Football State Playoff Preview: South Jersey
With 24 Shore Conference teams all dreaming of making it to that first weekend in December for the NJSIAA sectional championships, do-or-die time begins this weekend.
The Shore has teams in 10 different state playoff brackets, and here is a look at the match-ups in the three South Jersey brackets involving Shore Conference teams. Check here for a preview of the five Central Jersey brackets. Check here for a preview on the two Non-Public brackets involving the Shore.
Shore teams: (5) Brick Memorial; (8) Toms River North
Breakdown: This large-school brackets involving the traditional South Jersey powers are always a challenge, and this year is not much different, although there is not an unbeatable powerhouse in this bracket. Top-seeded Lenape is unbeaten with wins over Rancocas Valley and Cherokee, but both of those games were close.
Brick Memorial (6-3) will go on the road to Cherokee (5-3) on Friday night to face a team that is always a contender. The Mustangs are led by junior quarterback Tim Santiago, who has battled injuries in recent weeks but played in Brick Memorial's 35-7 win over Southern last week.
Santiago has continued to improve as the general of the flexbone offense and has 599 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing along with 422 yards and four touchdowns passing. Senior fullback Connor Owen leads the team with 623 yards rushing along with eight touchdowns. Their home run threat in the passing game is senior wideout Karl Kumm, a 6-foot-4 target who is averaging a whopping 30 yards per catch in racking up 335 yards and four touchdowns on just 11 catches.
A Brick Memorial defense led by Owen (63 tackles) and senior linebacker Alex Clayton (73 tackles) along with brothers Mike and Anthony Nobile up front will look to stop a Cherokee offense averaging 25 points per game behind explosive senior running back Marc Woodard, who has 1,038 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on more than 10 yards per carry. It will be all about Brick Memorial's front seven in run defense because the Chiefs do not throw it much behind junior quarterback Evan Powell, who also plays linebacker and is a physical running threat.
Brick Memorial has already seen plenty of potent running attacks in Class A South, so Cherokee doesn't present anything overwhelming in that area. The key will be getting negative plays on early downs to force Cherokee into obvious passing situations. However, it's still more about whether the Mustangs can score against a solid Cherokee defense and control the clock with their running game.
Should the Mustangs pick up a win on the road, they will most likely be heading to unbeaten Lenape in the semifinals unless eighth-seeded Toms River North can pull off the upset. The Mariners (5-4) have been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team that has bombed opponents for 500 yards rushing one week and then failed to move the ball much the next. They are coming off a 21-0 loss to playoff qualifier Neptune and have lost two straight. They will need to get the offense in gear against a Lenape defense that has not allowed more than 16 points in any games this season and has two shutouts.
Sophomore quarterback Mike Husni is having a breakout season with 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns passing along with 1,035 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing for Toms River North. The health of junior tailback Asante Moorer, who has run for 904 yards and 8 touchdowns, also is key, as he has been banged up in recent weeks and seen little action. The Mariners have four receivers with 12 or more catches, led by sophomore wideout Bryce Watts with 19, and primary big-play threat is senior tight end Jordan Craig, who is averaging 29 yards per catch with 347 yards and two touchdowns.
They will go against a Lenape defense led by its veteran secondary featuring safety Ben Hunt, who has a pair of interceptions, as well as Malcolm Anthony and Anthony Brunetti.
Hunt, who has gotten FCS interest from the Patriot League and elsewhere, also leads the way offensively with 635 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns on a run-based offense that spreads the ball around to three different backs. Senior quarterback Jimmy Kennedy has thrown for 469 yards but only averages about nine passing attempts per game. Lenape also has a big special teams weapon in senior kicker Jarry Jones, who leads South Jersey with eight field goals and has gotten interest from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
That means the Mariners strong front line in its 3-4 defense will need to play big, tie up blockers and let the linebackers make plays. Junior Da'shon Copes has been one of the Shore Conference's most disruptive defensive linemen this season with 19 tackles for a loss, so a big game by him and senior Adam Kakar along with linebacker Tyler Maclaine is crucial.
While this Toms River North team is thought of as being a year away given that its core is sophomores and juniors with some talented freshmen coming up next year, this is a chance to show that schedule has accelerated. At the very least, they will gain valuable experience going into next season with a loaded team.
Non-Shore players to watch: On the other side of the bracket, Williamstown and Rancocas Valley are a good bet to battle it out to reach the final. Rancocas senior quarterback Jordan Sadusky has 1,014 total yards and 16 total touchdowns and running back Shaun Bradley leads them with 715 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns. They also have a top defensive player in middle linebacker Chris Bright.
The ones to watch on Williamstown are senior defensive end David Sanchez and the future teammate of Barnegat quarterback Cinjun Erskine at Bucknell. Senior quarterback/cornerback Isiah Perkins has committed to the Bison as a corner and also is an explosive runner out of the shotgun on offense.
One other player to watch on a team that could surprise is Millville senior running back Ryquell Armstead, a Temple recruit who is a 1,000-yard rusher for Mike Trout Regional. Armstead ran for a school-record 337 yards against Absegami earlier this year. Millville was in the mix as a prime contender but half of its monster backfield was lost when standout Rob Ennis, a Purdue recruit, was dismissed from the team.
Shore teams: (4) Central; (6) Manasquan; (7) Wall.
Breakdown: Central has only won one state playoff game in its history, and that was 20 years ago. The good news is that the Golden Eagles have already won their first division title since that same 1994 season, so that bodes well. They host Oakcrest (5-3) on the turf at Toms River East because Central has been on the road all season due to renovations to its home field.
It will be two dynamic running games going head to head, as Oakcrest is led by the tandem of quarterback Kendall Elliott (635 yards rushing, 9 TD) and running back Terrence Smith (495 yards, 9 TDs), while Central features breakout sophomore star Mike Bickford, a tailback who has exploded with 1,523 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in his first varsity season.
Oakcrest's big-play threat in the passing game is Ali-Quan Stokes, who has 11 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Central's is Anthony Arneth, who has 258 yards and 3 touchdowns on all of six catches for an obscene average of 43 yards per catch from quarterback Mike Miserendino, who has thrown for 478 yards and five touchdowns while also running for 512 yards and six touchdowns.
The Falcons are giving up 21 points per game and are led by linebackers Yaier Hinton (41 tackles) and William Fish (39 tackles. Central is giving up 19 points per game with a defense led by senior linebacker Liam Christensen (71 tackles, 4 TFL) and Bickford (65 tackles), who also plays linebacker.
If Central ends is drought of playoff victories, that most likely means a trip to top-seeded Allentown (7-2) for the semifinals. The Redbirds have only won one playoff game in their history, but they are a program on the rise now that they are a choice school that can pull talent from various nearby districts. They are a hard-nosed running team with four backs each over 200 yards and three over 500, led by quarterback Michael Curry (820 yards) and have played a tougher schedule than Central with games against Lenape, Rancocas Valley and Hopewell Valley.
On the other side of the bracket, Manasquan (3-5) heads to third-seeded Bridgeton (7-2) in a bid to try to reach its second straight semifinal. The Warriors are banged up, particularly in the running game, as freshman Connor Morgan missed last week's game against St. John Vianney with an injury and then leading rusher James McAlary left the game with a knee injury that may keep him out on Friday as well. It will be up to quarterbacks Liam Grieb and Tommy Antonucci and a receiving corps led by Matt Paturzo and Max Hawkins to pick up the slack while a committee of running backs pitches in.
Manasquan's defense is led by Virginia recruit Tanner Cowley, who has been a force at linebacker all year. It will be tasked with stopping a Bridgeton offense that is averaging 33 points per game led by 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver Nazir Williams (28 catches, 428 yards, 2 TDs), who is committed to UConn. Bridgeton also features another explosive talent in 1,200-yard rusher Stefon Bowman, who has 14 touchdowns. Yet another big-play threat is senior wideout/corner Cappadonna Miller, who has 723 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing. He also makes me realize that I have now lived long enough that people are naming their kids after peripheral members of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Wall (2-6) has to travel to defending champion Delsea (5-4), which is not nearly the juggernaut it was in physically manhandling Manasquan and Barnegat on the way to the title last year, but is still a serious threat to reach the final. The Crimson Knights are led by junior quarterback Matt Cluley, who has thrown for 926 yards and 7 touchdowns and run for a team-high 441 yards and 6 touchdowns in his first year as the starter in Wall's spread attack.
His top receiver is sophomore R.J. Janeczek, who has 17 catches for 228 yards and a touchdown, and Liam Ferguson leads the team with three touchdown grabs. Cluley will look to get the ball out quick against an attacking Delsea defense that features defensive end Ameer Banks (67 tackles, 9 TFL), linebacker Jake Hallowell (63 tackles, 7 TFL) and senior noseguard Vic Defrance (10 TFL).
Ferguson and linebackers Rich Eknoian and Tim McGevna lead a Wall defense that enters allowing 31 points per game. Wall has struggled against high-caliber running backs like Freehold Boro's Josh Dixon and Long Branch's Dahmiere Willis, which is not good news considering Delsea is led by senior Isaiah Spencer, who has 996 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns out of Delsea's run-based Wing-T offense.
With the core of the teams at Wall and Manasquan featuring underclassmen, both teams are big underdogs that should be back in the championship hunt in the coming years. Central is another team with most of its firepower coming back next year, so getting its first playoff win in two decades would be a great thing to build off.
Non-Shore players to watch: They are all covered above.
Shore team: (7) Barnegat.
This is the Bracket of Doom, where the winner should be considered one of the top public teams in the state regardless of school size. The combined record of teams in this bracket is 58-7, and Barnegat has to go to face undefeated Buena on Friday night.
The Bengals will be without Bucknell-bound senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine, who suffered a season-ending fractured ankle in a loss to Matawan last week. That means fellow senior Ricky Gerena, normally a wide receiver and defensive back, will take over at quarterback. Erskine was Barnegat's leading rusher, so senior Tyler McGuinness (389 yards) will try to fill that void along with junior Paul Wickwire (230 yards) behind an offensive line led by Wisconsin recruit Sam Madden.
A defense led by Penn State recruit Manny Bowen (42 tackles) and McGuinness (53 tackles) at linebacker along with Gerena (4 INT) in the secondary will try to slow down a Buena offense averaging 33 points per game. Five-foot-5 running back Quadir Albright is a home run threat and Sam Crouch is a physical back who also plays defensive end. It all adds up to a tall order for the Bengals, who can still end the season on a high note with a win over Pinelands the day before Thanksgiving to clinch a tie with Central for their second straight Class B South title.
Non-Shore players to watch: Where do you even begin in a bracket this loaded?
Undefeated Camden is stocked with talent, including junior defensive end Ron Johnson, a four-star recruit with offers from everyone from Ohio State to South Carolina.
Camden also includes four-star recruit Brad Hawkins, a junior wide receiver with a who's who of offers.
And don't forget Camden junior defensive end Jamal Holloway, who has offers from Michigan State, Rutgers and more. Senior quarterback/cornerback Khalil Williams is another to watch, and senior wideout JaMir Washington has an offer from Temple.
Another perennial small-school contender, Glassboro, features wide receiver Juwan Johnson, who is committed to Penn State, and his teammate, Ronnie James, is committed to Rutgers as a defensive back.
Perennial power West Deptford features senior fullback Kevin DeCaesar, who has 896 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns on 10 yards per carry. Defending champion Haddonfield includes senior linebacker Mark Walker, who has 12 tackles for a loss to go with 66 tackles.