Football – What to Watch For: Week 6 Preview
The midway point of the season is here, and with it some massive divisional games headlining the Week 6 slate.
The two heavyweights in Class A Central will get together in what will almost certainly decide the division champion for the third season in a row. Class B South has the same scenario with a pair of undefeated teams who shared the title last season squaring off on Friday night. With four ranked teams and the best collection of squads from top to bottom Class B North always has an important game, and this week is no different.
There are several other important games this week, and with the playoffs looming every power point earned is critical.
Let’s take a look at what to watch for in Week 6.
Game of the Week: No. 4 St. John Vianney at No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven
One of two top-10 battles this week has fourth-ranked St. John Vianney taking it’s 25-game winning streak against Shore Conference opponents into Borden Stadium on Friday night to take on No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven in a matchup of Class A Central powers. This game has decided the division title the last two years - both St. John Vianney wins - and it will do the same this season.
The Lancers enter with a perfect 5-0 record thanks to a powerful run game and a physical defense that has allowed just 35 points all season. St. John Vianney makes its living offensively by running behind an offensive line led by senior Rutgers recruits Micah Clark and Jamaal Beaty. Villanova-bound senior running back Chris Chukwuneke is the lead back, but the Lancers also have junior Johnny Buchanan, who is rapidly becoming one of the best two-way players in the Shore. Chukwuneke has 509 yards and 7 touchdowns in four games while Buchanan has rushed for 340 yards and six touchdowns. St. John Vianney has two quarterbacks it will rotate with senior Matt DeGennaro and junior Haaziq Daniels. The Lancers’ top receivers are Zyaire Sterling and Sam East.
On defense, St. John Vianney’s two leading tacklers are Buchanan and junior Josiah Walker at linebacker. Clark is a force along the defensive line whose presence will dictate how teams call plays. Junior defensive end Nick Densieski has been one of the Shore’s best pass rushers this season with six sacks. The Lancers first-team defense has allowed just 21 points this season and recorded shutouts in wins over Matawan and Red Bank. Their best win of the season is a 22-14 overtime win over No. 9 Brick.
When talking about the top defenses in the Shore Conference, both statistically and in terms of personnel, Rumson is right near the top. The Bulldogs have allowed a conference-low 14 points and recorded three shutouts in four games. Leading the way is senior linebacker Mike Ruane, a UMass recruit who was a first-team All-Shore pick by Shore Sports Network last season. Fellow first-team All-Shore player Mike Murdock at safety gives the Bulldogs two of the best defensive players in the Shore. Defensive tackle Liam Adams is unheralded, but seems to make impact plays week after week.
Like St. John Vianney, Rumson’s offense also revolves around the running game with senior quarterback Mike O’Connor and senior running back Matt Vecchiarelli. O’Connor, who is headed to Colgate University, is a three-year starter who has rushed for 177 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries this season, while Vecchiarelli has 394 yards and four touchdowns on 65 carries. Aside from the Middletown South game, neither have played much in the second half this season because of lopsided wins over Raritan, Holmdel and Matawan. Junior speedster Peter Lucas and sophomore fullback Alex Maldjian have been solid complementary players, as well. The offensive line is led by senior Tim Leonard, a second-team All-Shore pick last year. Rumson doesn’t throw the ball much - just 36 times in four games - but when the Bulldogs take to the air they’ll look toward 6-foot-5 senior wide out Tyler Pierson, senior receiver Trevor Caruso and senior tight end Colin Pavluk.
The kicking game could be crucial in what is expected to be a low-scoring game. Rumson has the advantage with senior three-year starter Thomas Chapin, who is also an excellent punter. St. John Vianney kicker Will Forman has been solid, as well, converting 18 of 19 extra points and kicking two field goals with a long of 33.
A win by St. John Vianney would clear the way for its third straight division title. Rumson’s last division title came in 2011. Even though Rumson is a three-time defending state champion and the favorite in Central Jersey Group III, the Bulldogs badly need the power points a win would bring as they currently sit ninth, even with a 3-1 record.
Class B South lead up for grabs in Point Pleasant
Another huge divisional game takes place on Friday night between two of the Shore’s nine undefeated teams when Lakewood heads to Point Boro with the division title likely on the line. Even though B South is the division where stunning upsets have become routine, the Piners and Panthers are the two best teams in the division and the winner should go on to take the title.
Both teams had to survive upset bids last week as Point Boro edged Manchester, 28-27, by stopping a two-point conversion attempt late in the game, while Lakewood rallied in the second half to beat Lacey, 30-22.
Point Boro was one big question mark heading into the season. The Panthers graduated nearly all of their starters from last season’s team that went 8-2 and shared the division title with Lakewood. They also had a new head coach with defensive coordinator Matt Cilento taking over for Sean Henry. What everyone outside the Panthers program didn’t know was they had a star in the making at quarterback with junior James Fara. He has been electric in engineering the Panthers’ flexbone triple-option offense with 684 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on 69 carries. Junior Tanner Gordon at fullback has 469 yards and six touchdowns. Point Boro also has a vertical threat in the passing game with senior Hayden Frey, who is averaging 24 yards per catch.
Point Boro’s defense is ranked No. 8 in the Shore in points allowed at 13. Seniors Justin Rafi and Matt Sulzer at linebacker along with Gordon have led the way, while the defensive line of nose guard Aidan Connolly and defensive ends Trent Livolsi and Josiah Gliddon has been solid.
Lakewood has one of the top playmakers in the Shore at quarterback with junior Zyhier Jones. Through four games he has thrown for 643 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 310 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Adi Palmer is a big target in the passing game along with Jyhier Jones, Zyhier’s twin brother. Honore Richardson can be a factor running the ball and in the receiving game, and is also a special teams threat as he showed last week with a key 72-yard punt return touchdown. Kyrie Jenkins is another player that sees significant time. Lakewood will also get a boost from the debut of running back/linebacker Jashir Cooper, who had to sit the first four games after transferring from Manchester.
The same players line up on the defensive side for Lakewood with the top playmaker being junior defensive lineman Josh Lezin. He is tied for the sack lead in the Shore with six in four games and has the ability to take over the game. He was a force in the second half of the win over Lacey and also blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown. He’s the kind of player that can really disrupt an option offense’s rhythm and timing by getting consistent pressure at the mesh point.
Depth is an issue for Lakewood, however. The Piners dressed just 28 players against Lacey last week, so that is certainly a factor.
Point Boro has won the last three meetings, including two by one point, so the Panthers have had Lakewood’s number in recent years. Each game has been close, though, so expect the same on Friday night.
The B North gauntlet continues
The endless string of solid Class B North matchups continues this week with a top-10 showdown between No. 6 Wall and No. 10 Middletown North.
Wall is undefeated at 5-0 and off to its best start since 2011 after a thrilling 27-21 comeback victory over No. 8 Red Bank Catholic last week. Middletown North has won two in a row to improve to 3-1, and is coming off a 31-21 nonconference win over New Brunswick.
Senior running back Sean Larkin has been one of the Shore’s best players this season and has played a major role in all of the Crimson Knights’ victories. Last week he ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries and also threw a 64-yard touchdown on a halfback option. He has 695 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. Junior quarterback Eddie Scott made some clutch throws in a big game last week, proving he can deliver when Wall needs him. His top receiver is senior R.J. Janeczek, who has 173 yards on 11 receptions, including six catches for 93 yards last week.
Wall’s defense has been outstanding in the second half this season,, including holding RBC to 39 yards and two first downs last week to key the come-from-behind win. The Crimson Knights have outscored opponents 96-7 in the second half this season. Senior linebacker Kyle Dallicardillo and junior linebacker Tim McKernan are the top two tacklers, while senior Sean Ferguson has a team-high three sacks. Senior defensive back Shane Richey is among the conference leaders in interceptions with three.
Middletown North has played just one division game so far, so some monument games are still to come that will give the Lions a chance to shape their season. Middletown North has a balanced offense with senior quarterback Donald Glenn and running backs Dwight Wilkerson, Connor Welsh and Connor Robbins. Glenn has thrown for 691 yards and six touchdowns, and senior wide out Brendan Kube has hauled in 17 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Welsh was injured in the second game of the season and has missed two and a half games. Wilkerson, who is a versatile player for the Lions, has stepped in as the starter and rushed for 498 yards and five touchdowns on an average of 9.2 yards per carry. Wilkerson also has 12 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown. Robbins, a sophomore, has four rushing touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Nick Kish is averaging close to 14 tackles per game with 55 total stops on the season. Wilkerson has 28 tackles, 20 solo, from his safety position along with an interception. Junior defensive lineman Austin Dewise has a team-high four sacks.
If Wall can come away with the win it will set up a game versus top-ranked Middletown South on November 4 for the division lead. The Knights also have a division game against arch rival Manasquan on Thanksgiving. This week begins a brutal stretch for Middletown North with Wall, Manasquan, Long Branch, Ocean and then Middletown South on Thanksgiving.
The rest of Week 6
FRIDAY (all games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
No. 2 Toms River North at Jackson Memorial: The Mariners (5-0, 4-0) and their nuclear offense square off against the Jaguars (2-3, 1-3) and standout running back Mike Gawlik in a Class A South game. Toms River North brings a 15-game winning streak into the game and is averaging 51.2 points per game.
No. 3 Manalapan at Howell, 6:30: The Braves (5-0, 3-0) look to continue their dominant season and hold down the Rebels (3-2, 3-0) and their high-octane offense in a battle of unbeaten teams within Class A North.
No. 7 Freehold Township at Jackson Liberty: The Patriots (5-0) will try to continue the best start in program history against the winless Lions (0-5) in a nondivisional game.
No. 8 Red Bank Catholic at Long Branch: The Caseys (3-2, 2-2) head to face the Green Wave (1-3, 0-3) in a Class B North meeting where they’ll try to bounce back after a loss to Wall last week.
No. 9 Brick at Southern: The Rams (2-3, 2-2) pulled off a huge win over Jackson Memorial last week and face another stern test with the Dragons (3-2, 3-1) coming to town in a Class A South game.
Mater Dei Prep at Asbury Park, 6 p.m.: The Seraphs have been outstanding in outscoring opponents 191-35 this season. A win over the Blue Bishops will tighten their Class B Central stranglehold.
St. Joseph (Metuchen) at Donovan Catholic, 6:30 p.m.: The Griffins (0-5) are still searching for their first win of the season and will have to deal with an undefeated Falcons (5-0) team at home in a nonconference game.
Raritan at Matawan: The Rockets (2-3, 1-2) have won two in a row after an 0-3 start and will attempt to get back to .500 against the Huskies (1-4, 1-3).
Manchester at Holmdel: The Hawks (2-3) can surpass their win total from the past two seasons combined with a victory over the winless Hornets (0-4).
Brick Memorial at Toms River East: The 0 must go when the Mustangs (0-5, 0-4) and Raiders (0-5, 0-4) meet in a Class A South game.
Central at Toms River South: The Golden Eagles (4-1, 4-0) will stay in the hunt for the Class A South title if they can get past the Indians (2-3, 2-2).
Lacey at Barnegat: The Bengals (3-2, 3-0) are undefeated within Class B South while the Lions (3-2, 2-2) are trying to rebound from a loss to Lakewood last week.
Red Bank at Monmouth, noon: The Bucs (1-2, 1-1) return from a two-week hiatus and travel to Tinton Falls to meet the Falcons (2-4, 1-4) in a Class A Central game.
Dunellen at Keyport, noon: The Red Raiders (4-1) will look to continue their playoff push against the winless Destroyers (0-4).
Colts Neck at Freehold, 1 p.m.: The Colonials (1-4, 0-4) are coming off their first win of the season fueled by a monster performance from running back turned quarterback Ashante Worthy, and will host the Cougars (1-4, 1-3) in a Class A North game.
Marlboro at Neptune, 1 p.m.: Cameron Caorsi, Jonny Helff and the Mustangs (2-3, 0-3) go for their first division win when they travel to meet quarterback Chase Fairbanks and the Scarlet Fliers (1-3, 1-2).
Ocean at Manasquan, 1 p.m.: An interesting Class B North matchup as the Spartans (2-3, 0-3) and quarterback Kenny Pickett head to Vic Kubu Field to take on the resurgent Warriors (3-1, 1-1).
Shore at Middlesex, 1 p.m.: The winless Blue Jays (0-5) will get an angry Blue Devils (3-2) team coming off its worst loss in 10 years. Expect a big win for Shore.
Point Beach at Spotswood, 1 p.m.: The Garnet Gulls (3-2) face a tough test on the road against the unbeaten Chargers (5-0).
Sussex Tech at Keansburg, 1 p.m.: The Titans (0-5) are still in search of their first win and will take on the Fighting Mustangs (4-1) at home.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.