WHO: 1-Point Boro (11-0) vs. 7-Hillside (8-3)

WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m.

WHERE: High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers University

POINT BORO ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated No. 8 Raritan, 41-12 in the quarterfinals; defeated No. 5 Manasquan, 27-6, in the semifinals.

HILLSIDE ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated No. 2 South River, 28-7, in the quarterfinals: defeated No. 3 A.L. Johnson, 19-16, in the semifinals.

POINT BORO'S BEST WIN: 27-6 over Manasquan in the semifinals.

HILLSIDE'S BEST WIN: 19-16 over Johnson in the semifinals.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: Point Boro is 13-12 all-time in 15 playoff appearances. The Panthers have won three sectional titles in six trips to the finals. They last played in a state final in 2007 and last won a title when they went 12-0 in 2005...Hillside is 5-7 all-time in eight playoff appearances. The Comets have one sectional title in two trips to the championship game.

Point Boro stats leaders (see below)

Point Boro quarterback James Fara ran for 130 yards and threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-6 win over Manasquan in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals. (Photo by Paula Lopez).
Point Boro quarterback James Fara ran for 130 yards and threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-6 win over Manasquan in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals. (Photo by Paula Lopez).

Point Boro is undefeated and set to play in its first state title game since 2007. The Panthers are hoping to duplicate the results of the 2005 season when they went 12-0 and last won a state championship. They arrived in the title game via an impressive 27-6 win over defending champion Manasquan in the semifinals.

The Panthers have a top-5 offense and a top-10 defense in the Shore Conference led by a tremendous senior class that mostly plays on both sides of the ball. Point Boro’s flexbone triple-option offense averages 34.3 points per game and is led by senior quarterback James Fara along with senior slotback Brandon Cipriano and senior fullback Tanner Gordon.

Fara has been outstanding this season with 1,546 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns on an average of 8.5 yards per carry while also throwing for 550 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions and a 66 percent completion rate. Cipriano has been great in both the running game and the passing game with 729 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on an average of 12.6 yards per carry to go along with 24 receptions for 436 yards and five touchdowns. Despite missing two games with an injury, Gordon has 663 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Senior Nate Chiarello has five rushing touchdowns

The Panthers’ defense allows an average of 12.3 points per game and is coming off a semifinal game against Manasquan where it forced five turnovers. The Panthers have forced 18 turnovers this season. Linebacker Garrett Romer has a team-leading 97 tackles with five tackles for a loss while defensive lineman Trent LiVolsi has 61 stops and eight tackles for a loss and safety Trevor McNamara has 57 tackles. Gordon has a team-best four sacks and John Callander leads the team with three interceptions. If the ball is on the ground it seems to find a way into the grasp of linebacker Tyler Sanchez, who has four fumble recoveries.

In the random stat department, Point Boro’s opponents have missed their last eight extra points against the Panthers either by a miss or it being blocked.

Chiarello is Point Boro’s kicker and has made 47 of 55 extra points but does not have a field goal.

Point Boro’s defense will face its greatest challenge of the season against a Hillside team that has an 1,800-yard passer and two 1,000-yard rushers and averages 29.2 points per game. Quarterback Tajae Irby has thrown for 1,796 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 67 percent of his throws. His top wideout is Nahree Biggins with 26 catches for 702 yards and nine touchdowns while Shadon Willis has 26 receptions for 508 yards and six touchdowns. Boris Nicolas-Paul has 19 catches for 436 yards and two touchdowns.

The Comets have two breakaway backs in their running game with Brian Ugwu rushing for 1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns on an eye-opening average of 15.4 yards per carry. James Louis adds 1,016 yards and seven touchdowns on a ridiculous 18.8 yards per rush. Biggins also has 347 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to give him over 1,000 all-purpose yards.

The Comets are reliable in the kicking game with Hugo Carrico being successful on 37 of 38 extra points.

Hillside’s defense has been stout this season, as well, in allowing 14.9 points per game. Christian Young is the Comets’ leading tackler with 110 while Christian Branch has 98 tackles, Najee Peele has 87 tackles and five sacks and Ugwu has 85 tackles and a team-high eight sacks. Nicolas-Paul adds 78 tackles, six sacks three forced fumbles and two interceptions and Kwabena Ennin-Frimpong sports 84 tackles with seven sacks.

Point Boro would like to control the clock with its option offense and limit the possessions for the Comets and their game-breaking players. If Point Boro is playing well the byproduct of those long drives will, of course, be touchdowns, but the Panthers can also break big plays of their own as Fara and Cipriano have multiple 50-plus yard scores this season.

Senior running back Brandon Cipriano is a major weapon for Point Boro with over 1,100 total yards and 17 touchdowns. (Photo by Paula Lopez).
Senior running back Brandon Cipriano is a major weapon for Point Boro with over 1,100 total yards and 17 touchdowns. (Photo by Paula Lopez).

Hillside has a seen the triple option twice this season in its two games against Johnson, so the Comets have experience against the basics of the offense. Limiting turnovers is crucial for any team and even more important for Point Boro since the flexbone just presents more opportunities for the ball to hit the ground. The Panthers have done a very good job of taking care of the ball this season, though, so it's not like it's been an issue.

Point Boro's defense has seen an array of offenses this season and has basically shut every team down other than Lakewood in a 35-34 win. Hillside may have the most team speed of any team the Panthers have faced this season, but with games against Lakewood and Monmouth this season Point Boro does have experience against offenses that can attack the perimeter and tend to score on big plays.

Point Boro's offensive line of Gabe Fattizzi, Conor Landis, Trent LiVolsi, Anthony Bonavito and Scott Francheschini are the unsung heroes of the entire team with their consistently strong play all season. If they play as they have all season and prevent HIllside from getting penetration and disrupting the mesh point, Point Boro's offense will be able to stay patient and remain on course.

The Panthers have been so good on both sides of the ball this season and have won both high-scoring and low-scoring games, and they're peaking at the perfect moment. Hillside has proven it is a dangerous team by reaching the final as the No. 7 seed, but Saturday is the time for Point Boro to return to glory.

Prediction: Point Boro, 28-14



Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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. 


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