This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for – playoff time.

There are 24 Shore Conference teams believing in the dream of making it to that first weekend in December and a state sectional final.

It always reminds me of one of my favorite stories from ancient Greece about when Alexander the Great arrived with his army on the shores of Persia. With his troops far outnumbered, he ordered his generals to burn their boats so they would have no opportunity to retreat. It was conquer or be conquered. There was no going back. (The Greeks won the battle, incidentally. You don't get the name Alexander the Great by taking L's on the battlefield).

That’s the point of the season we have reached. Conquer or be conquered. Win or go home. The best time of the year.

You know third-seeded Point Beach will be fired up against sixth-seeded Florence at home last night after having their dream season wrecked by the Flashes in last year's Central Jersey Group I semifinals. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

This week I will give a reason beyond the obvious of just advancing to the next round of why each game is big, as well as keys to victory for the Shore Conference teams. Also, just for fun, I will rattle off consolation game picks as well. All games listed are Friday unless otherwise noted.

Last week: 16-5.

Season: 153-38

NJSIAA Tournament

Central Jersey Group V

(8) Brick Memorial (5-3) at (1) Manalapan (8-0), 7 p.m.

Why it’s  big: For Manalapan, it’s 12-0 or bust in its mission to win the program’s first sectional title. For Brick Memorial, a win here would shake the whole state and immediately stamp the Mustangs as an underdog team that can win it all.

Brick Memorial keys to victory: The Mustangs will have to run the ball effectively to drain the clock and keep Manalapan’s offense off the field, and quarterback Rob Triano will have to hit passes on third down to move the chains. Plus, the Mustangs have to play turnover-free. They simply cannot give the Braves extra possessions. Defensively, they have to stop the run. Everything starts with Manalapan’s run game. If Tyler Leonetti and Co. get going, you’re done because then it sets up shots downfield to Saeed Blacknall. Also, the defense has to create turnovers to get good field position for the offense. Finally, on special teams, kick the ball out of bounds at every opportunity. Dan Debner and John Cheung have returned a combined seven kicks or punts for touchdowns this year. Kick it into the third row of the stands if you have to.

Manalapan keys to victory: Just keep doing what they do. Have noseguard R.J. Krause crash the middle of Brick Memorial’s triple option and disrupt the mesh point, chase down everyone on the perimeter and forced the Mustangs to throw the ball much more than they want. Offensively, keep the balance of a strong running game and the lethal shots to Blacknall, who has eight touchdown catches in his last three games, and take care of the ball. The special teams also have been lights out, so that is an area where the Braves can help blow the game open.

The pick: Manalapan.

Central Jersey Group IV

(8) West Windsor North (3-6) at (1) Brick (6-3), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Brick hasn’t won a state playoff game since 2000 and hasn’t made a state final since winning its last championship in 1994.

Brick keys to victory: Kick the offense back into gear. Standout junior quarterback Carmen Sclafani is expected to return after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury, so after some ups and downs offensively the last two weeks, this is the Green Dragons’ opportunity to get back into sync with bigger games ahead. Brick needs to jump on the visitors early and not let them get any momentum because this team can score, averaging 25 points per game, but they give up 35 points per game. If the duo of Sclafani and Fattaruso get the running game rolling early, and the defense comes up with some early stops, the Green Dragons should be on their way.

The pick: Brick.

(5) Burlington Township (5-3) at (4) Middletown South (4-4), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Middletown South is staring at potentially its worst season since going 5-4 in 1996, so a win here helps in that department. Also, this is a fairly wide-open bracket, so if the Eagles get some momentum, they are capable of winning it.

Middletown South keys to victory: Take care of the ball. The Eagles have had some killer turnovers this year and cannot spot Burlington Township a touchdown or great field position. Make them earn everything they get, run the ball effectively with Jeremy Concepcion and hit shots downfield with Andrew Wisialko when the opportunity is there. They also need to get after quarterback Khalil Trotman, a dual threat who has more than 1,400 yards of combined offense. Burlington has five different receivers with 100 or more yards this season, so they like to spread it around. This is where Tayler Hendrickson and Co. up front can disrupt the game by putting Trotman on his back.

The pick: Middletown South.

(6) Neptune (4-4) at (3) Colts Neck, Saturday at 1 p.m.

Why it’s big: Neptune has gone to the finals in Central Jersey Group III the last two years, winning it all in 2011, but has flown under the radar during the regular season. Colts Neck has never made it to a sectional final, so the Cougars need this one as another step toward school history.

Neptune keys to victory: Pretty simple for the Scarlet Fliers. Stop the run and run the ball effectively. Both are tall orders for the Scarlet Fliers given that Colts Neck has one of the Shore Conference’s top tailbacks in two-time, 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Gargiulo and one of the Shore’s toughest defenses. Neptune’s fast defense has to stand up to Colts Neck’s brute force up front and force the Cougars into obvious passing downs to create turnovers and negative plays. Offensively, quarterback Shakeem Richardson is going to have to hit some throws downfield to keep Colts Neck honest because the Cougars will load the box and dare Neptune to beat them through the air.

Colts Neck keys to victory: Get into second-and-5 consistently. If Gargiulo, quarterback Christian Sanchez and the rest of the Colts Neck ground game can consistently produce on first down, it opens up the whole playbook. The Cougars also need to limit turnovers in order to force Neptune to sustain long drives rather than getting short fields. Defensively, their linebackers need to play assignment football against the veer fakes and force someone else besides Richardson to have a big game.

The pick: Colts Neck.

(7) Middletown North (3-5) at (2) Nottingham (6-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.

Why this is big: Middletown North has not won a state playoff game since 2000 and is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Middletown North keys to victory: Just play fast and loose. The Lions have nothing to lose, so take some shots downfield in the spread passing attack led by freshman quarterback Donald Glenn and try to put Nottingham on its heels early with some big plays. The offensive line is going to have to play one of its best games of the season because of Nottingham’s relentless pass rush. Sophomore running back Chad Freshnock also needs to have a good game to keep the Northstars from sending everyone at Glenn. With a receiving corps led by Jake Betkowski, Jordan Pitts and Brandon Piccini, the Lions have some playmakers downfield. Glenn has to be careful, though, because Rutgers-bound defensive back Saquan Hampton will be lurking back there.

Defensively, the Lions need to get some stops early on the road against a confident team that won the Central Jersey Group III title last year and is trying to become the first team in Mercer County history to win back-to-back state titles. This is a fairly balanced offensive team, but it’s running back-by-committee, while quarterback Stephen Adams, the son of the head coach, has thrown for 862 yards and eight touchdowns, but he also has thrown eight interceptions. They want to stuff the run and get Adams in obvious passing downs.

Honestly, in the past I wouldn’t even think twice about picking an underdog Shore team like Middletown North against a highly-seeded Mercer County team, but Nottingham went through three Shore teams to win a state title last year, so it has no fear of the teams from this area. Even with a loss here, the future is bright for Middletown North. Glenn is the first Shore Conference freshman quarterback to throw for more than 1,000 yards since former Raritan star Andrew Mandeville in 2002, and Freshnock is one of the area’s top up-and-coming running backs.

The pick: Nottingham.


Central Jersey Group III

(7) Warren Hills (5-4) at (2) Ocean (8-0), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Ocean is trying for its first 12-0 season in school history, and this is its best chance to win a title since its last crown in 2005. Have to handle business here.

Ocean keys to victory: Take sophomore tailback Tyler Thompson and shove him right down Warren Hills’ throat. The Blue Streaks are giving up 25 points a game, and they have a stellar running back of their own, so Ocean wants to keep the Warren Hills offense off the field by grinding out drives and hitting the big play when it’s there between quarterback Royal Moore and wideout Cole Mehr. Defensively, Ocean has been ferocious all season, and it will stack the box against Warren Hills’ Justin Iaione, who has run for 1,802 yards, 78 shy of the Warren County record of 1,880 set by Phillipsburg’s Brandon Mason 10 years ago. Stop Iaione and you win, simple as that. Ocean linebacker/defensive ends Dan Loizos and Mike Halawani lead a shutdown unit that has been stout against the run all season.

The pick: Ocean.

(5) Long Branch (6-2) at (4) Carteret, (6-2), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Long Branch is in search of its first state title since 1999, and this is a battle between two perennial playoff contenders. Carteret went 12-0 last season and won Central Jersey Group II before being realigned into the CJ III bracket this season.

Long Branch keys to victory: Get after quarterback Nelson Baez (711 yards passing) with defensive end Hunter Baillie, Nick Menkin and Co., and take defensive backs Myson Pennington and Dahmiere Willis and bracket Carteret’s Brandon Gilder, who has 402 receiving yards and averages 21 yards per catch. Basically, these are two low-scoring, defensive teams so this should be a physical slugfest. Raritan had Carteret on the ropes earlier in the season in a 12-7 loss, and this could be a similar-type game. Long Branch simply has to play better offensively than it has in big games up to this point. Willis and Deon Williams have to run the ball effectively, and the offensive line has to step up. The Green Wave have to do something, anything in the passing game to back Carteret off the line of scrimmage of they will be in trouble. If they want a potential second crack at Ocean, this time with a state title on the line, they have to find a way on the road here.

The pick: Long Branch.


Central Jersey Group II

(8) Bordentown (4-4) at (1) Rumson-FH (8-0), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: The Bulldogs got knocked out in the first round last year by Weequahic and want to reclaim their place as the team to beat in this bracket after winning the title in 2010, so this is the first step.

Rumson keys to victory: Execute the same formula it has executed all season – pound teams with Charlie Volker and jam up the opposing running game. Rumson has shown a great ability to make adjustments in the second half when teams limit Volker in the first half, as it showed in a 22-15 win over Manasquan last week when Volker had 97 of his 130 yards after the break. The Shore Conference’s leading rusher is relentless and averages 22 carries per game, so he is a workhorse. He can run between the tackles and bounce it outside, and always gets downhill. Senior quarterback Chase Caruso also showed last week he can make big throws to move the chains on third down, which makes Rumson tough to defend.

Defensively, it’s pretty simple. Stop Bordentown’s run game. The Scotties average 200-plus rushing yards per game, and 1,000-yard rusher Jahmire Van Kline leads the way. Linebackers Tom Martello and J.T. Jennings will be dialed in on him and will look to force anyone else to beat them.

The pick: Rumson-FH.

(6) Lakewood (5-3) at (3) Delran (7-1), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Lakewood has not won a state playoff game since 1986, the longest drought of any Shore Conference team in the postseason this year. Doesn’t get bigger than that. Actually, Lakewood’s only two playoff victories in school history came in 1986 when it won its only state title.

Lakewood keys to victory: The real Lakewood needs to stand up. Is it the team that handed Barnegat its only loss of the season two weeks ago, or the team that lost to an 0-7 Point Boro team last week? The Piners are going to have to get after quarterback Steve Lawlor and find a way to slow down top receiver Zach Bautz, who is averaging more than 20 yards per catch. Lakewood is equipped to do just that with junior defensive end Datrell Reed leading the charge up front and linebacker Amir Tyler as a weapon on blitzes.

The main question is Lakewood’s offense, which has been up and down all season. Junior Chapelle Cook has played tailback, quarterback and seemingly everywhere else, and they will need him to hit some big plays along with Tyler. Delran has only given up more than 14 points in a game once all season, so its strength is its defense. The Piners’ defense and special teams need to put the offense in favorable field position to put them in position to pull the upset, and the offense has to limit turnovers, which have killed Lakewood in big games this year.

The pick: Delran.


Central Jersey Group I

(8) Palmyra (4-4) at (1) Shore (7-1), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Shore came up inches short of potentially winning this bracket last season. This is the moment the Blue Devils wanted to fast-forward to in the preseason, and now it’s here.

Shore keys to victory: This game is right in Shore’s wheelhouse. A team that runs the ball with one key back and can’t stop the run defensively. The Blue Devils need to punish Palmyra with the Wing-T rushing attack led by senior Brian Miller and sophomore Doug Goldsmith, and then gang up defensively on Palmyra’s John Harman, who has 905 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing and has 104 of the team’s 149 rushing attempts this season. Palmyra barely attempts to throw the ball, so if Shore can put them in a hole early and force them to throw, the Blue Devils will be cruising into the next round.

The pick: Shore.

(6) Florence (5-3) at (3) Point Beach (7-1), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Point Beach will be out for blood in this game. Florence ruined the Garnet Gulls’ dream season last year by handing them their only loss in the semifinals in this bracket. Point Beach is on a mission to win the program’s first state title in the playoff era, and it is going to have to go through the defending champion Flashes to take another step in that direction.

Point Beach keys to victory: Pretty simple between these two Wing-T teams. Execute offensively, win the battle up front, stuff the run defensively, and don’t hand the other team points with a pick six or fumble inside your own 20. Point Beach features 1,000-yard rusher Joe Wegrzyniak at fullback and junior Michael Frauenheim as a running threat at halfback, so it has some variety in the running game. Florence’s defense has a lot of key players nursing injuries, so Point Beach wants to lean on them and be physical all game.

Unlike the veteran squad it had last year, this year’s Florence team is young and battling injuries. Running back Joe Foga, quarterback Mike Muchowski and all-purpose player Marcus Lawless are all threats. Point Beach defensive back Noah Yates leads the Shore in interceptions (8) so he looks to make a game-changing play in the secondary if Florence is forced to throw. The bottom line is that Point Beach can’t panic if Florence stymies the run game at first. The Garnet Gulls have to trust in their system and just continue to be physical.

The pick: Point Beach

(5) Asbury Park (6-2) at (4) South River (8-1), 1 p.m. on Saturday

Why it’s big: Asbury Park has been slept on all year, playing Point Beach and Shore tough in its only losses. It looks to reclaim its place atop a bracket it won four out of five times from 2007-11.

Asbury Park keys to victory: This whole playoff run depends on whether the offense can produce against high-caliber opponents. In its two losses, Asbury Park struggled to score. If quarterback Robert Barksdale, running backs Tyquis Davis, Daquane Bland-Bennett and the rest of the backfield plus wideout Jaedon Stephens can step up, this team can surprise some people.

The Blue Bishops’ defense, led by Davis, who leads the Shore Conference in sacks, and linebackers Malik King and William Wells, has only allowed more than 14 points once in a game all season. Its mission is clear – stop South River’s Doug Ryan. He is a 1,200-yard rusher and the offense revolves around him. If Asbury Park can get an early lead and swarm Ryan, it should be right there against a perennial playoff contender.

The pick: Asbury Park.


South Jersey Group V

(6) Rancocas Valley (5-3) at (3) Jackson Memorial (6-2), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: The Jaguars haven’t won a state playoff game since 2006 and haven’t been to a final since going 12-0 in 2005. They also are carrying the torch for Class A South as the division championship and don’t want to be a team that goes out in the first round. This is a chance to show they are getting back to the Jackson of old as a regular playoff contender.

Jackson Memorial keys to victory: The Jaguars have to run the ball effectively with Khani Glover or they will be in trouble. Everything they do is based on establishing the run and grinding the clock while also setting up quarterback Joe DeMaio for some key runs of his own on option keeps as well as looking downfield for wideout Marcus Ademilola.

Defensively, the Jaguars will have their hands full with a team that has become a trendy pick to pull the upset in this spot. Jackson has been tough against the run with linebackers Vinny Celidonio, Zach Tetro and Ken Bradley leading the way and Glover also being tough in run support in the secondary. However, Jackson Memorial has been susceptible to the pass, as it showed in a wild 62-44 win over Lacey. Quarterback Jordan Sadusky is a dual threat who has thrown for more than 1,000 yards this season, so Jackson will have to consistently get in his face and limit big plays. This game worries me a little bit, but I’ll give a vote of confidence to the local squad.

The pick: Jackson Memorial.


South Jersey Group IV

(5) Lacey (5-4) at Kingsway (6-2), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Kingsway handed Lacey its only loss last year, knocking the Lions out in the semifinals of this bracket. Lacey has been in freefall, losing four straight, so this is its last stand to make anything out of what is looking like a lost season.

Lacey keys to victory: The offense is going to have to score at will because on paper it looks like a tall order for a defense that has struggled badly against the run all season to stop Kingsway’s Ray Lawry, an Old Dominion recruit who lit them up last year and is one of New Jersey’s top running backs. The Lions need to get the lead quickly and stay ahead by enough to force Kingsway to abandon the run game in order to try to catch up. Lacey senior quarterback Tom Kelly and senior wideout Christian Tutela are going to have to go out guns blazing in what could be the last game of their brilliant scholastic careers. Incidentally, a win by Lacey would finally send head coach Lou Vircillo into second place all by himself in Shore Conference history with 264 career victories.

The pick: Kingsway.

(7) Moorestown (4-5) at (2) Toms River South (6-2), 1 p.m. on Saturday

Why it’s big: Toms River South hasn’t won a playoff game since 2003, so this would be the latest concrete symbol of its resurgence. The Indians have a solid shot to make it to the final, where defending champion Timber Creek almost certainly will be waiting. Their last sectional final appearance came in 1998 and the Indians’ last state title was in 1991.

Toms River South keys to victory: Moorestown is a fairly stingy defensive team, so the Indians want to ride the early adrenaline from their home crowd and put them on their heels with some early fireworks behind the group of quarterback Tymere Berry, running backs Otis Kearney, Billy Kosh and Khaleel Greene, and wideout Darrius Hart. The Indians want to use their speed advantage to get to the perimeter for the big plays that are the signature of their offense.

The Indians’ defense will be keyed on Moorestown junior Anthony Williamson, who has 785 yards rushing for a primarily running team. If Toms River South gets an early lead, it will force Moorestown out of its comfort zone to throw the ball, and the Indians should be in good shape.

The pick: Toms River South.

South Jersey Group III

(6) Pemberton (4-4) at (3) Barnegat (7-1), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: A win would set the single-season record for victories at Barnegat and put the Bengals in the semifinals for the third time in program history. They have never made a state final, and this looks like their best chance yet in the short history of their program. Note: This game will be live on the radio on 105.7 f.m. and streaming online at

Barnegat keys to victory:  The Barnegat pass rush led by senior defensive end Greg Moran needs to get after Pemberton quarterback Dennis Clark, who has thrown for 1,109 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Running back Quincey Lambert gives them balance with 718 yards rushing and nine scores, so the Bengals can’t completely sell out on going after Clark.

Barnegat’s best defense should be their offense, a grinding unit behind dual threat quarterback Cinjun Erskine that has junior Manny Bowen as a big-play threat. The main issue has been stability in the running game after the season-ending torn ACL for standout tailback A.J. Opre. If someone can emerge from their running back-by-committee approach to be the main guy in the postseason, the Bengals and their massive offensive line have good potential to make a run all the way to the final.

The pick: Barnegat.

(5) Central (5-3) at (4) Delsea (7-2), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Central has only won one playoff game in state history, and that came when it reached its only state final in 1994. A victory here against the defending champion in the bracket would send the message that this is a program headed in a great direction under first-year coach Willie Jacobs. Delsea’s history is pretty much the opposite of Central’s, as it has 10 state titles, so this is a tall order on the road for the Golden Eagles.

Central’s keys to victory: The Golden Eagles’ run defense is going to have to be as good as it has been in any game this season to stop  a team that averages 323 rushing yards per game. The running back tandem of Rob Hooks and Isaiah Spencer has combined for 1,863 yards rushing and both look to go over the 1,000-yard mark this season. A defense led by defensive lineman Jesse Brown has to come up with some turnovers and be tough against the run on first down in particular.

Central’s offense can help the cause by hitting some plays early in the passing game with Marquis Drumright and also springing tailback Javon Hardy for a big play or two. The best-case scenario for Central would be taking a lead deep enough into the game that Delsea has to start throwing the ball.

The pick: Delsea.

(8) Wall (3-5) at (1) Manasquan (6-2), 1 p.m. on Saturday

Why it’s big: One of the Shore’s oldest and best rivalries will add another chapter, as this is the first time the two teams have ever met in the playoffs. They will play each other again on Thanksgiving.

Wall’s keys to the game: The Crimson Knights’ offense is going to have to step up after struggling to score in the majority of Wall’s big games this season. They have lost five straight, so they need an early spark to help ride the adrenaline of playing their rival to a quick lead. A pass rush led by Geoff Horwitz has to get after Manasquan quarterback Tucker Caccavale, or he will pick them apart. Offensively, they have to find a way to establish Pete Miceli and the run game so that Manasquan doesn’t tee off on quarterback Jack Gifford.

Manasquan’s keys to the game: Establish the interior run game with Joe Murphy to set up plays on the perimeter for James McAlary and then have Caccavale hit wideout Joe Fittin in spots where he can get it in full stride and run after the catch. Defensively, the Warriors’ front seven needs to collapse Wall’s run game and make the Crimson Knights one-dimensional. Manasquan’s main job is to avoid any turnovers or mistakes that would give Wall a short field. Make the Crimson Knights prove they can produce long scoring drives.

The pick: Manasquan.

Non-Public Group III

(5) Immaculata (6-3) at (4) Red Bank Catholic (8-0), 7 p.m.

Why it’s big: Like it or not, RBC carries the torch for the Shore Conference. If the conference’s consensus No. 1 team goes down in flames at home in the first round, it not only would be a disappointment to the Caseys, but it allows people to make the judgment that Shore Conference football isn’t that strong. RBC wants to validate its dominant showing in the regular season and at least get another crack at St. Joseph-Montvale after losing in last year’s semifinals.

RBC keys to victory: Like always, the Caseys need to win up front with their big, deep and relentless offensive line to spring Larry Redaelli and Mike Cordova for big runs. Quarterbacks Pat Toomey and Eddie Hahn also will most likely have to make some throws under pressure after having all day to throw in most games during the regular season. A potentially fun match-up could be Notre Dame-bound RBC tackle Quenton Nelson against Boston College-bound Immaculata defensive end Joe Vitiello.

Immaculata has a powerful running game of its own that averages 215 yards per game on the ground, led by senior Chandler Vanderbeek with 772 yards. He is also their top receiving threat with 16 catches, so RBC’s defense, led by Nelson, defensive ends Jamie Gordinier and Shawn McCord, linebackers Ryan Schoer and Frank Olmo, and Cordova in the secondary, will be keyed on him.

The pick: Red Bank Catholic.

(6) Msgr. Donovan (4-4) at (3) Delbarton (8-1), 1 p.m. on Saturday

Why it’s big: Monsignor Donovan’s only last playoff victory came in 1992. This one is a long shot given that Delbarton is one of the top teams in the state and its only loss is to Paramus Catholic. Monsignor Donovan is trying to elevate its program into a consistent winner, and it will get a good look at one up close in this game.

Monsignor Donovan’s keys to the game: The Griffins have to execute their option offense with quarterback Vinny Grasso and slotback Joey Fields flawlessly and then have Delbarton make a ton of mistakes that give the Griffins good field position. Monsignor Donovan’s defense has given up multiple games of 200-plus yards to individual rushers this season, which is bad news against a Delbarton team that features standout rusher Robert Arancio and plenty of others.

The pick: Delbarton.


Non-Public Group I

(7) Mater Dei Prep (5-4) at (2) Morristown-Beard (6-3), 1 p.m. on Saturday

Why it’s big: The Seraphs have already guaranteed their first non-losing season since reaching a state final in 1999. Now they look to add their first playoff victory since that same season. A win here would send a clear message that this is a team to watch in the coming years after struggling for more than a decade.

Mater Dei’s keys to victory: The Seraphs need to hit big plays on the perimeter in their option offense led by junior quarterback Christian Palmer and featuring playmakers like Tysaun White, Derrick Lopez, Eddie Lewis, and Sam Miles. Defensively, the Seraphs are going to need their best effort of the season, as Morristown-Beard averages 34 points a game and has only been held under 27 once all season. Running back Alex Borowiec has been a workhorse for them, and is a player the Seraphs will have to slow down to pull the upset.

The pick: Morristown-Beard.



Matawan (5-3) at Raritan (3-5), 7 p.m.

Hmmm….Will Matawan play ticked off after being the only Shore Conference team with a winning record left out of the playoffs? Or will the Huskies be deflated by missing the postseason and come out flat? Will Raritan rise up in its last home game for the seniors against an old rival or be stifled by Matawan’s defense? Your guess is as good as mine. The pick: Matawan.

Keyport (5-4) at St. John Vianney (3-5), 7 p.m.

This is another one where you wonder about the motivation level. St. John Vianney elected not to participate in the playoffs because it was under .500. Does that mean a flat effort in a game like this? Meanwhile, Keyport can’t be happy that it was most likely going to have a home game and that got taken away once SJV opted out of the postseason. I’ll go with the team that played the tougher schedule. The pick: St. John Vianney.

Woodrow Wilson (3-5) at Manchester (3-5), 7 p.m.

Manchester has won three straight after an 0-5 start and nearly thought it had the eighth seed in South Jersey Group III before losing a tiebreaker to Wall for the last spot. Do they go through the motions after just missing out on the postseason or make a push to a .500 season after an 0-5 start? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. The pick: Manchester.

Lenape (3-5) at Southern (4-4), 7 p.m.

The Rams showed a lot of pride last week in knocking off Toms River East to deny the Raiders a playoff berth even though Southern had nothing else to really play for. Lenape beat a playoff team in Rancocas Valley and put 35 on another playoff team in Washington Township, so this might not be the best match-up for the home team. The pick: Lenape.

Steinert (2-6) at Jackson Liberty (3-5), 7 p.m.

I’ll go with the Mercer County rule on this one. Always pick the Shore Conference, although Steinert did play a pretty challenging schedule. The pick: Jackson Liberty.

North Brunswick (0-8) at Freehold Township (1-7), 7 p.m.

Can’t make heads or tails of this one. Both had pretty tough schedules. The pick: Freehold Township.

Toms River North (0-8) at Egg Harbor Twp. (2-6), 7 p.m.

Just a few years ago, this would’ve been an anticipated playoff showdown. Now it’s Egg Harbor trying to finish strong and the Mariners trying to avoid the apocalypse of an 0-10 season at one of the Shore’s traditionally strong programs. The pick: Egg Harbor Township.

Pinelands (1-7) at Middle Twp. (2-6), 7 p.m.

Pinelands broke its 23-game losing streak in its second game, so at least the specter of that isn’t hanging over a game like this. The pick: Middle Township.

Toms River East (2-6) at Clearview (4-4), 7 p.m.

The final score of this game might be 82-80 given that Clearview lost 55-35 to Triton and 63-56 to Washington Township in the last two weeks. Whatever Toms River East’s single-game rushing record is, you can bet Matt Gudzak will take aim at it in this one. The pick: Clearview.

Point Boro (1-8) at A.L. Johnson (3-5), 7 p.m.

The Panthers can breathe easier after getting off the schnide with a big win over Lakewood last week. Does that carry over to this game with a young team? A.L. Johnson was in most of its games this season and is at home, so it gets the slight edge. The pick: A.L. Johnson.

Howell (3-5) at Hillsborough (5-4), 7 p.m.

Every year, someone puts up a crazy stat line in a consolation game. Maybe this year it will be Howell quarterback Connor McGlynn or receiver Joey Schultz, although it may not be in a win. The pick: Hillsborough.

Freehold (1-7) at West Windsor South (2-7), 7 p.m.

Freehold showed some fight in a loss to undefeated Ocean last week and sophomore quarterback Jake Curry is one to watch going forward. The pick: Freehold.



New Egypt (1-7) at Keansburg (1-8), 1 p.m.

Driving from the wilds of New Egypt all the way to the Bayshore and Da Burg sounds like a fun bus ride. Keansburg’s defense has struggled all year but its offense has had some explosive games, so I say the Titans take this one. The pick: Keansburg.

Princeton (0-9) at Marlboro (1-7), 1 p.m.

The alma mater of Shore Sports Network’s Matt Manley is not exactly lighting the world on fire on the gridiron, so Marlboro should get this one. The pick: Marlboro.

Holmdel (1-7) at Red Bank (1-7), 1 p.m.

OK, heads for Holmdel, tails for Red Bank. (Flips coin). Heads it is. The pick: Holmdel.

Monmouth (2-6) at Hamilton West (2-6), 1 p.m.

Monmouth has quietly been unbeatable in consolation games. While I’m sure Monmouth isn’t too excited about it because it means a lack of playoff berths, the Falcons are 6-0 in consolation games since 2005, with Ewing as their preferred whipping boy. The pick: Monmouth.