Football – What to Watch For: Week 8 Preview
A nondivisional game between two top-five teams in the Shore, a critical Class A South game and several other matchups that could be the difference in securing a playoff berth headline Week 8 in Shore Conference football.
Don’t look now, but there are just two weeks left in the regular season. It’s been an interesting season so far, but the best is yet to come with division titles still to be decided and several Shore teams figuring be contenders for state championships.
Three games standout this week, led by No. 3 St. John Vianney heading to No. 4 Middletown South on Friday night. No. 9 Brick and Central clash in a big Class A South game, and No. 2 Manalapan heads to Rutgers University to take on Piscataway in a potential Central Jersey Group V playoff preview.
Several teams have massive games in terms of qualifying for the playoffs, as well. Remember: a team’s first eight games count toward their final power point total and many teams in the Shore don’t have a bye, making this week the last chance for those squads.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the top matchups in the Shore for Week 8.
What was already an intriguing game when the season schedule was released is now even more interesting following last week’s results as fourth-ranked Middletown South hosts No. 3 St. John Vianney on Friday night at “The Swamp”.
Middletown South is coming off its first loss of the season after Toms River North handed the Eagles a 41-21 defeat to snap their 17-game winning streak. St. John Vianney, meanwhile, continues to pick up steam and moved to 7-0 last week with a 41-21 victory over Red Bank Catholic. The Lancers have won 27 straight games against Shore Conference teams.
St. John Vianney enters with the No. 4 offense in the Shore at 33.6 points per game and the No. 2 defense at 8.4 points per game, so the Lancers have been excellent on both sides of the ball. Their running game has led the way offensively behind senior running back Chris Chukwuneke (750 yards and 10 TDs) and an offensive line headed by Rutgers-bound seniors Micah Clark and Jamaal Beaty. Junior quarterback Haaziq Daniels has thrown for 542 yards and 6 touchdowns and rushed for 264 and 3 touchdowns. Junior receivers Zyaire Sterling (15-367-4) and Sam East (15-314-3) are the Lancers’ top pass catchers, and Sterling is also a dangerous special teams player with three return touchdowns.
Junior linebacker Johnny Buchanan leads a Lancers’ defense that has been lights out. Buchanan has a team-high 85 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and an interception and is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Defensive end Nick Densieski is second in the Shore with eight sacks along with seven tackles for a loss. Junior linebacker Josiah Walker has also had a very good season with 62 tackles and a team-best 11 tackles for a loss. The Lancers also have Clark along the defensive line, whose presence forces teams to the opposite side.
Middletown South’s offense averages 29.5 points per game and is the No. 9 unit in the Shore. Senior quarterback Aneesh Agrawal has thrown for 965 yards and 9 touchdowns, but with 7 interceptions. Senior Jeremy Joyce has 304 yards and 4 touchdowns on 19 receptions to lead the team. Jeff Lewandowski (24-257-1) and Samson Dube (21-195-1) are reliable targets, as well. Sophomore running back Anthony Summey is the Eagles’ leading rusher with 569 yards and 7 touchdowns on 98 carries.
The Eagles’ defense dropped to 17th in the Shore after Toms River North put 41 on them, now allowing an average of 18.5 points per game. Senior strong safety Maxx Imsho is one of the top players in the Shore and played well in the loss to Toms River North. Senior linebacker Kevin Higgins is a standout, as are junior defensive end/linebacker Jake Krellin and senior defensive lineman Will Gulick.
St. John Vianney really looks like a complete team right now, while Middletown South had some of its weakness exposed by Toms River North. The Mariners were able to spread the Eagles out and use their speed and athleticism to create big plays. St. John Vianney isn’t as explosive on offense, but still has several playmakers the Eagles will have to account for. The bigger question is whether Middletown South’s offense will be able to consistently move the ball against St. John Vianney’s defense. Toms River North’s defense had struggled coming into last week’s game, and the Eagles couldn’t do much until two long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach.
One Thing to Play For
When Central was disqualified from the NJSIAA playoffs after just two games it left the Golden Eagles with just one attainable goal for the season: the Class A South division title. To stay in contention for the division crown the Eagles will need to defeat No. 9 Brick at home on Friday night.
The Golden Eagles are 6-1 and 5-0 in Class A South under first-year head coach Justin Fumando. Senior running back Mike Bickford is having another All-Shore caliber season with a conference-leading 1,340 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns in the Eagles’ multiple-I offense. Sophomore quarterback Joe Fowler has played well with 606 yards passing and six touchdowns, forcing teams to pay attention to the passing game and not totally sell out on stopping Bickford. Wide receiver Anthony Holloway and tight end Denis Corbin are the top targets for Fowler. Central averages 25.4 points per game and has allowed 18.6 points per game.
Brick enters with a 5-2 record and is coming off a 46-6 wipeout of Lakewood. The Dragon’s offense is No. 7 in the Shore at 30.9 points per game and has a variety of players that can do damage. Senior Ja’Sir Taylor, a Temple recruit, gets a lot of attention, and even though his stats aren’t gaudy he is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Senior quarterback Anthony Costanza has thrown for 557 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed for 354 yards and 6 touchdowns. He missed the Lakewood game after suffering an injury in a win over Southern, but his replacement, senior receiver turned quarterback John Prato, has been dynamite with five touchdowns in those two games. Senior running back Rashon McCall and sophomore receiver Cole Groschel have also played well.
Brick’s defense allows 18.71 points per game. Senior linebacker Dean Helstowski leads the Dragons in tackles with 61 while Groschel is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions. Brick also has five defensive touchdowns on the year, three of which came last week against Lakewood.
This game revolves around Bickford and the Golden Eagles’ running game. If he has a big game the Eagles have a great shot, and if not it will be tough to keep up with a Brick offense that has been held under 27 points only once. The only team to hold Bickford under 100 yards was Wall, and that is Central’s only loss. Brick is currently the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group IV, and a win over a six-win Group IV team would probably lock up the top spot. Central will definitely be amped for this game knowing it needs a win to make next week’s game against Toms River North a winner-take-all slugfest for the outright division title.
When Manalapan heads to Rutgers University to take part in a showcase on Saturday its game against Piscataway could be the first of two meetings between the powerhouse programs at High Point Solutions Stadium.
The undefeated Braves are currently first in power points in Central Jersey Group V with 119.5 and Piscataway is second with 90. The Chiefs are 5-1 with their only loss coming 24-20 to Old Bridge. Manalapan, however, beat Old Bridge 41-0.
Manalapan’s offense has been dynamic this season with junior quarterback Luke Corcione and a deep corps of receivers along with junior running back Naim Mayfield and a very good offensive line. The Braves are No. 2 in the Shore in scoring at 40.3 points per game. Corcione has been the best quarterback in the Shore not named Mike Husni, throwing for 1,385 yards and 22 touchdowns with only one interception. Mayfield has cooled off a bit since his hot start, but still has 834 yards and 10 touchdowns on 8.5 yards per carry. Junior Scott Scherzer is fourth in the Shore in receiving yards with 497 and 5 touchdowns on 27 receptions. Senior Mike Taylor has a team-high 7 touchdowns on just 12 catches, and senior Temple recruit L.J. Holder has five touchdowns. Mayfield and fullback Chris Maksimik are also options out of the backfield.
Manalapan’s defense is fourth in the Shore at 10.7 points per game. Junior linebacker Sal Tardogno has a team-high 64 tackles and sophomore linebacker Tommy Pearce has 54 tackles in five games. Senior outside linebacker Jonathan Pimentel has five sacks and junior defensive back Eli Avivi has two interceptions.
Piscataway has won eight sectional titles in its history and has been a fixture among the top public schools in New Jersey under head coach Dan Higgins. The Chiefs are led by standout senior running back Elijah Barnwell, who has 993 yard and 14 touchdowns. Juwon Jackson has added 364 yards and two touchdowns on just 38 carries.
Based on the common result of the Old Bridge game, Manalapan has to be considered the favorite here and in the playoffs. Piscataway is a storied program, however, so nothing is certain.
The Rest of Week 8
FRIDAY- All games at 7 p.m. unless noted
New Brunswick at Howell, 6:30 p.m.: The Rebels (4-3) will try to secure a first-round home game in South Jersey Group V when they take on the Zebras (2-5).
Freehold at Edison: The Colonials (3-4) have won three in a row and currently six sixth in power points in Central Jersey Group IV. They need a win over the Eagles (2-3-1), who also need the win badly as they are eighth in CJ-V. Freehold quarterback Ashante Worthy has 17 total touchdowns in his last three games.
Freehold Township at East Brunswick: The Patriots (6-1) will try to bounce back after their first loss of the season and clinch a second straight playoff appearance for the first time in program history when they take on the Bears (1-5).
Neptune at Sayreville: The Scarlet Fliers (2-4) are eighth in Central Jersey Group IV and have a difficult game against the Bombers (5-2), but it would take a major upset by any of the team ranked ninth and below to leapfrog Neptune for the final spot.
Red Bank at Red Bank Catholic: The Bucs (3-3) have an outside shot at the playoffs in Central Jersey Group III, but will have to go on the road and beat the rival Caseys (4-3). Red Bank Catholic is down to its fourth quarterback after Nick Brusca was hurt last week in a loss to St. John Vianney, but the Caseys, who are currently sixth in Non-Public Group III, will still make the playoffs.
Spotswood at Raritan: The Rockets (3-3) have won three in a row, but still have some work to do over the final weeks as the defending champions are 12th in Central Jersey Group II. A win over a 5-win Chargers team that is ninth in the same section is a must.
Toms River South at No. 1 Toms River North: The top-ranked Mariners (7-0) and their dominant offense look to remain undefeated when they take on the rival Indians (2-4) in the “Civil War”. Mariners quarterback Mike Husni needs 54 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season and become the first player in Shore Conference history to throw for 1,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season three times.
Lacey at Southern: A crucial game for the playoff futures of both teams, the host Rams (3-4) can all but lock up a playoff berth in South Jersey Group V with a win. Southern, which started the season 0-3, is currently sixth in power points in its section. The Lions (5-2) are fourth in SJ-III and can make a bid for a top-four seed with a win.
Brick Memorial at South Brunswick: The Mustangs (1-6) have a very difficult nonconference road game against the Vikings (4-2).
Old Bridge at Jackson Memorial: The Jaguars (3-4) are currently seventh in Central Jersey Group IV and should make the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game, but a win over the Knights (4-1-1) would vault them up the rankings.
No. 7 Middletown North at Long Branch: The Lions (4-2) will try to bounce back from a loss to Manasquan and move one stop closer to securing a top-four seed in North 2, Group IV when they take on the Green Wave (1-6). Middletown North is currently third in its section.
Ocean at Point Boro: The unbeaten Panthers (7-0) face their toughest test of the season in the battle-hardened Spartans (3-4) and quarterback Kenny Pickett. A win by Ocean, which is currently 10th in Central Jersey Group III, would give them a chance to make the playoffs. Point Boro is currently second in CJ-II.
Highland Park at Point Beach: The Garnet Gulls (4-3) and Owls (4-3) meet in a critical nonconference game with Central Jersey Group I implications. Point Beach is currently third with 75 points and High Park is seventh with 50 points.
Pinelands at Jackson Liberty: The Wildcats (3-3) go for their fourth straight win while the Lions look to get into the win column for the first time this season.
Monroe at Colts Neck, noon: The Cougars (1-6) are ninth in Central Jersey Group IV, but won’t get many power points if they can beat the winless Falcons (0-7).
No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven at Monmouth, noon: The Bulldogs (4-2) have won three straight state titles, but are barely hanging on to the No. 8 spot in Central Jersey Group III. They have to win their final two games over Monmouth (2-5) and Carteret.
Asbury Park at Bishop Ahr, noon: The Blue Bishops (4-2) are third in Central Jersey Group I and can make a big jump with a win over the Non-Public Group III Trojans (5-2).
Matawan at No. 6 Manasquan, 1 p.m.: The Warriors (5-1) are third in Central Jersey Group II and can jump into the No. 3 spot with a win over the Huskies (1-6).
South River at No. 10 Mater Dei Prep, 1 p.m.: The Seraphs (7-0) should keep rolling against the Rams (2-5) and make a push for the top seed in Non-Public Group II. They are currently second, 16 points behind Hudson Catholic.
Marlboro at Toms River East, 1 p.m.: The Raiders will again try for their first win of the season, but have to contend with a Marlboro offense that has produced a 100-yard rusher in every game this season. A win by the Mustangs (2-5) keeps them alive for just the third playoff berth in program history.
Keansburg at Keyport, 1 p.m.: A bayshore battle with playoff implications. The Red Raiders (6-1) are second in Central Jersey Group I while the Titans (2-5) are eighth. A win by Keansburg would most likely clinch a playoff spot.
Barnegat at Lakewood, 1 p.m.: The host Piners (4-2) have lost two in a row and are hanging on to the No. 8 spot in South Jersey Group III, and the Bengals (3-3) are on the bubble in South Jersey Group II, making this a very important Class B South showdown.
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.