Pedal to the Metal: 2022 Point Pleasant Boro High School Football Preview
Point Boro is coming off a 10-2 season that included a division title and the program's fourth NJSIAA sectional championship, but you wouldn't know it by talking to any of the Panthers' returning starters.
"We're putting the pedal to the metal and not taking anything for granted," said senior lineman Cole Skinner. "Coming off a state championship puts a target on your back. We're pretending like we didn't do anything last year."
"We know we have a tougher schedule with bigger schools to play, and we're going to have to work that much harder," said senior running back/linebacker Tyler Gordon."
The Panthers captured the South Jersey Group 2 championship last season and came within one point of winning a regional championship game in a heartbreaking loss to Haddonfield. A total of 16 starters return from that championship squad with impact players all over the field. The Panthers are talented, experienced, and just as angry as last season when they were trying to end a string of three losing seasons. The way last season ended has helped them keep that underdog mindset despite entering the season as a top-10 team in the Shore Conference.
Seven starters return in Point Boro's triple-option attack that led the Shore Conference in scoring last season at 35.5 points per game. The Panthers did lose quarterback Charlie Vitale, a First Team All-Shore selection, to graduation, but the team is more than confident that junior Matt Oliphant can step in and thrive. Oliphant played slot back last season and quickly established himself as a big-play threat with 477 yards rushing and 13 total touchdowns on an average of 7.1 yards per carry. He still has to prove he can master the nuances of the offense as well as Vitale did, but his athleticism alone should make for some big numbers.
The other four members of the backfield are all returning starters. Junior Jake Croce will be entering his third year as a starter at 'A' back and is coming off a breakout season in which he rushed for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. Senior slot back Connor Cilento is a three-year returning starter and posted an absurd 12.5 yards per carry with 573 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Senior Sam Muraglia is also a returning slot back and Gordon is another 'A' back who ran for seven touchdowns a season ago.
If all goes according to plan, Point Boro won't be throwing the ball very often. When they throw, they expect to score or at least pick up a huge chunk of yardage, and the go-to receiver will be senior Brian Orio, a returning starter. Seniors Brandon Sloan (6-foot-3), Eric Anilonis (6-foot-4), and Tommy Morris along with juniors Wyatt Dewysockie and Brayden Forfar round out the group of wideouts. Senior Aiden Ward will play tight end when the formation calls for one.
Point Boro's offense is electric based just on its skill players, but a big and physical offensive line takes the unit to another level. The big guy - literally - is senior right tackle Cole Skinner, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound human relocator who is a returning First Team All-Shore selection. Skinner has multiple FBS scholarship offers and is verbally committed to Temple. Lining up next to him is junior Charles "Boom" Davison (6-1, 270) who started and excelled as a sophomore. The rest of the line will be comprised of first-year starters with junior Zach Larr (6-2, 220) at left tackle, senior Michael Smith (5-9, 240) at left guard, and senior Declan Pratt (5-10, 220) at center. Junior Matt Michallis (LT), senior Joe Mazzaro (LG), junior Nick Vitale (C), senior Spencer Knapp (RG, 6-2, 270), and sophomore Tanner Hynes (RT) are also in the mix along the line.
While Point Boro's offense was its headliner last season its defense also had a phenomenal season finishing sixth in the Shore allowing 13.7 points per game. Nine starters return, including the entire front eight, from a unit that created turnovers and got to the quarterback at a high rate.
The defensive line is formidable with three-year starter Connor Reynolds and returning starter Aiden Ward at defensive end. They each tied for the team lead with seven sacks last season. Davison returns as a starter at defensive tackle while Smith and Skinner will rotate at the other defensive tackle spot. Larr, Hynes, and sophomore Nick Jankovich are also at defensive end and sophomore Slade Samaritano could see time at defensive tackle.
Senior JJ Bennett led the team in tackles with 92 stops last season and returns as a starting inside linebacker. Gordon will be right next to him after posting 66 tackles, 5 sacks, and 2 interceptions last season. Senior Maddox Samaritano is the other starting linebacker with seniors Jack Stencel and Declan Pratt and sophomore Dylan Reitmeyere as backups. The outside linebacker position is flexible to operate on the edge or as more of a strong safety, and both Croce (2 INTs) and Muraglia return as starters. Senior Tyler Criscuolo and sophomore Colin Obser are also in the mix at outside linebacker.
In the secondary, Oliphant is a returning starter at cornerback and Cilento (2 INTs) is back for his third year as the starting safety. Orio is the other cornerback with Dewysockie, Forfar, and juniors Brian Simoes and Jayson Bennett on the depth chart, as well.
Forfar was the team's kicker last season as a sophomore and the Panthers also have senior Bobby Cooper as an experienced kicker who handled kickoffs last season. Oliphant is the punter for the second year in a row with Orio also capable of handling the punting duties.
The schedule is tougher this year, both in the division with Manasquan, Holmdel, Raritan, St. John Vianney, and Monmouth Regional and with games against Barnegat, Toms River East, and Neptune. The Panthers have what it takes to win a state championship, it's just a matter of executing for 48 minutes each and every week.
"We have that championship mindset," Gordon said. "We know what has to be done and we're going to do it."
At a Glance
Projected starters (RS=returning starter, 3RS=3rd-year returning starter)
Returning starters: 7
QB: Matt Oliphant, Jr., RS (RB last year)
RB: Jake Croce, Jr., 3RS; Connor Cilento, Sr., 3RS; Sam Muraglia, Sr., RS; Tyler Gordon, Sr., RS.
WR: Brian Orio, Sr., RS; Brandon Sloan, Sr.; Eric Anilonis, Sr.; Tommy Morris, Sr.; Wyatt Dewysockie, Jr.; Brayden Forfar, Jr.
TE: Aiden Ward, Sr.
LT: Zach Larr, Jr.; Matt Michallis, Jr.
LG: Michael Smith, Sr.; Joe Mazzaro, Sr.
C: Declan Pratt, Sr.; Nick Vitale, Jr.
RG: Charles Davison, Jr., RS; Spencder Knapp, Sr.
RT: Cole Skinner, Sr., RS; Tanner Hynes, So.
Defense: 3-3 stack
Returning starters: 9
DE: Connor Reynolds, Sr., 3R; Zach Larr, Jr.
DT: Charles Davison, Jr., RS: Slade Samaritano, So.
DT: Cole Skinner, Sr.; Michael Smith, Sr.
DE: Aiden Ward, Sr., RS; Nick Jankovich, So.; Tanner Hynes, So.
OLB: Sam Muraglia, Sr., RS; Colin Obser, So.
ILB: JJ Bennett, Sr., RS; Jack Stencel, Sr.
ILB: Tyler Gordon, Sr., RS; Declan Pratt, Sr.
ILB: Maddox Samaritano, Sr.; Dylan Reitmeyere, So.
OLB: Jake Croce, Jr., 3RS; Tyler Criscuolo, Sr.
CB: Matt Oliphant, Jr., RS; Brian Simoes, Jr.
CB: Brian Orio, Sr.; Wyatt Dewysockie, Jr.; Brayden Forfar, Jr.
FS: Connor Cilento, Sr., 3RS; Jayson Bennett, Jr.
K: Bobby Cooper, Sr., RS; Brayden Forfar, Jr., RS
P: Matt Oliphant, Jr., RS; Brian Orio, Sr.
Head coach: Brian Staub, 5th season
Career record: 18-18
Team record last five years:
Assistant coaches: Shane O’Connor (Defensive Coordinator); Dave Johnson (Special Teams Coordinator); John Mattos (Special Teams Coordinator); Ryan Canary (OL); Dan Drzymkowski (LB); Kyle Ryan (OL); Nick Cipot (DL); Eddie Kendall (DL); Tom Orrok (RB); John McDonald (FB/OLB); John Madden (Athletic Trainer).
Players to Watch: Matt Oliphant, Jr., QB/DB and Jake Croce, Jr., RB/LB
Point Boro has about a dozen players who would fit here, but we'll go with the two players who will handle the ball the most in the Panthers' triple-option offense. Oliphant is a candidate to have a huge year after switching from slot back to quarterback while Croce is back for his third season at 'A' back after eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark last year.
Player Under the Radar: Connor Cilento, Sr., RB/DB and Tyler Gordon, Sr., RB/LB
Averaging 12.5 yards per carry is pure insanity, but that's exactly what Cilento did last season as a big-play machine at slot back. He also had two interceptions on defense. Gordon is a versatile linebacker who is a reliable tackler, came up with several impact plays (5 sacks, 2 INTs), and also contributed in a big way with seven touchdowns spelling Croce from the 'A' back position.
Top Position Group: Backfield
Between Oliphant, Croce, Cilento, and Gordon, Point Boro brings back over, 2,400 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns. It's not out of the question that the Panthers can rush for well over 3,000 yards this season.
Rivalry Game: Sept. 9 vs. Manasquan
This will be Point Boro's second game of the season and the first for Manasquan, and it could have huge implications down the line. There's a solid chance this game could end up deciding the Independence Division title and it will surely be a playoff-resume-boosting victory for whichever team comes out on top. Manasquan won last season's meeting, 35-30, between the former Thanksgiving rivals.
Sept. 1 - vs. Neptune, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 - vs. Manasquan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 - @Holmdel, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 - @Raritan, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 - vs. Toms River East, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 - vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 - @Barnegat, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 - @St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.