Final Shore Sports Network/The Jeep Store 2022 Shore Conference Football Top 10
Since the Shore Sports Network/Jeep Store Top 10 made its 2022 debut with the preseason rankings back on Aug. 26, the top two teams stayed the same heading into the final weekend of the season. No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, No. 2 Toms River North.
The Caseys held the edge since they started the season No. 1, were coming off a state championship with several key returners, and played in the American Division with four additional top-10 teams. But Toms River North kept building its case week by week with blowout victory after blowout victory. It was going to come down to the postseason, and in this case, the very last day of the entire season.
Red Bank Catholic finished the season 10-2, holding onto the No. 1 spot through a 17-0 regular-season loss to Seton Hall Prep in Week 5. The Caseys then won their next five games to return to the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship game but were defeated by DePaul, 19-17.
That left the door open for Toms River North, but the Mariners had to finish the job in the Group 5 final. Did they ever.
In the final game of the 2022 New Jersey high school football season, Toms River North defeated Passaic Tech, 28-7, to win the inaugural Group 5 state championship and finish with a perfect 14-0 record, the first team in state history to accomplish such a feat. They broke the state record for points in a season behind an overpowering rushing attack that no opponent was able to stop.
It took all 14 weeks of the season to decide the final No. 1 ranking in the Shore Conference between two great teams, but in the end, it was impossible to deny the unprecedented season by Toms River North.
The Mariners are the 2022 Shore Sports Network Team of the Year.
RBC certainly played the tougher overall schedule and earned wins over the No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 teams in the Shore plus a win over a state-ranked Holy Spirit team in the state semifinals. With not as many opportunities for statement wins, Toms River North needed not just wins, but dominant victories. The Mariners delivered in every way possible by averaging 47.1 points per game and allowing just 8.2 points per game on defense. Their point differential was 545 points. They outscored their five division opponents 253-13 and outscored their five playoff opponents by a combined score of 209-48. It was a one-of-a-kind season.
There was some additional movement elsewhere in the rankings with Rumson-Fair Haven moving into the top five after a great postseason run that saw the Bulldogs reach the Group 2 state final.
It was another fun season covering Shore Conference football for us at the Shore Sports Network, and for this writer, the usual twists and turns of the season kept me on my toes every week. Given the success the Shore Conference has enjoyed during the NJSIAA playoff era (1974), it was fitting that in the first season in which football teams played down to true public school state champions a Shore Conference team is among the first five state champs.
With that, we present the final 2022 Shore Sports Network Football Top 10.
The word historic has been used a lot to describe Toms River North's 2022 season, and rightfully so. The Mariners became the first team in state history to finish 14-0 by closing out a dominant season with a 28-7 victory over Passaic Tech in the inaugural NJSIAA Group 5 state championship game. They set a state record with 660 points on an average of 47.1 points per game led by a devastating running game that rushed for 4,352 yards and 62 touchdowns. Toms River North also had the No. 1 defense in the Shore Conference allowing just 8.2 points per game with four shutouts and holding 10 of 14 points to seven points or less. Their final point differential was 545 points. The Mariners outscored their Colonial Division opponents by 253-13 and dominated the playoffs by outscoring their five postseason opponents by a 209-48 margin.
Junior quarterback Micah Ford turned in an award-winning season with 3,563 yards of offense and 50 total touchdowns. He was second in New Jersey with 2,360 yards rushing and scored 33 touchdowns on an average of exactly 10 yards per carry, and threw for 1,203 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior running back Josh Moore added 1,053 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on an average of 9.7 yards. Toms River North's offensive line was big, mean, athletic, and overwhelming to all 14 opponents who tried to slow them down.
As incredible as Ford was this season - he added 77 tackles and four interceptions as a safety on defense - Toms River North was loaded with standouts all over the field with players like senior linebacker/tight end Ty Kazanowsky, wide receiver/running back/defensive back Jeremiah Pruitt, wide receiver/defensive back Tareq Council, and Moore, who also played in the secondary.
Toms River North finished ranked No. 2 in the state by NJ.com behind Non-Public A champion Bergen Catholic.
It's wild to realize the Mariners will graduate just seven seniors. While they will be greatly missed, the core of the team returns next year and should once again be among the best teams in New Jersey.
It was another great season for the Caseys that had everything but a state championship. RBC went undefeated in the rugged American Division with wins over Middletown South, Donovan Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, Manalapan, and Wall to claim the division title. They rolled through the first two rounds of the postseason to return to the Non-Public B state championship game, but were denied a chance at becoming the first Shore Conference non-public school to win back-to-back state titles when DePaul eked out a 19-17 victory.
Red Bank Catholic had the No. 3 scoring offense in the Shore at 33.9 points per game and was led by standout senior running back Sabino Portella, sophomore quarterback Frankie Williams, senior wide receiver Najih Rahman, junior wide receiver Emanuel Ross, and one of the Shore's best offensive lines. Portella ran for 1,150 yards and 18 touchdowns and Williams threw for 1,625 yards and 20 touchdowns. Ross caught 29 passes for 615 yards and 10 touchdowns and Rahman caught 45 passes for 542 yards and six touchdowns.
RBC's defense was No. 2 in the Shore allowing 10.9 points per game. Junior linebacker Davin Brewton posted 108 tackles, 4 sacks and 15 tackles for loss to lead a unit that also featured Portella at safety, senior linebacker Michael Palmieri, senior defensive end Aidan Donohue, and junior defensive end Logan Graham.
RBC finished the season ranked No. 11 in the state by NJ.com.
Multiple standouts will leave the program via graduation including Portella, Rahman, Donohue, Palmieri, senior wide receiver/defensive back Robert Stolfa, senior running back Torin Harmon, and senior defensive back Christian Ungemah. The Caseys have been able to develop players through their program and continue to contend for championships at the conference and state level, and with Williams, Ross, Brewton, Graham, running back/linebacker Luke Wassef, and linemen Lorenzo Portella and Tyler Burnham still underclassmen, RBC isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
For the second straight season and the 12th time in 25 years under head coach Steve Antonucci, Middletown South won nine games and continued its legacy as one of New Jersey's flagship public school programs. The Eagles finished second to Red Bank Catholic in the American Division, earned wins over Donovan Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven, a 41-10 victory over Liberty Division champion Matawan, and a playoff win over a talented Winslow team. Their two defeats came to RBC and to Mainland, 34-24, in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional final.
Middletown South's offense averaged 24.2 points per game and was led by junior quarterback Jake Czwakiel, senior running backs Donovan Summey and Colin Gallagher, senior wide receiver Logan Colleran, and a physical offensive line anchored by senior Tommy Whyte. Czwakiel threw for 935 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 633 yards and nine touchdowns, Summey ran for 707 yards and eight touchdowns, and Gallagher ran for 522 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Eagles' defense was once again among the best in the conference and finished seventh in points per game (14.5). Gallagher was one of New Jersey's best linebackers this season with 149 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and 27 tackles for loss, Czwakiel picked off four passes in the secondary, and sophomore linebacker Luke Wafle had a breakout season with seven sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.
Of the players mentioned above just Colleran and Whyte are seniors, and while they aren't the only impact players who will graduate from this year's team, an outstanding junior class will be back next year to have the Eagles in championship contention.
With a young, inexperienced team and an unforgiving schedule, the 2022 season looked to be a transition year for Donovan Catholic. The Griffins still finished with another winning season and as a top-5 team in the Shore and are loaded with talented underclassmen.
Donovan was third in the American Division behind Red Bank Catholic and Middletown South and the Griffins' other two losses were to St. Joseph (Montvale) and Bergen Catholic, the latter of which won the Non-Public A state title and finished as the No. 1 team in New Jersey. Donovan shut out Group 2 finalist Rumson, 21-0, in Week 2 and also earned a win over Constitution Division co-champion Jackson Memorial.
The Griffins have a young star at running back in freshman Najee Calhoun, who rushed for 942 yards and 13 touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas III caught 43 passes for 544 yards and 4 touchdowns and junior quarterback Todd Lambertson threw for 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns. On defense, Donovan was eighth in the Shore allowing 14.7 points per game. Senior linebacker Dante Vernieri led the Shore with 174 tackles and added 4 sacks, and junior defensive lineman Zaeir Day had a breakout season with 101 tackles, 3 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss.
Along with Calhoun, Thomas III, Lambertson, and Day, the Griffins also return several underclassmen including outside linebacker Hunter Johnson, defensive end Sam Rock III, offensive lineman Adam Yevchak, defensive back Roman Moyers, linebacker JJ Correa, and two-way lineman Louis DiBiase.
How and where Rumson concluded its season is no surprise given the program's championship pedigree, and rebounding from an 0-2 start to reach the inaugural Group 2 championship game only solidified the Bulldogs' status as one of the Shore Conference's elite programs.
After consecutive losses to Toms River North and Donovan Catholic to open the season, Rumson won eight of its next 10 games, including a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Raritan, 34-27 in double overtime, to win the South Jersey Group 2 sectional championship, its seventh sectional title all-time. It also marked the ninth straight season RFH has reached a sectional final. Rumson then played a near-perfect game to take down Central Jersey Group 2 champion Willingboro, 42-6, in the state semifinals. It took an undefeated team with the state's longest active winning streak to halt the Bulldogs' postseason run as Caldwell won 18-14 in the Group 2 final.
Rumson received a huge rookie season from sophomore quarterback Owen O'Toole, who burst onto the scene to lead the Shore Conference with 2,161 yards and 25 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. Senior wide receiver Scott Venancio caught 38 passes for 685 yards and 11 touchdowns and junior wideout Nick Rigby posted 61 receptions for 789 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior running back Alastair Orr led the rushing attack with 592 yards and 12 touchdowns. Defensively, senior linebacker Luke Mikolajczyk recorded a team-high 137 tackles plus 13 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 interceptions, junior defensive end Markus Brown had a team-best seven sacks, and Ryan Kalman (66 tackles, 6 INTs) and Beau Kemler (48 tackles, 3 INTs) provided excellent play in the secondary.
A number of important seniors graduate such as Mikolajczyk, Venancio, Kalman, Kemler, two-way lineman Julien Devlin, defensive lineman Marshall Halfacre, tight end Will Rehder, running back Brayden Dill, defensive back Nick Costello, kickers Ollie Lorraine and Dominic Panke, and more. But with multiple key players still underclassmen, this could be just the start of another string of championships for the Bulldogs.
It was no doubt a stunning and disappointing ending to the season for a Point Boro team that had state title aspirations. Nonetheless, it was still a season in which the Panthers earned a championship and resided in the top five for most of the season. Point Boro won the Independence Division title and averaged 42.1 points per game before falling to Willingboro in the Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals. Along the way, they dominated their division schedule and posted five shutouts heading into the playoffs.
The Panthers' triple-option offense rushed for 3,041 yards and 60 touchdowns on an average of 9.3 yards per carry, and finished No. 2 in the Shore in points per game. Junior running back Jake Croce ran for 1,042 yards and 17 touchdowns, junior quarterback Matt Oliphant ran for 970 yards and 19 touchdowns, and senior running back Connor Cilento ran for 644 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the way. Senior lineman Cole Skinner, an FBS recruit who is committed to Temple, anchored the offensive line along with junior Charles Davison.
Point Boro's defense was lights out for most of the season and finished third in points per game at 11.9. Senior defensive end Connor Reynolds led the team with 76 tackles and 8 sacks.
The Panthers will lose some integral players to graduation with an impactful group of seniors set to graduate, led by Skinner, Reynolds, Cilento, running back linebacker Tyler Gordon, defensive end Aidan Ward, linebackers JJ Bennett and Sam Muraglia, wide receiver/defensive back Brian Orio, defensive lineman Maddox Samaritano, and more Anchoring the group of returners for 2023 will be Oliphant, Croce, Davison, and sophomore defensive lineman Slad Samaritano as the Panthers look to continue their winning ways.
The Spartans were undefeated during the regular season and won the Freedom Division championship but were eliminated in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs. Ocean's best win was a 34-13 win over South Jersey Group 2 finalist Raritan.
Senior quarterback Tyler Douglas, who is verbally committed to Temple University, did not play in the playoff game due to an injury, underscoring his value as a top player in the Shore Conference. Douglas finished a phenomenal senior season with 1,257 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, and one interception plus 1,031 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns on an average of 10.3 yards per carry. Senior CJ Flannigan totaled eight touchdowns between receiving and rushing and senior wide receiver Mateo Andrews caught 20 passes for 572 yards and seven touchdowns as the Spartans finished fourth in the Shore at 31.9 points per game. On defense, Willie Canavan recorded a team-high 83 tackles and Ben Trench had 3.5 sacks.
Douglas's impending graduation will leave a huge void at the quarterback position and Ocean will also lose Trench, Flannigan, Andrews, defensive tackle/tight end Shane Garrett, running back/cornerback Caleb Thompson, and defensive end Jayceon Webster to graduation. Two-way lineman Nick Caruso, linebackers Ben Girard, Willie Canavan, Stephen Falco and Michael Ponoris, and cornerback James Sobieski comprise the core of underclassmen.
Raritan's season came to a heartbreaking end in the South Jersey Group 2 sectional final when Rumson-Fair Haven rallied for a 34-27 win in double overtime, halting a five-game winning streak that earned the Rockets the No. 1 seed in the sectional playoffs. Raritan's three losses were all to ranked teams - No. 5 Rumson, No. 6 Point Boro, and No. 7 Ocean - and they picked up wins over Matawan, Manasquan, and St. John Vianney to highlight their season.
Senior running back Kieran Falzon was third in the Shore in rushing yards and first among running backs with 1,667 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Quarterback Logan Goldsberry threw for 720 yards and nine touchdowns and senior slotback Dan Calicari totaled 803 yards and six touchdowns between rushing and receiving plus a defensive touchdown and two kick return touchdowns. The Rockets finished tied for ninth at 27.5 points per game.
Falzon, Calicari, and many other of Raritan's top players are seniors so head coach Anthony Petruzzi and staff will aim to develop the next group and keep the Rockets contending for championships.
The Jaguars shared the Constitution Division championship with Colts Neck and own a ranked win over Marlboro along with victories over playoff teams Freehold Township and Manalapan. They reached the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals and held a halftime lead before ultimately falling to top-seeded Millville, which went on to win the Group 4 state title.
Senior quarterback Tai Mann threw for 1,002 yards and six touchdowns and ran for 873 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead an offense that averaged 21 points per game. Senior running back Aidan Sweeney ran for 746 yards and eight touchdowns and junior wide receiver Albert D'Alessandro caught 31 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns.
Jackson had the No. 9 scoring defense in the Shore at 15.3 points per game with two shutouts. Brandon Bigelow was sixth in the Shore with 132 tackles, Sweeney led the team with four sacks, and D'Alessandro was third in the Shore with five interceptions.
Mann, Sweeney, and two-way lineman Ryan Fischer will be big losses to graduation but the bulk of the team returns for the Jags next season.
The Mustangs had their best season in over two decades by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and winning their first playoff gams since 1994.
They also showed tremendous resiliency after senior quarterback AJ Schwartz was injured for the season in Week 4 and standout junior running back Matt Cassidy was injured in the first round of the playoffs (a game Marlboro rallied to win, 21-17 over Washington Township). Marlboro was third in the Constitution Division behind Colts Neck and Jackson but beat Colts Neck late in the season after beating Manalapan for the first time in 28 years the week prior.
Junior running back/linebacker Matt Cassidy ran for 850 yards and 11 touchdowns and led the team with 81 tackles. Senior wide receiver/linebacker Ryan Mendes caught 30 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns and made 50 tackles and 4 sacks on defense. Cassidy added three sacks, Lucas McEvoy recorded 14 tackles for loss, and Jake Houston (4 INTs) and Nick Scaff (3 INTs) led a ball-hawking secondary.
Marlboro was a senior-heavy team so graduation will take its toll, but having Cassidy back to lead the group of returnees is a good place to start for a program looking to establish a consistent winning culture.