Forecast Friday: Week Eleven
At least all of the teams I have picked to win the championship in the Central Jersey, South Jersey, and Non-Public III brackets made it through the opening weekend of playoff games, so I got that going for me.
As for some of the teams I predicted would be facing those teams in the finals, well, why bring up old stuff? Obviously, Central Jersey Group III was the bracket that had people buzzing with Middletown South and Wall biting the dust much earlier than thought, plus Allentown pushing Neptune to the brink. Is that an opening for Neptune to win the whole thing, or a sign that this is not the Shore Conference's year in a bracket it has dominated? We'll soon find out.
Shore being blanked by Florence in Central Jersey Group I was a little surprising, although Florence is a very solid program. I also didn't expect Southern to go down at home and take an early exit in South Jersey Group IV after such a good regular season.
A couple of these games this weekend have had me going back and forth all week, and I still won't know what to think until kickoff. I only added my playoff picks to last week's record and my overall record because it's not like I had a clue about a lot of the consolation opponents from out of the area. For what it's worth, I went 14-6 with my consolation picks.
Last week's record: 12-5. Season record: 138-47.
Friday's playoff games
Central Jersey Group IV
West Windsor South (9-1) at Manalapan (8-1).: Two great tailbacks in this one between West Windsor's Brian Schoenauer, who is already the school's all-time leading rusher as a junior, and Manalapan's John Sieczkowski, who is on pace for a 2,000-yard rushing season. West Windsor also has a good quarterback and good skill players, and so does Manalapan. This game will be won up front, and that's where I think Manalapan has the advantage. The Braves get off the ball hard, and they should give Sieczkowski room to run, which will be especially important because they want to keep the ball out of the hands of that West Windsor offense. Last year's Manalapan team entered with a lot of hype and had a very good 8-3 season, but this year's group looks to be the one to get the Braves to Rutgers. This is not one of those "I think Mercer County stinks'' picks because I think West Windsor is a good team with talent. I just think the host Braves and Sieczkowski will do enough to win a close one and make it to their first final since 2003. I picked the Braves to go to the finals and lose to South Brunswick before the tournament, so we'll see what happens. The pick: Manalapan.
Central Jersey Group III
Neptune (8-1) at Northern Burlington (8-1): I think last week was Neptune's wake-up call, as the Scarlet Fliers just got out of Allentown by the skin of their teeth. However, at this point of the season, a win is all that matters, no matter how you get it. They will face another serious test this week against the Greyhounds, who took out perennial power Middletown South last week. Northern Burlington is the No. 1 seed, so technically I guess it is the favorite in this game. Neptune has rarely been the underdog this season, so that's a nice spot for the Scarlet Fliers. No team has really been able to completely stifle senior quarterback Jaheem Woods, and Middletown South just put more than 400 yards of total offense on Northern Burlington last week. It comes down to Neptune stopping standout running back Tosin Adeyemo, who put 157 yards and two TDs on Middletown South last week. I think Neptune's defense is up to the challenge. It's main issue was pass defense last week, and Greyhounds quarterback Colin Fitzpatrick can throw the ball, considering he tossed three touchdowns last week. I think Neptune has better team speed than Middletown South, so that will limit Adeyemo's running space, and no running back has really rung up that Neptune defense all year. You know that once Neptune saw Wall and Middletown South out of the way, it had to be excited about its opportunity to finish this, even though it won't be easy with teams like Northern Burlington and Woodbridge in the way. I picked Neptune to win this whole bracket, so I'm not backing off now. The pick: Neptune.
Central Jersey Group II
Delaware Valley (8-1) at Rumson-Fair Haven (9-0), 7 p.m.: Delaware Valley has a pretty good offense with a quality athlete in quarterback Chris Fennell, but I don't think its defense is going to stop the Bulldogs. Not to mention that Rumson's defense is one of the Shore Conference's best and is very tough against the run with its front four. Much of what the Terriers get is on the ground, and that is some tough sledding against Rumson. Meanwhile, I think the Bulldogs will get whatever they want offensively, whether it's Connor Riley on the ground or Danny Roberto in the passing game. In addition to reaching its second straight CJ II final, the other motivation for Rumson is that a victory gives it a school-record 10 wins. As long as Rumson takes care of the ball and limits mistakes, it should be fine. The pick: Rumson-FH.
South Jersey Group II
Barnegat (6-3) at West Deptford (8-1), 7 p.m: Barnegat is the big underdog in this game, but it has the ingredients to reach its first state final in program history. It has a mobile quarterback in senior Mark McCoy, which is key because West Deptford has a fierce pass rush led by stud defensive tackle Jamil Pollard. The Bengals have three big-play receivers (Jordan Salt, Pat Moran, Ryan Morris) that prevents a defense from just smothering one guy. Barnegat is also as good up front as it's ever been. With all that said, I don't have the guts to pick the Bengals. West Deptford has registered five straight shutouts, and has an explosive offense with multiple backs who can make plays. Barnegat has to sting West Deptford early and try to preserve a double-digit lead long enough to force the Eagles to have to throw the ball to come back, which would put the Bengals in a good spot. I just think that's much easier said than done. The pick: West Deptford.
Friday's regular-season game
Manchester (4-5) at Monsignor Donovan (5-4), 6:30 p.m.: Monsignor Donovan just saw Delbarton in the state playoffs last week, so you know that there's nothing it is going to see from Manchester more formidable than that. The Hawks have tailed off late in the season with two straight losses, but they are always dangerous with Joe Johnson at running back. This has been a strong year for the Griffins, who made their first playoff appearance since 2004. I'm going with the sheer logic that if Monsignor Donovan was good enough to beat a Point Boro team that beat Manchester 36-0, the Griffins should get a win here to clinch their second winning season in the last three years. The pick: Monsignor Donovan.
Saturday's playoff games
Central Jersey Group II
Matawan (7-2) at Manasquan (9-0), 1 p.m.: This one should be an all-out slugfest between two old rivals and top programs. It's weird because normally Manasquan would be the team trying to pound the ball with the running game, while Matawan would want to spread the other team out and use its speed, but the roles are reversed. Matawan wants to pound the Warriors with 6-2, 220-pound wrecking ball Larry Alston, while Manasquan wants to spread the Huskies out and throw the ball. Matawan's defense is fast and physical, while Manasquan's offense is balanced with weapons in the running and passing game. It comes down to Manasquan's defense being able to match Matawan up front and find a way to slow down Alston from grinding up the clock and moving the chains down the field. Manasquan has a 23-game winning streak at home, while Matawan has beaten the Warriors in the playoffs in each of the last two years. I have gone back and forth on this a million times. My head tells me Matawan is the better team, while my gut tells me Manasquan always finds a way on that field. The pick: Manasquan.
Central Jersey Group I
Point Beach (7-2) at Asbury Park (8-1), 1 p.m.: Asbury Park already beat Point Beach, 24-8, in the regular season, but that was in Week Three, and the Garnet Gulls are a better team brimming with the confidence of one of the best seasons in school history. With that said, Point Beach employs the run-based Delaware Wing-T offense, and Asbury Park's run defense is the best in the Shore Conference. No one has moved the ball even a little bit on the ground all season, including undefeated Rumson, which only had 32 yards rushing in a 28-6 win and had to do its damage through the air. Asbury Park is going to dare Point Beach to win by throwing, and that's a tough spot for a Wing-T team. It's just so hard to keep the Conovers under wraps for a full game that I think the Blue Bishops do enough against a tough team to win their 11th straight state playoff game and reach their fourth final in five years. I picked Asbury Park to win this bracket, and I am staying with it. The pick: Asbury Park.
Non-Public Group III
Red Bank Catholic (9-0) at Delbarton (9-0), 1 p.m.: This is the clash of the titans, most likely for the right to run into an even more formidable juggernaut in St. Joseph-Montvale in the championship game. RBC is outstanding up front on both sides of the ball, which always gives you a chance, and it has a hard-nosed running back with good speed in senior John DiStefano. I just don't know if the RBC offense is diverse enough to win if Delbarton slows down DiStefano. Delbarton also has some quality skill players, plus the added bonus of being at home and forcing RBC to take that long bus ride to Morristown. Delbarton has played a solid schedule, including a 45-0 wipeout of a 9-1 West Essex team. I know all signs should point to me being a homer and picking my alma mater to win because the Caseys have a very good shot to get this one, but I just think that Delbarton is going to win a 21-14, 28-21 kind of game. This is one of those picks where I truly hope I'm wrong. RBC should be better up front and that could be the difference in the game. We'll see. The pick: Delbarton.
Weekend of 11/18/11
Regular Season Game:
Manchester at Msgr. Donovan
Total # Correct This Season
(as of 11/20/11)