WHO: 3-Long Branch (8-3) vs. 8-Freehold (8-3)

WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 2, 4 p.m.

WHERE: High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers University

FREEHOLD ROAD TO THE FINAL: Def. Nottingham, 51-34, in the quarterfinals; defeated Brick, 35-28, in the semifinals.

LONG BRANCH ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Middletown South, 20-0, in quarterfinals; defeated Jackson Memorial, 28-3, in the semifinals.

FREEHOLD'S BEST WIN: 27-20 over Long Branch on Nov. 3.

LONG BRANCH'S BEST WIN: 28-19 over Manasquan on Sept. 8

PLAYOFF HISTORY: Freehold is 8-7 in nine playoff appearances all-time. The Colonials have won two sectional titles in three trips, the last of which came in 2010...Long Branch has a 17-15 postseason record in 17 playoff appearances. The Green Wave have two sectional titles to their credit and eight overall trips to a championship game. Long Branch's last state title was in 1999.

Photo by Paula Lopez

The Central Jersey Group IV playoffs began with six of the eight teams hailing from the Shore Conference so the odds were great, to begin with, that there would be two area teams facing off in the title game. This will be the second meeting of the season between Freehold and Long Branch. The Colonials defeated the Green Wave, 27-20, in Week 9.

Freehold is trying to become the first No. 8 seed to win an NJSIAA title since Long Branch won the Central Jersey Group III title as the No. 8 seed in 1999. The was the year Long Branch won its last title, while Freehold is going for its first sectional championship since 2010.

When talking about Freehold this season you obviously have to start with senior quarterback Ashante Worthy, who has changed our idea of what a big individual game looks like with his unbelievable statistics. Worthy is currently tied with 2014 Long Branch grad Dahmiere Willis for the Shore Conference-single season rushing record with 2,589 yards. He’s going to break the record, the question is what number will he end up with. He’s also thrown for 1,965, leaving him 35 yards shy of becoming the first player in state history to run and throw for 2,000 yards each in the same season. He has 35 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns to tie the state single-season record with 55 combined touchdowns. The modern state single-season record for rushing yards is 2,815 set last season by Salem’s Jonathan Taylor, who is currently having a huge season as the starting running back for the University of Wisconsin. Worthy can break that record with 227 yards rushing in the state final, and given that he had 252 yards on the ground in the first meeting against Long Branch it could certainly happen.

Worthy had a whopping 72 touches in the first game against Long Branch, so the Green Wave will obviously be geared up to slow him down first and foremost. Surrounding Worthy is a cast that gets overshadowed by their quarterback’s otherworldly numbers, but has been crucial to Freehold’s success this season. Junior wideout Matt Krauss is near the top of the Shore in receptions (50) and receiving yards (688) to go along with six touchdowns. Junior Quincy Davis is a 6-foot-5 target who has hauled in 23 catches for 465 yards and seven touchdowns. Matt DaSilva adds 20 catches for 247 yards and a pair of scores.

Freehold QB Ashante Worthy has tied the state-record with 55 combined touchdowns this season with one game still to play. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Freehold also has one of the more reliable kickers in the Shore Conference with junior Jake Hurler. He has connected on 58 of 62 extra points and kicked three field goals with a long of 34 yards.

The one area of concern for Freehold could be a defense that has allowed 25.2 points per game. Brick ran for 346 yards in the semifinals and did a fairly good of keeping Freehold’s offense off the field, especially in the first half. Freehold’s win over Long Branch in Week 9 was among the defense’s best performances of the season, however, as they limited the Green Wave to 23 yards rushing.

Junior linebacker Knox Stokes leads the team with 94 tackles plus 2.5 sacks and senior Qua’jon Everett has a team-high 6.5 sacks. Krauss 81 tackles and two interceptions from his safety position. Linebacker Yahson Calhoun has five sacks and DaSilva and Worthy each have a team-high three interceptions. Freehold has kept Worthy off the field on defense most of the season, but he was inserted in the semifinal game against Brick and came away with two interceptions. With one game left and a championship up for grabs, it’s likely he’ll play defense in key situations as well.

Long Branch will counter with a balanced offense and a defense that has allowed 15.8 points per game this season and just three points in the playoffs.

Long Branch wide receiver T.J. Fosque. (Photo by Paula Lopez).

Long Branch’s passing game features senior quarterback Juwan Wilkins, senior wideouts T.J. Fosque and Pasa Fields, junior wide receiver Matt Clark and senior tight end Kaymar Mimes. Fosque is among the top passers in the Shore with 1,740 yards and 19 touchdowns with a 63 percent completion rate. Fosque, who recently committed to Monmouth University, is the teams leading receiver in terms of yards with 32 catches for 616 yards and seven touchdowns. Fields has 46 grabs for 536 yards and five touchdowns, Clark has 23 catches for 267 yards and a score and Mimes adds 13 catches for 125 yards and three touchdowns.

What has helped take Long Branch’s offense to the next level has been the emergence of sophomore running back Jermaine Corbett. He has 1,267 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns behind a solid offensive line.

On defense, linebacker Luke Arnold leads the team with 118 tackles and is tied with Fields and Kevin Porch with a team-high two interceptions. Mimes has 10 sacks and Kyle Smith and Jah’Kwan Gordon, who has been strong in the playoffs, add 5.5 sacks each.

Kicker Paul Montague has been solid in connecting on 31 of 35 extra points and kicking two field goals with a long of 30 yards.

The keys to the game for both teams are fairly simple on paper. Long Branch will try to control the clock and keep Worthy off the field, and of course, try to force some turnovers. Freehold wants the ball in Worthy’s hands as much as possible because eventually, he is going to make a play and find the end zone. This one could go either way and should be among the best of the four finals at Rutgers.

Prediction: Freehold, 28-21




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.