The one guarantee for Saturday’s NJSIAA championship games that feature 10 Shore Conference teams is that at least one local team will drive back home as a champion. That’s because the Central Jersey Group I final is an all-Shore affair as Class B Central rivals Keyport and Asbury Park square off at 4 p.m. at Kean University.

When fifth-seeded Asbury Park defeated New Egypt in the first round and the rest of the seeds held, the playoff bracket became the B Central tournament with Shore, Point Beach, Keyport and Asbury Park left standing. The Blue Bishops eliminated two-time defending champion Shore with a 39-19 win in the semifinals while the Red Raiders won a thriller over Point Beach, 27-14, with two touchdowns in the final two minutes. Both teams will be playing for their programs’ seventh sectional championship.

Keyport defense. Asbury Park offensive line. (Photo by Robert Badders).

Keyport has long been in Central Jersey Group I while Asbury Park was in Central Jersey Group II for many years. The rivalry across both division and state brackets began in 1987 when Keyport won 20-12 to take home the Central Jersey Group I state title. Keyport thrived in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s under hall of fame coach Mike Ciccotelli while Asbury Park struggled, but the teams would meet again in the 2002 semifinals with the Red Raiders winning 37-12 en route to claiming their last state championship.

In 2007 Asbury Park began a run of four titles in five years, but the teams never matched up along the way. They didn’t meet again until last season’s quarterfinal game where seventh-seeded Keyport upset second-seeded Asbury Park, 21-18. Now, 29 years after playing for a state title, they’ll strap it up again with a state crown on the line.

There are plenty of similarities among both teams aside from playing in the same division. Both are led by former players as Tim Fosque is in his second year as Asbury Park’s head coach and Jay Graham, who was a longtime assistant under Ciccotelli, is in his first year as Keyport’s head coach. Both teams are built around a physical running game and a stingy defense.

Keyport enters with a 10-1 record and owns a 14-7 win over Asbury Park from the regular season. The Red Raiders’ only loss is to Mater Dei Prep, which is 11-0 and the favorite to win the Non-Public Group II title. Asbury Park is 7-4 with losses to Keyport and Mater Dei, Non-Public Group III school Bishop Ahr and Group IV Neptune on Thanksgiving.

“We’re going to have to play our ‘A’ game to beat them again,” Graham said. “The challenge is performing the way we did the first time. When you play a team once and do very well, coming back and doing that the second time is the biggest thing.”

“Our kids are going into this game knowing they have an opportunity to do something special with all the marbles on the table,” Fosque said. “They get a chance to compete once again and a chance to redeem themselves.”

Given how little separates the two teams, it could once again be a low-scoring game that comes down to the fourth quarter. And with both teams trying to establish the run and dictate the trenches, the game looks like it will be won up front.

Winning the battle on the offensive line is something Keyport has been doing all season. Seniors Zack Frick and Erik Nellis have led the way on both sides of the ball, paving the way for sophomore running back Devin Wollner to run for 1,532 yards and nine touchdowns while helping Keyport rank fourth in the Shore in points allowed at 12.5 per game.

“The size of our line with Zack and Erik on both sides of the ball has been a huge aspect of our game,” Graham said.

Keyport averages about six pass attempts per game, so the Red Raiders are going to stay committed to the running game throughout. When senior quarterback Chris Hogrefe has been asked to make plays, however, he has come through with some huge throws. His 70-plus yard touchdown pass to Joey Kay-Flagg with under two minutes to play keyed the semifinal win over Point Beach, and he had a key touchdown pass late in a regular-season 21-20 win Shore.

“He’s been beyond huge, and it showed in the Shore game,” Graham said of Hogrefe. “When we needed him he got the job done for us. He’s not give a ton of opportunities but when he gets them he makes the most of them.”

Hogrefe has thrown for 635 yards and six touchdowns, and his top target is senior Cody Young with 14 catches for 380 yards and three touchdowns.

Asbury Park also has a top 10 defense in the Shore that allows just 16 points per game. The front seven is the strength led by seniors Cishiume Simmons, Calvin Simmons-Carter and Namir Argilagos. Simmons has had a monster year with 118 tackles and 12 sacks. Simmons-Carter has 97 tackles and 6.5 sacks and Argilagos has 94 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

“Cishiume Simmons, he’s he anchor and a captain for a reason,” Fosque said. “He’s a model kid for the program because he works very hard and leads by example. He’s a great role model in terms of the kids we want to put out on the field, and he’s a humble player.”

Argilagos is a standout all over the field as well as in the classroom. The senior attends High Technology High School in Lincroft, a Monmouth County academy high school that is among the top high schools in the nation. He plays linebacker, running back and tight end and is eyeing an academic scholarship to Duke University.

“He does whatever he needs to do go give us the best opportunity to be successful,” Fosque said. “He is a kid that is very selfless in his actions and willing to sacrifice everything for us. What he does for our team is priceless.”

The Blue Bishops also have a pair of standouts in the secondary with cornerback Donte Abrams and safety Devin Nash-McGhee, who each have three interceptions.

Asbury Park is a run-first team with senior Paul Reed having amassed 1,174 yards and 14 touchdowns and Argilagos and Simmons each having five rushing touchdowns. Junior quarterback Ja’King Agostini has also thrown for 1,107 yards and eight touchdowns with Abrams, Javon Higgs, Josmere Taylor and Dyquan Young with comparable stats.

There will be no secrets between the two teams regarding their game plains. It’s going to come down to execution and winning the physical battle at the point of attack. Whichever team can do that better will leave Kean University with their respective program’s seventh state championship.

“They know exactly what it is we want to do and we know exactly what they want to do,” Fosque said. “Which team can will themselves through for four quarters will be the difference.”


Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.