Football – What to Watch For: Week 7 Preview
Since the Shore Conference schedule was released back in the spring there has been one game that stands out among the others, and this week it’s finally here.
On Friday night at “The Swamp”, No. 1 Middletown South and No. 2 Toms River North will meet in a titanic clash between top-six teams in the state. Both programs enter off state championships last season and each have double-digit winning streaks going. Middletown South has won 17 games in a row while Toms River North is unbeaten in 16 straight contests. It’s going to be a madhouse on Nutswamp Road on Friday, and Shore Sports Network will be there with wall-to-wall coverage that includes a radio broadcast, multiple stories, photos and video highlights.
While that is unquestionably the game of the week, there are several other important divisional battles in Week 7. Howell and No. 6 Freehold Township meet in a key Class A North game on Friday night, along with No. 4 St. John Vianney hosting No. 9 Red Bank Catholic in a nondivisional game, Manasquan taking on No. 7 Middletown North in Class B North and Point Beach traveling to Shore in Class B Central. Saturday features an nondivisional game between No. 10 Brick and Lakewood.
Let’s dive deeper into Week 7’s top matchups, with the main focus being on the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown.
Clash of the Titans
This is the game people have been waiting for since the season started: No. 2 Toms River North at No. 1 Middletown South. Matchups don’t get much juicer than this.
Middletown South enters the game with an aforementioned 17-game winning streak stretching back to last season when the Eagles went 12-0 and captured the program’s 10th sectional title. That team was flat-out dominant, and although this year’s version hasn’t approached that level they are perfect where it matters most: the win column. Middletown South enters at 5-0, it’s last victory a 35-7 win over Long Branch in Week 5.
The Eagles have the No. 7 offense in the Shore Conference averaging 31.2 points per game and operating a balanced spread attack. Senior quarterback Aneesh Agrawal has thrown for 756 yards and 7 touchdowns with 5 interception and a 60 percent completion rate. He has a senior-laden receiving corps with Samson Dube, Jeff Lewandowski and Jeremy Joyce. Dube and Lewandowski are the volume pass catchers with 21 and 20 receptions, respectively, but averaging under 10 yards per catch. The big-play threat is Joyce, who has a team-high 196 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches for an average of 17.8 yards per reception. Sophomore running back Anthony Summey is the workhorse out of the backfield with 92 carries for 538 yards and 7 touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 107.6 yards per game. He has rushed for over 100 yards in four of five games.
This hasn’t been a vintage Middletown South defense, but the Eagles are still among the top 10 in the Shore in scoring defense allowing 14 points per game. Senior strong safety Maxx Imsho is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and among several standouts for longtime defensive coordinator Al Bigos’ unit. Senior linebacker Kevin Higgins is one of the Shore’s best, as are defensive linemen Will Gulick and Jake Krellin. After starting as a sophomore and playing very well, Krellin has emerged as one of the conference’s best and most versatile defensive players. Sophomore defensive end Matt Tardy and junior linebacker Chris Patterson have also been impressive as first-year starters.
One of the biggest storylines of the season has been an unstoppable Toms River North offense. The Mariners have elite talent at all the skill positions and a mammoth offensive line. They scored 41 points last week in a win over Jackson Memorial and actually had their points per game average drop. The Mariners enter averaging an absurd 49.5 points per game, which obviously leads the Shore Conference, as well as 482 yards per game.
Leading the way is senior quarterback Mike Husni, whose assault on the record book has him approaching uncharted territory. In six games, Husni had thrown for 1,022 yard and 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He is completing 61 percent of his passes and averaging an unheard of 14.8 yards per attempt. He is the Shore’s fourth leading passer, and remarkably also the fourth leading rusher with 871 yards and 11 touchdowns on an average of 9.6 yards per carry. That adds up to 1,893 total yards and 25 touchdowns halfway through the season. He is 129 rushing yards away from becoming the first quarterback in Shore Conference history to have 1,000 yards rushing and passing in three straight seasons. Given the pace he’s on, Husni could also throw for 2,000 yards and run for near 1,500 yards, which has never been done in the history of the Shore Conference.
The playmakers around Husni are nuclear, starting with senior wide receiver Darrion Carrington. The ridiculous nature of his numbers starts with him having 10 touchdowns on just 14 receptions. He has 451 receiving yards and averages 32.2 yards per catch. Rutgers recruit Bryce Watts leads the team in catches with 17 for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Jaden Rhoden is only averaging 42.3 yards per catch (3 receptions for 127 yards). Husni is the Mariners’ leading rusher, but not far behind is senior tailback Parker Day, who has 725 yards and 11 touchdowns on a conference-leading 9.9 yards per carry. Watts is also a threat on jet sweeps with 152 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries. Junior Daryn Blackwell plays mostly defense, but does have three rushing scores and is a load to handle at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds.
On the other side of the ball Toms River North has one of the Shore’s best linebackers with senior Pete LaQuaglia, who leads the conference in tackles with 82. The Mariners’ defense has been a mystery this season, however, ranking 28th in the Shore at 23 points per game. After allowing 19 points over the first two games, Toms River North’s defense has had major issues in allowing 29.8 points per game in wins over Brick, Howell, Toms River East and Jackson Memorial. It’s surprising considering the defense was the driving force in the Mariners’ state championship run in South Jersey Group V last season. Some standout players were lost to graduation, including first-team All-Shore defensive lineman Da’Shon Copes, but plenty of starters are back. Having such a high-scoring offense has an effect as the Mariners defense is on the field a lot, but the Mariners are simply not playing very good defense this season.
This will be a fascinating matchup regardless because it’s No. 1 vs. No. 2, but the game also has some deep subplots. No one has slowed down Toms River North’s offense, but the Mariners’ defense also hasn’t been able to stop anybody. Will either of those trends change? Middletown South having a bye in Week 6 and having two weeks to prepare is major advantage. While the Mariners were worrying about Jackson Memorial and how to slow down running back Mike Gawlik, the Eagles coaching staff was probably locked in the basement of the school watching Toms River North film for days at a time.
Toms River North’s offense has been on another level, and even through Middletown South and Bigos have a reputation of coming up with game plans to stifle high-powered offenses there’s no denying the Herculean task facing the unit. Toms River North’s spread offense is built to take what the defense gives it, and with it’s collection of talent it’s prepared to do exactly that. The Mariners don’t have to force anything and can beat you in a multitude of ways. I could see Middletown South taking away a player, but to hold down that many playmakers for 48 minutes seems unrealistic to expect. The area that could hurt Toms River North is turnovers. The Mariners haven’t been without mistakes over the last few games, but scoring 50 points per game tends to mask a lot of issues. Middletown South is the kind of team that will take advantage and make those mistakes costly for Toms River North.
There isn’t much of a question as to whether Middletown South will move the ball and score on Toms River North’s defense. The question is whether the Mariners can get a few stops, and ones at key moments. If the Mariners’ defense has to win this game they’re going to be in trouble, but the more likely scenario is that they have to rise up at crucial situations, and they’re fully capable of doing that. Another factor in defending Middletown South’s offense is that the Eagles operate at warp speed, routinely snapping the ball seconds after the referee spots it. The good news regarding that for Toms River North is it has already faced a Howell team that runs at an equally hyper pace.
On special teams, both the Eagles and Mariners have solid kickers. Middletown South sophomore Chris Kaldrovics is 20 for 21 on extra points and has connected on his only field goal attempt. Toms River North senior Kyle Bayha has hit 37 of 43 extra points. He hasn’t attempted a field goal since his sophomore year, however, so that could be something to watch if the Mariners need a clutch kick. Dube is a good return man on kickoffs and punts with one touchdown this season. Carrington is also electric as a kick returner and has a touchdown to his credit.
This game has the potential to deliver an instant classic. Will Middletown South hold its status as the No. 1 team in the Shore? Can the Eagles’ defense do the unthinkable and slow down what has been a historic Toms River North offense? Does Mike Husni begin to cement his legacy as an all-time great? Will an unlikely hero step up? Will the scoreboard melt? Will there be any parking spots left by 6 p.m.? The atmosphere is sure to be off the charts and should be fun for all involved. Buckle up.
The Battle of Route 9 (Monmouth County Edition)
The Cory Davies Bowl pits his current team, sixth-ranked Freehold Township, against the program he coached for 21 seasons, Howell, in a key Class A North game on Friday night.
Davies and his ‘Air Raid’ passing offense have brought the Patriots to new heights in just one and a half seasons. Last season they finished just 4-6, but qualified for the state playoffs for just the second time in school history. So far Freehold Township is 6-0 for the first time in school history and guaranteed its first winning season since 2004. The school record for wins is seven set in 2001.
Senior quarterback Charles Sabbagh leads the Shore in passing with 1,493 yards, and has thrown for 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions with a 65 percent completion rate. Senior wide receiver Adrian Rybaltowski leads the conference in receiving yards with 533, and is third in receptions (27) and touchdowns (7). Senior Anthony Lotti has 23 catches for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns, and is also the Patriots’ leading rusher with 239 yards and a touchdown. Freehold Township is averaging 31 points per game.
The defenses have traditionally struggled on the other side of Davies’ prolific offenses, but this year’s Patriots are bucking that trend with the No. 11 scoring defense in the Shore at 14.7 points per game. Senior middle linebacker Mike Ferdinandi is among the conference leaders in tackles with 68. Junior Dylan Rybaltowski leads the team with three sacks and junior Kevin Doherty is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions.
The Patriots also have a major weapon on special teams with senior Tyler Schulman, who has converted 22 of 23 extra points and is 5-for-5 on field goals with a long of 42.
After a a brief stint running an I-formation power running attack in the post-Davies transition, Howell is back to its high-flying ways with a run-pass option offense led by junior quarterback Eddie Morales. The Rebels are averaging 29 points per game and have done so against a tough schedule. Howell is 3-3, but all three losses are to top 10 teams, including defeats to undefeated Toms River North and Manalapan. They pushed Manalapan to the brink last week in a 41-34 setback.
Morales has thrown for 1,027 yards, which is third in the Shore, along with 13 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. Howell spreads the ball evenly with Ryan Mazik (19-331-3), Dan Cacciatore (16-219-2) and Naz Brantley (15-300-5) all playing integral roles. Nick Chambers and Mekai Gandy form the backfield tandem with 573 yards and nine touchdowns combined, and Morales is also a threat to run with three rushing touchdowns.
Howell’s defense is near the bottom of the Shore rankings at 31 points per game, but that is skewed a bit since Toms River North dropped 58 on them in Week 4. In the Rebels’ losses they’ve allowed 38, 58 and 41 points.
There is a lot off crossover between the two programs as seven Freehold Township coaches have ties to Howell. Davies and assistants Bill Dague and Derek Reichenbecher have all served as Howell head coach, and both Dague and Reichenbecher were longtime assistants for Davies. Assistant coach Andrew Jones played for Howell and also spent time there as a coach. Mike Verocchi is also a former Howell assistant. Tom Martin and Ryan Davies were both two-time All-State players for Howell and former Howell assistant principal Sam Carollo is a Freehold Township assistant. On the other side, Howell principal Jeremy Braverman was a standout wrestler for Freehold Township.
Ask Davies who the opponent is this week and you won’t hear him say Howell. He now refers to the Rebels as “the school on the other side of Route 9”, just as he did for Freehold Township when he was at Howell.
Freehold Township will be put to the test by Howell then next week against No. 3 Manalapan, so we’ll find out just how good the Patriots are. Howell is currently fifth in power points in South Jersey Group V, so a win would go a long way toward locking up a playoff spot for the Rebels.
No. 4 St. John Vianney hosts No. 9 Red Bank Catholic in a nondivisional game on Friday night where it will try to extend its winning streak against Shore Conference teams to 27.
The Lancers have the No. 1 defense in the Shore at 6.3 points per game and the No. 4 offense at 32.3 points per game. Defensively, junior linebacker Johnny Buchanan is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, while defensive end Nick Densieski leads the Shore in sacks with eight.
Senior running back Chris Chukwuneke is one of the top backs in the Shore and has 651 yards and eight touchdowns. The quarterback tandem of Haaziq Daniels and Matt DeGennaro has combined for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. Sam East and Zyaire Sterling have provide the big plays in the passing game.
St. John Vianney is coming off an impressive 28-3 win over No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven and is looking for its second straight win over rival Red Bank Catholic.
The Caseys earned a 35-20 win over Long Branch last week with junior quarterback Nick Brusca throwing for a career-high 206 yards and scoring five total touchdowns. The Caseys’ offense had to be overhauled when the first two starting quarterbacks, Steve Lubischer and Tommy Lang, both went down with injures. Brusca was moved from running back to quarterback, and after a transition period of mostly zone-read running plays with tailback Zack Bair, the playbook has been expanded. The Caseys are 14th in the Shore in points per game at 25.8.
Red Bank Catholic’s defense is 24th in the Shore at 21.6 points per game. Senior defensive end Nasir Darnell has a team-high four sacks while Justin Noah and Matt Ansell are the two leading tacklers.
Red Bank Catholic’s offense has made strides since transitioning to Brusca at quarterback, but the matchups against St. John Vianney’s ferocious defense is not a favorable one. The Lancers first-team unit has not allowed a touchdown on a drive started before midfield.
The Rest of Week 7
FRIDAY - All games at 7 p.m. unless noted
Asbury Park (3-2) at Dunellen (0-5), 6 p.m.
Neptune (2-3) at No. 3 Manalapan (6-0)
No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven (3-2) at Red Bank (2-2)
No. 8 Wall (5-1) at Matawan (1-5)
Southern (2-4) at Brick Memorial (1-5)
Jackson Memorial (2-4) at Toms River East (0-6)
Long Branch (1-4) at Ocean (2-4)
Point Beach (4-2) at Shore (4-2)
Jackson Liberty (0-6) at Point Boro (6-0)
Pinelands (2-3) at Manchester (2-4)
Central (5-1) at Colts Neck (1-5), noon
No. 10 Brick (4-2) at Lakewood (4-1), 1 p.m.
Freehold (2-4) at Marlboro (2-4), 1 p.m.
Holmdel (1-4) at Mater Dei Prep (6-0), 1 p.m.
Keansburg (1-5) at South River (2-4), 1 p.m.
Donovan Catholic (0-6) at Lacey (4-2), 1 p.m.
Keyport (5-1) at Metuchen (1-4)
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.