Football – What to Watch For: Week Two
Week One has come and gone, and as we turn the page to Week Two of the Shore Conference football season the winners will try to keep it going while those teams suffering losses will try to dust themselves off and avoid an 0-2, or in some cases, 0-3, start.
The first full week of the season saw two teams secure notable wins - No. 8 Wall and No. 10 Asbury Park. The Crimson Knights hadn’t opened the season with a win under third-year head coach Dan Curcione, but changed that in a big way by scoring 27 unanswered points to take down then-No. 7 Ocean, 34-14. All Asbury Park did was shut down one of the conference’s best rushing offenses over the past several years to end Shore’s 20-game winning streak with a 14-7 victory.
The top six teams in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 all rolled to victory, including shutouts by No. 4 St. John Vianney (31-0 over Matawan) and No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven (41-0 over Raritan). Middletown North was impressive in a 34-7 win over Neptune and moved up one spot to No. 7. Brick won a slugfest with Brick Memorial, 28-14, to move up to No. 9. Both Wall and Asbury Park entered the rankings after being unranked to start the season.
Elsewhere, Howell’s run-pass option offense started strong in a 35-13 win over Colts Neck where junior quarterback Eddie Morales threw for 238 yards and three touchdowns. Freehold Township escaped with a 16-12 win over Freehold to claim “The Duke” thanks to Charles Sabbagh’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Lotti with just over three minutes left. Manasquan rolled up over 300 yards on the ground in a 28-14 win over Long Branch, Keyport got a late touchdown to beat Point Beach, 10-7, and Mater Dei Prep opened its new era with a 35-0 victory over Keansburg.
Week Two features one game between top 10 teams as No. 9 Brick hosts No. 5 Jackson Memorial in a Class A South clash. There’s also No. 2 Toms River North visiting Brick Memorial in A South where the Mariners still have last season’s loss to the Mustangs - their only defeat of the season - on their minds.
No. 7 Middletown North looks for a 2-0 start when it welcomes Red Bank Catholic and Wall takes on Central in a very interesting nondivisional game. There’s also Asbury Park and Keyport meeting in what is now a key Class B Central matchup.
It’s a little top-heavy this week, but there are some important games for sure. Let’s get into it.
We Meet Again Old Friend
Jackson Memorial and Brick are two Shore Conference powers that have had some black-and-blue games over the past few seasons. The teams have traded wins over the past three seasons in big games and they’ve met twice in each of the last two seasons.
In 2013 the Jaguars earned a 9-7 win to claim the Class A South title. In 2014 Brick won an epic overtime game during the regular season, but Jackson responded with a 44-0 win in the playoffs. Last year the Dragons won 2-0 during the regular season, but the Jaguars again returned the favor with a 21-7 win in the first round of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. Brick has won the Class A South division title either outright or shared in each of the last two seasons while Jackson has factored in two of the last three division championships. It’s safe to say this Friday’s meeting at Brick’s Keller Memorial Field will have a significant impact.
The Jaguars come in off a 50-6 beatdown of rival Jackson Liberty to earn the Connor Cup for the ninth straight year. It’s tough to draw any more than what we saw in the preseason since the Jaguars’ starters only played into the second quarter. Senior running back Mike Gawlik ran for 114 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries, but that’s not exactly news. Here’s what we know about the Jaguars: they will run the ball with Gawlik, a two-time first-team All-Shore selection, as the workhorse. If senior quarterback Dan Barker can make some plays and the offense has a perimeter threat step forward, they’ll be in very good shape. The Jaguars’ defense is always tough, so it’s more about consistency on that side of the ball.
Brick beat Brick Memorial for the fourth straight year, this time 28-14, thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns and a big play by senior Ja’Sir Taylor. Senior linebacker Dean Helstowski’s 90-yard fumble return early in the game really turned the tide, as Brick Memorial had driven down to the 2-yard line with a bruising running game led by junior Tony Thorpe. Late in the game, senior linebacker Jay Obenauer returned an interception to the house to seal the win. The winning touchdown came from Taylor, a Temple recruit, who took a handoff and was gone on a 65-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to snap a 14-all tie. Senior quarterback Anthony Costanza also played very well with 153 combined yards between rushing and passing, including a touchdown run.
The obvious key for Brick’s defense is stopping Gawlik, who needs 152 yards rushing to break the school’s all-time career mark of 2,992 set by Nick Castellano. Gawlik set the program mark for career touchdowns last week with 41, breaking Castellano’s previous high of 39. One player to watch in the passing game is junior Devynn Lee, who is someone the Jaguars would like to have all over the field and spelling Gawlik in the backfield as necessary. Barker has proven he can make plays, but he doesn’t have an experienced group of receivers like last season.
Brick’s offense didn’t feature much of running backs Obenauer and Rashon McCall against Brick Memorial, with Costanza and Taylor taking the bulk of the carries. It will be interesting to see how Brick choses to distribute its carries in the running game this week. Taylor is a wide receiver by trade, but his playmaking ability has the Dragons lining him up all over the field. Costanza was efficient in the passing game, going 9-for-12 for 77 yards, and he of course has Taylor as a major weapon on the outside.
The results of these games have been blowouts, overtime thrillers and even a game decided on a safety last year, so everything is on the table for Friday night. The one thing that’s certain is the winner gets an early leg up in the race for the division title.
Caseys Head to the Lions’ Den
A few years ago this would have been a surefire blowout in Red Bank Catholic’s favor, but now it’s No. 7 Middletown North entering as the favorite. As colleague Scott Stump and I were talking about the other day, it goes to show the cyclical nature of high school football. It wasn’t too long ago people were complaining the Caseys shouldn’t be playing public schools anymore.
Middletown North looked very good in a 34-7 win over Neptune last week with senior quarterback Donald Glenn tossing two touchdown passes and junior running back Connor Welsh scoring twice on the ground and also hauling in a touchdown reception. Red Bank Catholic started strong against No. 1 Middletown South, but couldn’t stay with the high-powered Eagles in a 49-14 defeat.
Middletown North has been pointing to this season ever since the current senior class entered the program, and after reaching the sectional semifinals last season they are expecting to take the next step. Glenn and senior wide receiver Brendan Kube are one of the most prolific combinations in the Shore, Welsh appears ready for a breakout year and senior Dwight Wilkerson is a versatile threat who can be a factor in the running game, passing game and also on defense. Senior linebacker Nick Kish has been the Lions’ leading tackler the last two seasons, and started his senior season with a 14 tackles against Neptune.
Red Bank Catholic doesn’t have the stars on either side of the ball like it did over the past few seasons, but there’s still talent left. The Caseys also have one of the best coaches around in Frank Edgerly, so maybe it’s just that Middletown South is that much better than the rest of Class B North. Tommy Lang and Steve Lubischer both saw time at quarterback against Middletown South. Their best weapon appears to be Max Hazard, with Zach Bair getting most of the carries at running back. Defensively, Red Bank Catholic has one of the best pass rushers in the Shore with Harvard-bound senior defensive end Nasir Darnell, so a big game from him could certainly throw a monkey wrench into Middletown North’s plans.
It’s almost inconceivable Red Bank Catholic could start the season 0-2 given how dominant the program has been, but that’s exactly the scenario the Caseys are facing Friday night. This is the divisional opener for Middletown North, so the Lions are eager to get off to a good start in B North. Plus, a win over RBC would be a huge feather in their cap.
B Central Battleground
With both Keyport and No. 10 Asbury Park winning last week, it set up a pivotal early-season Class B Central matchup on Saturday afternoon.
Asbury Park made a big splash in Week One with a 14-7 takedown of then-No. 9 Shore, ending the Blue Devils’ 20-game winning streak and handing them their first divisional loss since 2012. That makes the Blue Bishops the favorite against Keyport, which edged Point Beach, 10-7, to give Jay Graham his first win as Red Raiders’ head coach.
Both played low-scoring games to open the season, so their defenses are locked in early. Asbury Park usually has the edge in skill players against most teams, and nearly broke a handful of plays against Shore that couldn’t busted the game open. Junior quarterback JaKing Agostini had a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Javon Higgs, and senior Paul Reed had 85 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Keyport received 116 yards rushing and a touchdown from Devin Wallner, but the Red Raiders did not complete pass, so it looks like the running game will have to carry the torch. That’s no small task against an Asbury Park run defense that kept Shore’s ground game out of the end zone.
Asbury Park still has to play Mater Dei Prep, which could be considered the division favorite with all the talent it has. Keyport still has Mater Dei and Shore on its schedule. Point Beach can also be a factor, so regardless of what happens Saturday there is still a handful of big games left to play in this division.
Two Paths to Take
Friday’s nondivisional game between Central and No. 8 Wall has plenty of intrigue aside from two undefeated teams squaring off.
Wall knocked off Ocean, 34-14, last week with 27 unanswered points that included four rushing touchdowns and two big plays by senior Shane Richey. The Crimson Knights have a highly-touted senior class looking to right the ship after a couple of disappointing seasons, and they certainly got off to the start they were looking for.
Central is 2-0 under first-year head coach Justin Fumando after a 42-0 Class A South win over Toms River East.
Unfortunately, that game was marred by a fight that resulted in three players from Central and Toms River East being ejected. Those three disqualifications cost them the teams a chance to participate in the NJSIAA playoffs. It’s a particularly tough blow for the Golden Eagles, who already have two wins in an era where four wins, and sometimes even three, are good enough to qualify for the postseason.
Wall can move to 2-0 for its best start since 2013, but most eyes will likely be on Central and how its players respond. Do the Eagles pack it in knowing the most they can play for is a division title, or do they rally around each other and keep pushing forward with the same focus they’ve had over the first two games? The only ones who know the answer to that question are inside the Central locker room.
More to Watch in Week Two
Southern (0-2) at No. 3 Manalapan (1-0): The Rams try to avoid an 0-3 start against the powerful Braves, who received big games from quarterback Luke Corcione and running back Naim Mayfield in a 49-12 win over Marlboro.
Marlboro (0-1) at Pinelands (0-1): Either the Mustangs or Wildcats will get into the win column in this nondivisional game. Look for a big game from Marlboro running back Cameron Caorsi.
Spotswood (1-0) at Holmdel (0-1): The Hornets will try to upend the Chargers in a nonconference game and give head coach Jeff Rainess his first win.
Red Bank (0-1) at Matawan (0-1): Neither team fared well in Week One with the Bucs losing 27-3 to JFK-Iselin and the Huskies getting shut out by No. 4 St. John Vianney, 31-0. Both offenses will look to get on track in a Class A Central meeting.
No. 4 St. John Vianney (1-0) at Raritan (0-1), 7 p.m.: The Lancers running game powered a 31-0 win over Matawan while the Rockets allowed over 300 yards on the ground in a 41-0 loss to No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven. It could be more of the same this time.
No. 2 Toms River North (1-0) at Brick Memorial (0-1): The Mariners only loss last season came to Brick Memorial in Week Two, so you know they’re going to be fired up for this one. The defense should be especially amped after allowing over 500 yards last year.
Toms River South (0-1) at Toms River East (0-1): Both teams will be looking for their first points of the season as the Indians were shut out by Lacey, 17-0, and the Raiders were blanked by Central, 42-0.
Manasquan (1-0) at Woodbridge (1-0): Manasquan hasn’t started 2-0 since 2011. The Warriors will go on the road and look to build a strong start against a solid Barrons team.
Ocean (1-1) at No. 1 Middletown South (1-0): The Spartans are in need of a bounce-back performance after losing to Wall, but the Eagles are the last team you want to see after a loss.
Mater Dei Prep (1-0) at Dunellen (0-0): After opening the season with a 35-0 win over Keansburg, George Pearson, Eddie Lewis, Marvin Pierre and co. will look to keep it going against the Destroyers.
Point Beach (0-1) at Bishop Ahr (1-0): The Garnet Gulls have a stern test in facing Non-Public Group III school Bishop Ahr, which beat up on Highland Park last week.
Barnegat (1-0) at Shore (0-1): Nothing against Barnegat, but this seems like a lock for Shore to bounce back after a stunning loss in Week One.
Jackson Liberty (0-1) at Manchester (0-1): The Lions are surely glad to see a familiar Class B South foe after facing Jackson Memorial in Week One and losing 50-6. Liberty has won four straight over the Hawks.
Lacey (1-0) at Point Boro (1-0): The Lions opened up with a shut out of Toms River South while the Panthers and quarterback James Fara had a great offensive showing against Pinelands. Something will have to give in this important Class B South game.
Freehold Township (1-0) at Colts Neck (0-1): Late heroics by Charles Sabbagh and Anthony Lotti gave the Patriots a 16-12 win over Freehold, while the Cougars fell, 35-13, to Howell.
Howell (1-0) at Freehold (0-1): The Rebels’ offense looked very good in a 35-13 win over Colts Neck. Freehold played great, defensively, in a 16-12 loss to Freehold Township until giving up a long touchdown late.
Monmouth (1-1) at Metuchen (1-0): The Falcons got into the win column with a 28-2 win over Holmdel while Metuchen topped Middlesex, 28-7.
Highland Park (0-1) at Keansburg (0-1): Both teams lost big in Week One and will be looking to turn it around.
Donovan Catholic (0-1) at Lakewood (1-0): The Griffins will take another crack at giving head coach Tom Tarver his first win. The Piners are coming off a 20-0 shutout of Manchester.
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.