up a ridiculous 274 yards and four touchdowns on just 11 carries. Maksimik might be the least-known and most underrated star in the Shore from his fullback position. The lead blocker is as important as any position in Manalapan’s offense, and Maksimik is a 5-foot-10, 230-pound freight train who teams with the offensive line to pave the way for Mayfield. He is also a good runner with five touchdowns, and has broken some long runs on fullback dives in the last few games.
South Brunswick’s defense allows 15.3 points per game and is coming off a 23-21 victory over Freehold Township in the quarterfinals where a safety late in the game provided the winning points. The Vikings enter on a six-game winning streak with both their losses coming to the other semifinalists in the section, Old Bridge and Piscataway.
Junior outside linebacker Xavier Cargile leads the team in tackles with 52, including six for a loss and one sack. Senior outside linebacker Marcus Cerminaro and 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive lineman Darius Tisdale are also playmakers five and 6.5 sacks, respectively, along with eight tackles for a loss each. Lurking in the secondary for the Vikings is junior Justin Shorter, a game-breaking talent who is a four-star recruit verbally committed to Penn State. He has three interceptions and 28 tackles from his position as a free safety.
Manalapan’s defense has also been outstanding this season and is also ranked third in the Shore allowing 8.5 points per game. The unit has recorded five shutouts, including two in a row in wins over Freehold Township and New Brunswick. It’s 3-4 defense is like the offense in that is has playmakers all over the field. Junior linebacker Sal Tardogno leads the team in tackles with 96 while sophomore linebacker Tommy Pearce has 71 tackles in just seven games. Senior outside linebacker Jonathan Pimentel is the team’s best pass rusher with 6 sacks, 14 hurries, 6 tackles for a loss and 65 total stops. Junior linebacker Lazarus Marquez is another pass rusher to watch with five sacks on the season.
Senior safety Cody Weiner is one of the best defensive backs in the Shore and excels in run support with 65 tackles. Senior cornerback Sean Kinniburgh and junior cornerback Eli Avivi each have two interceptions to lead the team.
Against South Brunswick, Manalapan will key on stopping senior quarterback Josh Liao, who is the Vikings’ leading passer and rusher. He has thrown for 1,156 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 369 yards and 9 touchdowns. Jaylon Lawson is right behind him with 361 yards and five touchdowns. The player to watch on offense is Shorter at wide receiver, who has 36 catches for 505 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Felix Quinones has 20 catches for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns and senior Anthony Blakey Jr. has 20 catches for 237 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Going by common opponent is clear that Manalapan is the heavy favorite. Manalapan has wins over both teams to defeat South Brunswick, including 42-0 over Old Bridge. South Brunswick needed a late defensive score to edge Freehold Township in the quarterfinals, and when Manalapan played the Patriots two weeks ago it won 35-0.
Playing a clean game and executing as usual is the key for the Braves. South Brunswick under head coach Joe George is a battle-test group that has played in several big games over the years, so they’ll be ready to pounce if Manalapan isn’t at its best.
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP IV
(5) Freehold (6-4) at (1) Brick (7-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
Game breakdown: The matchup between one of New Jersey’s most explosive players in Freehold quarterback Ashante Worthy and a Brick team that has been through the gauntlet is one of the more fascinating scenarios of the semifinals. Freehold is trying to reach its first sectional final since winning the title in 2010, while Brick is looking to secure its 12th berth in a final and take another step toward its eighth state championship.
The biggest story in the Shore Conference and one of the headlines statewide last week was Worthy going bonkers with a record-setting game in a quarterfinal win over Pennsauken. Worthy broke the Shore Conference single-game rushing record with a mind-numbing 465 yards and 8 touchdowns on 43 carries, while also throwing for 71 yards and two touchdowns. The Colonials’ 69-56 win was the highest scoring playoff game in New Jersey history.
Freehold started the season 0-4, and after its third game made the decision to switch Worthy from running back to quarterback. The choice to put the ball in the hands of their best player on every play has paid massive dividends as the Colonials have won six games in a row to reach the semifinals, which seemed highly unlikely after a 14-0 loss to Manalapan in Week 4. Worthy has been unconscious since moving to quarterback with 36 total touchdowns, including an interception return and kickoff return, in the past six games. This season he has rushed for 1,881 yards and 28 touchdowns on an average of 8.7 yards per carry while also throwing for 732 yards and 8 touchdowns. He has two games of 300 or more rushing yards and two games of seven total touchdowns not including last week’s trapped-inside-a-vide-game performance.
It seems the obvious decision would be to lead the box to stop Worthy on the ground, but Freehold has the playmakers at wide receiver to make teams pay. Ahlonte Hair leads the team with 28 receptions for 367 yards and 4 touchdowns while Markee Gill has 12 catches for 204 yards and 5 touchdowns and Matt Krauss has 17 catches for 306 yards and a score.
Loading the box is also dangerous against Freehold because once Worthy breaks the pocket it’s almost like a punt return. Not enough players in the second and third levels could lead to big plays, and players over-pursuing or being caught out of position will give Worthy cut-back lanes.
On the flip side, Brick’s defense is the best unit Freehold has seen since the loss to Manalapan. The Dragons will try to contain Worthy and punch a ticket to the final for the first time since winning the section in 2013. They come in allowing 17.3 points per game, good for fifth in the Shore.
Senior linebacker Dean Helstowski leads the Dragons wth 106 tackles along with three sacks and two interceptions. Senior linebacker Jay Obenauer has a team-high five sacks along with 10 tackles for a loss and a pair of defensive touchdowns. Senior Jack Finelli and junior Patrick Geissler lead the defensive line. Finelli has 12 tackles for a loss. Brick’s secondary has a pair of sophomore playmakers in Cole Groschel and Jimmy Leblo, along with standout senior John Prato. Leblo has 82 tackles and six pass breakups while Groschel is among the Shore’s leaders with four interceptions. Prato has 45 total tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups.
Brick’s offense doesn’t have anyone with gaudy numbers, but instead has a handful of players that get the job done. Senior Ja’Sir Taylor doesn’t have huge stats, but the Temple recruit is a game-breaking player who opposing defenses have to account for. He’s run for nine touchdowns and close to 500 yards. Although Taylor is a foremost a standout wide receiver, Brick’s offense is much more run-oriented and utilizes him that way.
Senior Anthony Costanza is a stable player at quarterback who makes enough plays through the air while also being a threat on the ground. He has over 1,000 combined yards and 10 touchdowns, including eight rushing scores, in Brick’s multiple offense. Costanza and Taylor carried the load early in the season with Groschel sprinkled in, but Prato and fellow senior Rashan McCall have come on of late with some big games. Prato has both the team’s receiving touchdowns and has also run for over 200 yards and three scores. McCall is the team’s leading rusher at over 500 yards and eight touchdowns.
Considering Freehold allowed 376 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last week to Pennsauken’s Marvin Booker, Brick has to feel good about it’s ground game putting up points against the Colonials. Freehold’s defense is in the bottom third of the Shore in points allowed at 23.9, so when they win it’s in high-scoring games with Worthy doing the heavy lifting.
Senior linebacker Xavier Madera leads Freehold with 87 tackles while Krauss has 87 at defensive back. Senior linebacker Jared Van Duysen has 76 tackles along with 4.5 sacks. Junior defensive lineman Qua’jon Everett is among the Shore leaders in sacks with nine while Hair is tied for the conference lead in interceptions with five.
Jake Hurler had been one of the steadier kickers in the Shore this year hitting 35 of 37 extra points and two field goals, so if Freehold has to rely on him to make a clutch kick they have a player that’s been getting it done all year.
The formula for victory is simple for both teams. If Brick’s defense can slow Worthy down and keep him from taking over the game the Dragons will be playing for a state title in two weeks. If Worthy goes off again the Colonials can likely punch their ticket to Rutgers. No one has stopped Worthy over the last six games, so it’s a big challenge for Brick’s defense. What the Dragons have going for them is they’ve seen several of the Shore’s top offensive players this season including Toms River North quarterback Mike Husni, Jackson Memorial running back Mike Gawlik, Central running back Mike Bickford. They also went toe-to-toe with an undefeated St. John Vianney in an overtime loss.
(6) Jackson Memorial (6-4) at (2) Allentown (8-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
Game breakdown: It’s November and Jackson Memorial has caught fire to make a run at a state championship, so it’s pretty much a repeat of the past two seasons. The Jaguars are hoping the ending is the same as they go for the program’s third straight state crown, but standing in their way is a talented Allentown team looking to get back a state final and take home the first title in its history.
The Jaguars’ offense enters ranked 15th in the Shore averaging 27 points per game. Senior running back Mike Gawlik is having an all-time season and has set multiple career and season records for the Jaguars. After rushing for 220 yards and three touchdowns in a 39-6 win over Nottingham in the quarterfinals Gawlik has rushed for 2,023 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. He is the first Jackson player to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark and is second in New Jersey in rushing yards. The only team to keep him out of the end zone this season was Brick in Week 2, but he still went over the 100 yard mark in that game. He’s been unstoppable in the second half of the season with two games of over 300 yards rushing.
Senior quarterback Dan Barker has put together his best stretch of football over the past few weeks making plays in the ground an in the air. Gawlik is going to get the lion share of touches, but when Barker’s number is called he has to make defenses pay on a keeper or a pass downfield. If he can make a few plays and make Allentown pay legitimate attention to him it will give Gawlik some extra room. Matt D’Amore and Trevor Lauro are the primary receivers for Barker.
Leading an Allentown defense tasked with stopping Gawlik is standout linebacker Rick Mottram. The Bucknell recruit is one of the top defensive players in the West Jersey Football League and enters with 113 tackles, including a staggering 21 hits for a loss plus 2 sacks. Senior defensive end Colin Roy is also a disruptive force with 20 tackles for a loss and a team-leading 8.5 sacks
Jackson Memorial’s defense is 10th in the Shore with 16.1 points allowed per game, and will have its hands full with Allentown senior quarterback Jordan Winston. The southpaw has thrown for 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns, and such brings a true dual-threat element to the Redbirds’ offense. Football isn’t even his main sport as Winston is a pitcher with a low 90s fastball and has committed to Oklahoma State. His main target is junior X’zavier Harris, who is averaging a whopping 27.9 yards per catch with 17 receptions for 475 yards and 5 touchdowns. Senior Joe Bellotti is also a big-play threat with 10 catches for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns for an average of 26.4 yards per catch.
Allentown averages 320 rushing yards per game, so it’s not just Winston pulverizing opposing defenses. Senior Joe Mannino has 822 yards and 13 touchdowns on an average of 8.2 yards per carry and senior Aydon Chavis has 571 yards and eight touchdowns on 7.7 yards per rush. Mottram also has eight touchdown runs.
Jackson has proven it can proven it can get it done in the postseason while Allentown has not, and Mercer County teams have not fared well against the Shore in the playoffs. However, this is an Allentown team that is deep and dangerous, led by a pair of senior standouts in Winston and Mottram. The Redbirds played St. Joseph (Hammonton) and Shawnee, so they have seen two top teams even though were losses. Jackson has played the tougher schedule with Brick, Toms River North and Old Bridge still in the playoffs, plus a Central team that was 7-2. That should be a factor, the question is how much.
If the Gawlik-led offense has another huge game and the defense can make some stops to key a win it will only add to the legacy of this particular Jaguars group, which is trying to give Jackson three straight state titles for the first time in program history.
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP III
(4) Rumson-Fair Haven (7-2) at (1) Somerville (10-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
Game breakdown: It’s the classic matchup of juggernaut offense and ferocious defense when three-time defending champion Rumson-Fair Haven travels to Somerville where it will try to get back to a state championship game behind a standout senior class.
The season Somerville has put together is one of the most interesting storylines in all of New Jersey. The Pioneers went 0-10 in both 2013 and 2014, then brought in former New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek as a co-head coach with Chris Casamento for the 2015 season. The Pioneers went 2-8 last year, but have completely turned it around as they enter Friday night’s game at 10-0 and with one of the highest-scoring offenses in the state.
Somerville’s offense averages a crazy 50.1 points per game and has not been held under 41 points all season. They dropped 50 on an A.L. Johnson team that just took Manasquan down to the wire and nuked a Summit team that will play Middletown North in the North 2, Group IV semifinals, 42-7.
In a year where unbelievable statistics have dominated the Shore Conference storylines, Somerville quarterback Nick Couzzi has put together an incredible season that rivals any player in the Shore. The senior has thrown for 2,348 yards and 32 touchdowns with just four interceptions while also rushing for a team-high 874 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s 3,222 combined yards and 43 total touchdowns to save you glance at the calculator. He has thrown for over 250 yards in five games and had three games over 300 yards, including a 391-yard, five-touchdown performance against North Plainfield.
Somerville has six players with at least 10 catches and four wth over 200 yards receiving. Nasyr Petties-Jackson is by far the Pioneers’ best wide out with 58 catches for 973 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Chris Ciempola has 32 catches for 633 yards and nine touchdowns. Aside from Couzzi, Keyshawn Newton is the main running back with 306 yards and six touchdowns.
Just looking at the stats makes it seem like Rumson has no chance, but the Bulldogs have made a living of shutting down potent offenses in the playoffs over the last three years. This will undoubtedly be the biggest test, however. Senior linebacker Mike Ruane leads the way and is one of the best defensive players in the Shore Conference. The University of Massachusetts recruit has 85 tackles and four sacks, and the reason those numbers aren’t greater is that he is out of the game in the third quarter most weeks. Four of Rumson’s seven wins have come via shutout, and in two other wins the only touchdowns scored by the opponent came on special teams or defense. In the two games regular season games Ruane played until the end - losses to Middletown South and St. John Vianney - he had over 15 tackles. He is a game-changing force, plain and simple.
Along the defensive line the Bulldogs have senior Liam Adams leading the way, while standout strong safety Mike Murdock leads the secondary. Murdocks has 74 tackles and three interceptions and is outstanding against the run, acting almost like a fourth linebacker in the Bulldogs’ 4-3 defense. Jake Giannotto, Pat Russo, James Melia and Ryan Tuorto also patrol the secondary and will have their hands full dealing with Somerville’s aerial attack.
Where Rumson can level the playing field is with its run-based offense out of the spread keeping Couzzi and Somerville’s offense off the field. Senior quarterback Mike O’Connor, a Colgate recruit, and senior running back Matt Vecchiarelli lead the rushing attack behind an offensive line spearheaded by 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior Tim Leonard. O’Connor has rushed for 544 yards and 10 touchdowns on an 8.5 average while Vecchiarelli has 770 yards and eight touchdowns. Both have seen limited time due to large second-half leads, and O’Connor also missed two games with turf toe.
Rumson doesn’t throw the ball much, but when it does O’Connor’s top targets are seniors Tyler Pierson (15 catches for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Trevor Caruso (8 catches for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns).
Somerville’s defense allows 15.7 points per game against a decent schedule that includes Summit, Johnson and a Cranford team Rumson beat in the first round. Arthur Akins leads the team in both tackles (64) and sacks (12) while Ryan Hrabinski has 8 sacks. Jason Curau leads the Pioneers with three interceptions. The unit hasn’t had a game where it’s had to make a big stop to secure a win because Somerville has won by at least 20 points, so it’s fair to question how they will fair in a tight game. Their task is to slow down Rumson’s rushing attack, and if they can do that and give the ball right back to their high-powered offense, Somerville will be in business.
Another question is how will Somerville respond if Rumson is frustrating an offense that is used to doing whatever it wants. If Ruane and company are coming at Couzzi from all angles and punishing him in the backfield, how will he react?
We’ll see if Rumson’s defense under head coach/defensive coordinator Jerry Schulte can do it again in the playoffs and shut down a top offense. This is as big a test the Bulldogs have faced over the past four seasons
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP II
(3) Manasquan (8-1) at (2) Roselle (9-0), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Game breakdown: A rejuvenated Manasquan program is back in the sectional semifinals for the first time in three years and is trying to reach its first sectional final since 2009, but to do so the Warriors will have to travel to Union County and take down an undefeated team with a bulldozing offense.
Roselle leads the state in points per game with a staggering 53.3 and have won every game since Week 1 by an average of 39.5 points. That number could be even higher if not for a forfeit victory over Dayton. The Rams have scored 60 or more points four times, including a 69-26 detonation of Harrison in the quarterfinals.
Senior quarterback Gerald Hairston III is a big-bodied, strong-armed quarterback standing 6-foot-2 and weight 230 pounds. He’s thrown for 1,911 yards and 21 touchdowns with only one interception and has also run for 230 yards and four touchdowns. Almost half his yards have gone to one player as senior Drew Stephens is the rare 1,000-yard receiver with 40 catches for 1,067 yards and 13 touchdowns. Nasir Cherry has 17 receptions for 232 yards and four touchdowns as the second option.
Roselle also has one of New Jersey’s top running backs in senior Isiah Byrd, who has rushed for 1,688 yards and 26 touchdowns on an absurd 10.7 yards per carry. He ran for 257 yards and six touchdowns in the win over Harrison and has eclipsed the 200-yard mark five times. He ran for a career high 405 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries in a season-opening win over Bernards.
Manasquan will counter with a defense that has surrendered 15.6 points per game, good enough for eighth in the Shore. Seniors Adam Schreck and Dylan Pacetti along the defensive line with senior linebackers Jack Mallett and Tommy Meyer lead the way in the front seven. Schreck has had an All-Shore caliber season with 12 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss, while Mallett leads the team in tackles with 80.
The secondary is solid with seniors Kyle LeBlanc and Damaso Jaime, junior Tommy Antonucci and sophomore James Pendergist. Pendergist suffered a shoulder injury during Manasquan’s 33-29 win over Johnson in the quarterfinals, so his status is up in the air for the semifinals. Senior Peter Mills entered in his place and had a crucial interception late in the game, so there appears to be some depth there.
This is a vintage Manasquan unit that plays physical and stops the run. Johnson’s option game gave the Warriors headaches last week, but against a more traditional offense like Roselle runs Manasquan will be right at home. They’ll need to be at their best against Byrd, however, and forcing Roselle to the air doesn’t make things much easier with the talent in the passing game.
Manasquan will try to control the clock and wear down Roselle’s defense with a power running game. Even though Roselle has crushed everyone in its path and recorded two shutouts, its defense allowed a ton of points to arguably its two best opponents. Bernards scored 54 in Week 1 and Johnson scored 41 in Week 3. If Manasquan can win the battle up front and forge long scoring drives that eat up a lot of clock, that seems like the recipe for success.
Junior running back Connor Morgan brings the thunder on every play and is a load to handle for any defense. He has run for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Manasquan’s offense line has done a great job this season, as when Morgan missed a game with an injury sophomore Canyon Birch ran for 190 yards and three touchdowns. This is a game where the Warriors players in the trenches need to be at their best. Birch and Meyer at fullback could see a handful of carries combined, but the Warriors m.o. is to give one back the bulk of the carries. If Connor Morgan has 35 carries it means Manasquan probably wins the game.
Senior quarterback Jerry Maher has done exactly what the coaches ask of pretty much every Manasquan quarterback: don’t turn the ball over and make plays when called upon. He threw for two touchdowns in the second half of the win over Johnson to help key the comeback. His top targets are Jaime at wide receiver and Schreck at tight end.
Jaime is the Warrior’s game-breaker with his speed and athleticism. In addition to being a top receiver he is also a dangerous special teams player. His 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week was a critical play.
Defensively, Roselle doesn’t have one player with overwhelming tackle stats as Robert Stephens leads the way with 45 stops. Shaquil Jones has 4.5 sacks and Xavier Young has 4 sacks. Teams are usually down big and have to throw the ball against Roselle, and when they do Drew Stephens has been there to create turnovers with nine interceptions.
Once again, it seems giving Manasquan a chance to win is going out on a limb, but this wouldn’t be the first time a Shore Conference team has taken down a team with big offensive numbers from another conference.
Manasquan’s brutal Class B North schedule that included North 2, Group IV semifinalists Middletown North and Middletown South has the Warriors battle-tested. If they can do what Manasquan does, run the ball at will and play physical defense, they’ll be playing for the program’s 12th sectional title in two weeks.
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP I
(5) Asbury Park (6-3) at (1) Shore (6-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
Game breakdown: The Central Jersey Group I playoffs have turned into the Class B Central tournament as the Shore Conference’s small schools will battle it out for a state championship. Both games are rematches, starting with two-time defending champion Shore looking for revenge against Asbury Park.
These teams have a ton of history being division rivals and aligned in the same state bracket. This year’s meeting was a 14-7 Asbury Park win in Week 1 that stunned the Blue Devils and ended their 20-game winning streak. Both teams lost to Keyport and Mater Dei within the division, while Asbury Park suffered a nonconference loss to Bishop Ahr.
Asbury Park and Shore both rely on their running games and defenses to lead the way, so it’s strength vs. strength on both sides of the ball. The Blue Bishops have a 1,000-yard running back with senior Paul Reed, who ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns in a quarterfinal win over New Egypt to get to 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Nymeir Agologos, Cishiume Simmons and Donte Abrams could get a few touches each, but Reed is the guy in the run game.
Junior quarterback Ja’King Agostini has thrown for 610 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for three touchdowns. Abrams is the leader in receptions with 14 for 130 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Dyquan Young has a team-high 193 yards on 11 catches with 2 touchdowns.
Shore’s defense is ranked 11th in the Shore at 16.2 points per game. Senior outside linebacker Paul Christopher, senior middle linebacker Josh Campi, senior defensive tackle Mike Devine and junior defensive end Mike Rosati lead the way up front for the Blue Devils in their 4-4 defense. Senior Matt Pennell, a four-year starter at safety, anchors the secondary and has three interceptions on the season.
The Blue Devils’ Wing-T rushing attack on offense is a three-headed monster with Pennell at quarterback and seniors Mark Russo and Campi at running back. Russo leads the team with 718 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on an average of 8.7 yards per carry. Campi has 566 and seven touchdowns and Pennell has 481 and nine touchdowns. Senior Lucas Jackey (244 yards, 4 touchdowns) and sophomore Quadir Lawson (278 yards, 1 touchdown) also see carries.
Pennell has thrown for 416 yards and five touchdowns on just 57 attempts. The passes are mainly to running backs plus Christopher at tight end. Sophomore Gil Goldsmith has a team-high 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Asbury Park’s defense is the No. 7 unit in the Shore allowing 15.1 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Simmons has had a great year at linebacker with a team-best 95 tackles and eight sacks. Calvin Simmons-Carter, a 295-pound senior defensive tackle, has 78 tackles and five sacks while Agologos has 76 tackles and two sacks at linebacker. Junior free safety Devin Nash-McGee leads the team with three interceptions.
These teams are pretty even on paper, so it should come down to whoever executes the best. Limiting turnovers will be huge, as possessions will be in high demand with both teams running the ball and potentially taking a lot of time off the clock.
(3) Keyport (9-1) (2) Point Beach (6-4), Friday at 7 p.m.
Game breakdown: Keyport is enjoying its best season since 2003 while Point Beach is back in the thick of the championship race in the second of two Class B Central rematches in the semifinals.
Under head coach Jay Graham, who was a player and longtime assistant under Hall of Fame coach Mike Ciccotelli before returning to guide his alma mater this year, the Red Raiders are 9-1 with their lone loss coming to an undefeated Mater Dei Prep team.
Keyport’s running game has thrived with a veteran offensive line led by senior Zach Frick and sophomore running back Devin Wollner, who has rolled up 1,306 yards and eight touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Greg Robinson has 371 yards rushing and nine touchdowns while Shykim Treadwell has 262 yards and four touchdowns, three of which came last week in a 41-5 win over Manville in the quarterfinals.
The Red Raiders keep it on the ground most of the time with senior quarterback Chris Hogrefe having thrown for 496 yards and five touchdowns on 61 attempts. Senior Cody Young is his main target with 13 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns, an average of 26 yards per reception.
Point Beach’s defense is 12th in the Shore Conference at 16.4 points per game. Junior linebacker Luke Frauenheim leads the team with 72 tackles while senior defensive lineman Cody Liguori has 55 tackles and five sacks.
Offensively, the Garnet Gulls are more balanced than they haven been in recent years thanks to a great year passing the ball by Frauenheim. He has thrown for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns in Point Beach’s Wing-T offense while also leading the team in rushing with 623 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Connor Kells is the top wide out with 25 receptions for 572 yards and six touchdowns and is the only Point Beach player with more than five catches.
Aside from Frauenheim, Point Beach has running back’s Jacob Clement, Jack Baker and Webber, along with Miles Shea. Clement has 437 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Baker has four rushing scores.
Point Beach also has a reliable kicker in Sean Gould, who has converted 24 of 25 extra points and is 5-for-5 on field goals with a long of 37. The first meeting between the teams was a 10-7 win by Keyport in Week 1, so it could come down to Gould having to make a kick to send Point Beach into the final.
Keyport’s defense has been rock solid all season and outside of a 42-12 loss to Mater Dei Prep has not allowed more than 20 points in a game. The Red Raiders rank fifth in the Shore allowing 12.3 points per game.
Senior linebacker Jay Hansen leads the defense with 73 tackles, 62 of which are solo, along with an interception. Frick, a defensive lineman, has 68 tackles and two sacks, and line mate Erik Nellis has 67 tackles. Young plays in the secondary and has 58 tackles, 2 sacks and 1 interception. Robinson has 43 solo tackles among his 52 total stops. Defensive back Zack Walker leads Keyport with three interceptions.
This should be a fun rematch with Keyport trying to reach its first sectional final since 2003 and Point Beach trying to get back to the title game for the first time since winning its only title in 2013.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.