Football Midseason Report
Now that we're halfway home on the journey to the NJSIAA finals on the first weekend of December, it's worth taking a look at what has stood out during this Shore Conference season so far.
First, a reminder that you can listen live to Friday night's showdown at "The Swamp" between No. 1 Middletown South and No. 2 Toms River North on 1160 and 1310 a.m. as well as audio streaming right here on ShoreSportsNetwork.com.
Now let's get to it.
Offensive Player of the Year Watch
Mike Husni, Sr., QB, Toms River North
His numbers are ridiculous through six games. He has 1,014 yards and 14 touchdowns passing and 856 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing for an unbeaten team averaging 49.5 points per game. He is basically Eddie Conti or Andrew Mandeville version 2.0, and his chance for a signature game comes against No. 1 Middletown South on Friday night. The single-season Shore Conference record for combined touchdowns is 44 by Mater Dei Prep grad Christian Palmer in 2014, which looks like it will be under assault by Husni against a much tougher schedule. He also could be a 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher, which I don't believe has ever been done by a Shore quarterback.
Mike Bickford, Sr., RB, Central
Conventional wisdom dictated that Bickford's numbers would drop with Central moving from B South to rumble with the bigger schools in A South, but that turned out to be completely wrong. Other than a loss to Wall in the week when a depleted Central team found out it was disqualified from the state playoffs due to a fight during a game, Bickford has been dominant. He leads the Shore with 1,144 yards rushing, and that includes a career-high 363, 7-touchdown explosion in a win over Brick Memorial. Not too many thought Central would be the main challenger to Toms River North in A South, but that's the case and Bickford is a huge reason. He also is rewriting the Central record book as he goes on his way to being the all-time leading rusher after already setting the career touchdown record.
Chris Chukweneke, Sr., RB, St. John Vianney
The Villanova recruit has 651 yards and 8 touchdowns on an average of 6.6 yards per carry. If the Lancers keep winning and he keeps putting up 100-yard games against quality opponents, his name should be in the mix for this when the smoke clears. The main thing is that his numbers probably won't be as eye-popping as others because the Lancers have so many playmakers, but talk to any coach who's played them and he will tell you Chukweneke is the real deal.
Naim Mayfield, Jr., RB; Luke Corcione, Jr., QB, Manalapan
These two might split the vote for one another because they both have been outstanding for the unbeaten Braves and their rampaging offense. Mayfield has 759 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns on a ridiculous 9 yards per carry, while Corcione is second in the Shore with 1,145 yards passing and 17 touchdown passes. Even more impressive, Corcione has only thrown one interception on 106 attempts.
George Pearson, Jr., QB, Mater Dei Prep
In his first year at the controls for the unbeaten Seraphs, Pearson has been unstoppable. His 20 touchdown passes lead the Shore, and he has only three picks and 780 yards passing. Plus he usually doesn't even play the whole game because the Seraphs have routed every opponent they've played. He already has multiple FBS offers, and it's no surprise why. The Seraphs are also second in the Shore at 38.5 points per game.
Donald Glenn, Sr., QB, Middletown North
Glenn has thrown for 979 yards and 9 touchdowns against a rugged Class B North schedule. If the Lions can get over the hump against rival Middletown South and put themselves in line for division and/or state titles, the Wagner recruit will be a big reason.
Mike Gawlik, Sr., RB, Jackson Memorial
Gawlik is the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in Jaguars history as well as the school's all-time leading rusher and scorer. He has 1,079 yards and 12 touchdowns so far, but his team's struggles make it an uphill battle for him to get this award unless Jackson Memorial can mount a comeback run to its third straight state title.
Charles Sabbagh, Sr., QB, Freehold Twp.
Wow, a Cory Davies-coached quarterback leading the Shore in passing yards? Stop the presses. Yes, once again the wide open spread passing attack is doing damage, and Sabbagh has been the engine behind it as the Patriots are off to the first 6-0 start in school history. He has thrown for 1,493 yards and 15 touchdowns, but the real proving ground starts this week against Howell and then against Manalapan in two weeks.
My midseason pick: Husni. Usually the criteria for this award is either the top offensive player on a championship team, or a player who puts up Nintendo numbers to break records like Long Branch running back Dahmiere Willis two years ago. So far, Husni is on pace to have both.
Others deserving mention: Wall RB Sean Larkin, Manasquan RB Connor Morgan, Brick WR Ja'sir Taylor, RBC RB Zach Bair, Middletown South RB Anthony Summey, Pt. Boro QB James Fara, Lakewood QB Zyhier Jones, Howell QB Eddie Morales, Raritan RB Vito Aleo, Freehold QB/RB Ashante Worthy, Rumson RB Matt Vecchiarelli, Ocean QB Kenny Pickett, Marlboro RB Cameron Caorsi.
Defensive Player of the Year Watch
Maxx Imsho, Sr., LB, Middletown South
Imsho is the Eagles' Swiss Army knife. He is versatile enough to stuff the run, rush the passer and drop into coverage against the pass. He is a sideline-to-sideline player. His chance for a major statement comes in the next two games when the Eagles face two high-powered offenses in Toms River North and St. John Vianney.
Mike Ruane, Sr., LB, Rumson-FH
One of the most universally-raved about defensive players in the Shore, the UMass recruit is a three-year varsity player and the leader of one of the Shore's top defenses. Even in a 28-3 loss to St. John Vianney last week, he was all over the field making double-digit tackles, with multiple hits for a loss. If the Bulldogs win their fourth straight state title, you have to think he's right at the top of the conversation.
Johnny Buchanan, Jr., LB, St. John Vianney
The leader of one of the Shore Conference's best defenses, which just shut down Rumson in a convincing win in which Buchanan had 15 tackles, he has a team-high 69 tackles, including 9 tackles for a loss. The Lancers' lead the Shore with only 6.3 points per game allowed. Buchanan's teammate Nick Denieski also deserves mention with 8 sacks in six games.
Marvin Pierre, Sr., LB, Mater Dei Prep
The FBS prospect is part of a strong front seven for the Seraphs, who are second in the Shore with 6.8 points per game allowed this season. Pierre is also one of the most physical running backs in the Shore. He already has offers from Boston College, Bowling Green, Indiana and Marshall. If the Seraphs win their first state title and go 12-0, that's about a strong a candidacy as you could have.
Tommy Pearce, So., LB, Manalapan
Pearce is second on the Braves with 54 tackles and has become a force in his first year as a starter. He helped spearhead a shutout of playoff contender Old Bridge and is averaging 10.8 tackles per game. Just like Pierre, if Manalapan goes undefeated, Pearce has to be a strong candidate. The Braves defense is only allowing 9 points per game, fourth in the Shore, and has three shutouts.
Josh Lezin, Jr., DL, Lakewood
An FBS-caliber talent for the Piners, Lezin is one of the best defensive linemen in the Shore. Just ask anyone in B South who has had to tangle with him. A three-year varsity starter, Lezin is the leader of a Piners' unit that is sixth in the Shore with 12.4 points allowed and he is among the Shore leaders with 6 sacks.
Pete LaQuaglia, Sr., LB, Toms River North
His 82 tackles lead the Shore, and he has been a consistent bright spot on that side of the ball for the Mariners. Unfortunately for his candidacy in this department, the defense has been up and down and also has been overshadowed by the Mariners' explosive offense. However, strong performances starting with Middletown South and continuing through the state playoffs could put him square in the conversation.
My midseason pick: Can I answer after Friday night? I think Imsho is right there, but I'm interested to see how they do against Toms River North. I would give Johnny Buchanan a slight edge because of the head-to-head win over Rumson and Ruane and his strong performance in that game. Honestly, I think it's still way too early to tell on this one.
Others to watch: Red Bank's Chris Outterbridge, Raritan's Ryan Dickens, Manasquan's Adam Schreck, Brick's Dean Helstowski, Middletown North's Nick Kish.
Class A North
Manalapan is the clear favorite, with Freehold Township looking to beat Howell this week and set up a showdown for the title against the Braves on Nov. 4
Class A Central
St. John Vianney has already clinched a tie for its third straight title thanks to its win over Rumson and needs a win over Monmouth (2-5) to wrap up the outright crown.
Class A South
Unbeaten Toms River North is the heavy favorite, with Central looking like the main challenger. The Mariners still have games against Toms River South and then Central, while the Golden Eagles have a tough game on Oct. 28 against Brick to worry about before they can set up a showdown with the Mariners a week later.
Class B North
Middletown South is alone in first place and still has a tough game at Wall on Nov. 4 and then rival Middletown North on Thanksgiving to close out the crown. Any stumbles by the Eagles, and there could be another team or two with the ability to at least tie them for the title.
Class B Central
Mater Dei Prep has already clinched a tie for the title and can win it outright by beating Point Beach on Nov. 4.
Class B South
Pt. Boro can clinch at least a tie for the title by beating winless Jackson Liberty this week and then could win it outright with a victory over Barnegat on Nov. 4.
Play of the Year
I wouldn't say there's been that one jaw-dropping play that everyone is talking about yet, so hopefully that is coming this weekend.
I'm partial to the Mike Bickford crowd surfing first down just because it's so bizarre.
I also thought RBC's Brandon Lombana going over the to scoop up a TD pass and Sean Larkin unloading the halfback bomb to Chevesse Covin for Wall were also memorable.
This James Fara touchdown where he shrugs off a defender for Point Boro and takes it to the house was a good one.
And finally, Marlboro defensive back Justin Marcus doing his Odell Beckham impersonation with the one-handed interception against Neptune may be the best of them all.
Hopefully it's coming up Friday night when Middletown South faces Toms River North.
But for now, take your pick among Class B North action most weeks. You have RBC's 30-27 comeback win over Middletown North on a last-second field goal, Middletown South's 21-14 win over Manasquan on a goal line stand, Middletown North's 21-20 win over Wall and Wall's 27-21 comeback win over RBC.
There also is Middletown South's 14-13 win over Rumson-Fair Haven in a nondivisional game between defending state champions.
For sheer lunacy, there was Toms River North's 62-34 win over Brick. It's not every day you see 96 points get put on the board, plus the Mariners put up the highest score any team has ever registered against Brick in its history.
Tommy Pearce, So., LB, Manalapan
See above in the Defensive POY category for Pearce. He saw some time at the end of last year as a freshman but definitely has taken it to another level this year for the Braves.
Anthony Summey, So., Middletown South
The Shore Conferene's Travelin' Man landed on the Eagles after starting the preseason at RBC, where he had transferred after spending his freshman year at St. Joseph's-Montvale. He has been Middletown South's feature back with 500-plus yards rushing.
James Fara, Jr., QB, Point Boro
Taking over the controls of the triple option in his first year as the starting quarterback, Fara has become a star for the unbeaten Panthers. He has 862 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on 8.8 yards per carry and some of his best games have come in Point Boro's biggest games like the win over Lakewood last weekend.
Charles Sabbagh, Sr., QB, Freehold Twp.
Sabbagh saw a few snaps as the back-up last year but has exploded in his first year as the starting quarterback for the Patriots to lead the Shore in passing yards through the midway point.
Zach Bair, Jr., RB, Red Bank Catholic
Bair only had 28 carries as a sophomore but has stepped up into the feature role in a big way with 787 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns on 7.7 yards per carry this year. Junior Nick Brusca also deserves mention as he has combined for 640 yards between rushing and passing after having to step in at quarterback in the third game of the season due to injuries.
Devin Wollner, So., RB, Keyport
The sophomore has become a punishing fullback in Keyport's Wing-T with 677 yards and 4 touchdowns in six games for the Red Raiders, who are off to a 5-1 start.
Jalen Glenn, Jr., RB, Manchester
Glenn has helped the Hawks surpass their win total from last year with 547 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns so far.
Russell Ferrisi, So., TE/FB/LB, Mater Dei Prep
One of three Poly Prep transfers who followed new Seraphs coach Dino Mangiero down from New York, Ferrisi has been an impact playmaker on both sides of the ball.
Cole Groschel, So., WR/DB, Brick
The son of Brick head baseball coach Jason Groschel, Cole has 16 catches for 200 yards, has run for more than 100 yards and two scores and is among the Shore Conference leaders with 4 interceptions on defense.
Haaziq Daniels, Jr., QB, St. John Vianney
Daniels, a transfer from Edison, has formed a nice 1-2 punch in rotating with Matt DeGennaro at quarterback to give the Lancers a dangerous running threat to go with DeGennaro's downfield throwing ability. He has run for 201 yards and thrown for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Qua'jon Everett, Jr., DL, Freehold
Everett has quietly been a force up front with 6.5 sacks this season for the Colonials.
My midseason pick: Given that Pearce is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year in the Shore, I would lean that way.
Most underrated unit - Marlboro's offensive line
There have been many seasons in the last 15 years when Marlboro is lucky to have one player have a 100-yard rushing game in the entire course of a season. This year the Mustangs have had a 100-yard rusher in all six of their games. Even after star Cameron Caorsi went down with an injury in the first half of their fifth game, senior Johnny Helff stepped right in with back-to-back 100-yard games thanks to the unit of senior center Riley Keating, junior left tackle Chris Manginelli, junior right guard Anthony Damato, senior right tackle Anthony Mitchell, senior left guard Kyle Dade and tight end Paul Wagner.
Most underrated team - Howell
Of the Rebels' three losses, two are to unbeaten, top-five teams in the Shore (Manalapan and Toms River North) and the other is to a Top 10 Middletown North team. They can put a scare into people with quarterback Eddie Morales at the helm. They hung 34 points on a Manalapan team that had not allowed more than 12 in a game all season and gave the Braves their toughest game of the year thus far.
Top storylines of the first half of the season
Transfers, transfers, transfers
Impact newcomers at programs like St. John Vianney, Mater Dei Prep and Middletown South have had people taking sides about the issue of rampant transfers in New Jersey. One side believes it's unfair for schools to be able to create these super teams with none of these transfers ever sitting out after changing schools, and others are saying to get over it and that's just the way the world works in New Jersey football across the state now. One thing I think will come to a head like it did in North Jersey is public schools refusing to play these non-public schools that load up with star transfers every year.
Toms River North potentially going down as one of the best offensive teams in Shore history
The Mariners are averaging 49.5 points a game and have been breathtaking to watch. Can they do it against a team like Middletown South and the field in South Jersey Group V? We'll see soon enough.
Freehold Township's best start ever
The Patriots, who have only played in two state playoff games in their history and never have won one, are off to a 6-0 start under coach Cory Davies. He has worked his magic with the spread offense to make them a contender in Class A North. Now we'll see if they are ready to take the next step with tough games against Howell and Manalapan before the state playoffs.
Mater Dei Prep living up to the hype
With all the new transfers and head coach Dino Mangiero, big things were predicted for the Seraphs. They have already clinched a tie for their first division title in school and no team has given them a competitive game yet. They are looking to make a serious run at state standard-bearer St. Joseph's-Hammonton in the state playoffs.
The Division of Doom
Class B North looked like it would be an all-out slugfest in the preseason and that has been the case. No. 1 Middletown South has gotten multiple dogfights from division contenders, and there's seemingly a one-point game that comes down to the final minute every week in this division. There are five teams (Middletown South, Wall, RBC, Manasquan and Middletown North) that have at least four wins at the midpoint.
The return of Manasquan and Wall
The two old Thanksgiving rivals and perennial Shore contenders have had both had two straight losing seasons before this year, but now both only have one loss each as we reach the midpoint. Both of them also look like strong contenders to make runs at state titles.
Players running wild
The running game is alive and well in the Shore, with two backs (Mike Gawlik and Mike Bickford) already over 1,000 yards halfway through the season. There have been four 300-yard rushing games so far, including three that were individual school records.