Football – Just in Case: Monmouth Regional Preview
By the simplest of measures, the turnaround of the Monmouth Regional football program is making steady progress under veteran coach Rich Mosca, a former college coach who is entering his fourth season of his second stint as the coach of the Falcons.
In Mosca’s first two seasons, he led Monmouth to a 3-7 record both years after taking over a 2-8 team and last season, the Falcons went 5-5 and barely missed a NJSIAA postseason berth – the program’s first .500 season in more than a decade.
Digging a little deeper, however, Monmouth’s 2016 was more of a cause for celebration than most 5-5 seasons that don’t end in trip to the playoffs. After beginning the season 1-3 with losses to Manasquan, Central Jersey Group III champion Rumson-Fair Haven and then-defending Central Jersey Group III champion Matawan, Monmouth won four of six to close out the year, including a win over Raritan. After losing to Monmouth, 30-21, the Rockets would not lose another game and claimed the Central Jersey Group II sectional championship.
Of Monmouth’s five losses – Manasquan, Rumson, Matawan, St. John Vianney and Ocean – four came against teams that reached a sectional semifinal (all but Manasquan) and two of those teams (Rumson and St. John Vianney) played in sectional finals.
“I don’t know how many teams played four teams that were in sectional semifinals,” Mosca said. “If any other teams did, they were probably teams that went deep in the playoffs, so we had a really challenging schedule. I loved it and I think the kids really liked the competition, but those were some really good teams we were playing week-in and week-out.”
The schedule will not be any more forgiving this season, which opens Friday night at Ocean. Monmouth will play road games at Ocean, Holmdel and Metuchen to open the year before hosting Matawan and Point Pleasant Boro. The Falcons will then close out the season with Raritan, Red Bank Regional, Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney – all of which were sectional finalists last year.
On top of the schedule, the Falcons will have to overcome the loss of 26 seniors off of last year’s roster and an early-season knee injury to would-be starting quarterback Casey Pachucki. Mosca is hopeful the Pachucki will be back for the majority of the season, but the week-early start to the campaign does the team few favors.
“Casey did a great job for us last year,” Mosca said. “He was one of the better overall players in our division and he really got better and better as the season went on. He’s just a tough, tough football player and he’s going to be back. Our other guys are stepping up without him and when he comes back, we’re going to be okay.”
Pachucki took over the quarterbacking duties as a junior in 2015 and was primarily a runner – amassing 747 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. With Pachucki ailing in the preseason, senior Jay Eustace has taken over as the starting quarterback and has earned Mosca’s confidence. Eustace transferred from St. John Vianney last season and, due to the 30 days he was required to sit, moved to wide receiver in order to better contribute right away.
Another unknown for Monmouth will be its offensive line, which returns just one starter and will have to replace an all-division performer in tackle Tyler Gallagher. Right guard Brandon Mejia is the lone returning starting lineman on the offensive side and will be flanked by a completely new group.
Monmouth’s clear offensive strength during the preseason is in the backfield with a trio of talented ball-carriers. Seniors Jermiah Clarke and Asod Yarborough form a complementary duo of contrasting styles – Clark as a tall, strong back who will be hard to tackle and Yarborough as a smaller, but physical back. Sophomore Dayshawn Porter is also a potential breakout player who will be used in the offense in some capacity and could emerge as the feature back based on what Mosca has seen.
“Our strength is going to be at running back,” Mosca said. “We have three guys who have looked very good and even some more guys who I think have done a nice job for us. The two senior guys are talented, strong guys who can do a lot of things for us and the sophomore, Porter, is going to be a player as long as he keeps working hard.”
Elijah Walker, Isaiah Brown and Alex Eugene will be two-way players as receivers and defensive backs, with Walker serving as a senior cornerback and outside receiver threat and Brown and Eugene both figuring into the mix at safety and receiving depth. Devon Johnson will be another receiving threat for Eustace to target, as will sophomore slot receiver Eli Rife.
Senior Tyler Rebmann and juniors Marcus Hill, Ricky Voss and John Braker will anchor the defensive line, with Rebmann providing some intrigue as a 6-foot-7 defensive end. Seniors Tramel Edwards and Jayhahn Booker will carry the group of linebackers and Yarborough and Porter will also play in the secondary with Walker, Brown and Eugene.
With 26 seniors gone from last year’s team and an injury to the team’s best returning player, Monmouth faces an uphill battle against a difficult schedule. Mosca, however, is staying optimistic about the state of the program and the prospects for the upcoming year, citing improving numbers, increased familiarity with the expectations, and some high-upside talent that has not yet proven itself.
“I’m interested to see how we do,” Mosca said. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming into camp but I feel really good about what I’m seeing so far.”
Head Coach: Rich Mosca, 10th season
Assistant Coaches: Dan Wendel (Off. Coordinator), Joe Nappi (Special Teams/WR/LB), Justin McGhee (Special Teams/RB/DL), Jeff Farrah (WR/DB), Ryan Daly (OL/LB), Jeff Sfraga (Freshman), Bill Clark (Freshman)
2015 Record: 5-5 (2-4 in A Central)
Big Shoes to Fill: Brandon Mejia, OL
There are plenty of Falcons players that will need to step up this year, but as the lone player back on a offensive line that performed well last season, Mejia will be asked to raise his game and be a mentor to the new wave of starting linemen.
X-Factor: Casey Pachucki, QB/LB
If the senior quarterback can recover from a knee injury that has kept him out of Monmouth’s preseason, Monmouth could pose trouble to teams that would have to face the Falcons with their best player. If new quarterback Jay Eustace can do the job, Pachucki could even return in a different capacity to help him ease back into the fold and cover some other holes on the team.
Glue Guy: Elijah Walker, WR/CB
A two-way standout, Walker might be Monmouth’s best defensive player and is the team’s best threat on the outside. The Falcons have a more conventional thrower at the quarterback position in Eustace, so Walker could be more of a factor in the passing game.
Impact Newcomer: Tyler Rebmann, DE
Rebmann came out to play football this season after sticking to basketball in past years and at 6-foot-7, he stands out on the field. Mosca believes he is just scratching the surface and can still make an impact.
Pivotal Game: Oct. 7 at Raritan
Monmouth knocked off the Rockets last season before Raritan went on to win a sectional title, so the Falcons should have Raritan's undivided attention. Monmouth hopes to have Pachucki, who carried the Falcons to last year's 30-21 win, back by this game.