Rapid Reaction: Week Three in Shore Conference football
With everything from Brick kicker Anthony Starego getting an unprecedented fifth year of eligibility from the NJSIAA to statement games in Class A South to a coaching milestone to offensive fireworks, it was another action-packed week of Shore Conference football.
Here is a quick look at some news and notes from this weekend:
Anthony Starego returns
The Brick kicker, who has multi-symptom autism, was granted an unprecedented fifth year of eligibility on Friday by the NJSIAA after a six-month-long court battle following an initial ruling that would not grant him a waiver. He returned in uniform in Friday night's 47-21 win over Toms River South, attempting one extra point that was off the mark but celebrating his return with his teammates following a big win and an exhausting day.
It's a pretty amazing story, and now Starego will compete with incumbent Steve Ferlisi for the starting placekicker position as the Green Dragons look to make a run at the Class A South title.
Of course, I am also a total cynic because the first thing I thought after the NJSIAA's ruling was, 'How long until some slimeball coach tries to use this decision to get extra eligibility for a star player to win a championship?'
Class A South heats up
This is the best and most exciting divisional race this season. A strong division from top to bottom, Class A South boasts a wealth of top talent, explosive offenses and compelling match-ups from week to week.
The main statement win in the division this week was Brick's 47-21 takedown of previously unbeaten Toms River South in a match-up of Shore Sports Network Top 10 teams. The Green Dragons' relentless rushing attack led by junior tailback Ray Fattaruso and junior quarterback Carmen Sclafani was unstoppable, and the Brick offensive line dominated up front.
So many teams run the zone read offense now, but Brick's is truly dangerous, given that defenses have to respect the fake because Sclafani and Fattaruso are both capable of having huge games on a given night. Seeing Brick's offense in person just made me respect Middletown South's defense even more after the Eagles limited the Green Dragons to only a single score in a 28-7 win over Brick in Week Two.
Perhaps the best compliment about Sclafani that I heard from a coach scouting that Brick-Toms River South game was that Sclafani reminded him of former Lacey star Craig Cicardo Jr., a first-team All-Shore talent who led the Lions to a 12-0 season as a senior in 2010. Cicardo had the same mastery over the spread option, the quick decision-making ability, enough of an arm to hurt teams if they sold out to stop the run game, and an unflappable demeanor where opponents could not rattle him. Cicardo is now a quarterback at The College of New Jersey after transferring from Rhode Island.
Another win in the division that had people buzzing this weekend was Jackson Memorial's 35-7 rout of Brick Memorial. The Mustangs may have been without senior star running back/safety Mike Basile, who was in a walking boot with an injury and didn't play, but the Jaguars were impressive.
Senior tailback Khani Glover looks like one of the Shore Conference's most improved running backs in the early going, and the defense also looks much improved, only allowing seven points so far in two games. In their season-opening shutout over Toms River East, the Jaguars tied a school record set in a win over Monmouth in 1975 by allowing only one first down, according to Jackson historian Jim Colbert. They look like they will be a big factor in the race after going 3-7 last year.
Yet another game that had people talking was Lacey's wild 45-42 win over Toms River East on Saturday. The Raiders had been shut out in their first two games, yet erupted for 42 points against the defending division champs and No. 3 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 as senior tailback Matt Gudzak went for 185 yards and three touchdowns. The Raiders switched up their offense to an unbalanced Delaware Wing-T and also ran some I-formation, scrapping their multiple wing attack, and exploded in a loss. If they are going to put up those types of numbers, they will be a thorn in teams' sides even though they are off to an 0-3 start.
Lacey, meanwhile, continues to have one of the Shore Conference's most explosive offenses. The Lions have not been held under 34 points yet, and they can score in a million different ways. Senior quarterback Tom Kelly continues to light it up, as he has thrown nine touchdown passes in three games. Senior wideout Christian Tutela has a combined nine touchdowns in three games between rushing and receiving.
However, if the Lions don't shore up their run defense, it could once again prove to be their undoing down the road. Their one loss last season came against Kingsway in the South Jersey Group IV semifinals when they were trampled by the running game to the tune of 463 yards. With prolific rushing attacks at places like Brick and Toms River South still looming on the schedule, the Lions don't want to have to put the pressure on their offense to win 50-47 every week.
Finally, Southern bounced back with a dominating 35-7 win over Toms River North after falling to Toms River South last week. In the preseason, the question was whether the Rams would find that complementary receiver to take the heat off Mike Gesicki and ensure quarterback Logan Sheehan isn't constantly forcing the ball into heavy coverage to his All-Shore target. They appear to have found that wideout in senior Vinnie Colecchia, who has three touchdowns in three games and looks to make teams pay for blanketing Gesicki.
With so many quality and talented teams in this division, I wouldn't be surprised if this is a shared division title between two or three teams when all the smoke clears. It's not going to be easy to run the table among this group.
Dan George hits 100 wins at his alma mater
Congrats to Long Branch head coach Dan George, who got the Gatorade bath on Saturday after a 13-7 overtime win against nemesis Neptune for his 100th win at his alma mater. George is a long-time fixture at the school as the football and wrestling coach and has led the Green Wave to 10 state playoff appearances, one NJSIAA sectional title, and four appearances in state finals since taking over in 1999.
George also ended a losing streak against Mark Ciccotelli-coached teams. Dating back to Ciccotelli's time at Freehold, his teams had beaten Long Branch four straight times since 2008 between Freehold and Neptune.
"Cicc has been kicking my butt the last few years,'' George said. "He's a great coach. It's tough to get one off that guy."
While there are plenty of fast and physical defenses in the division, another reason for the lack of scoring is that most of the offenses are one-dimensional. Word of the invention known as the forward pass has not reached this division yet.
The big wildcard is Wall, which is off to a great start at 3-0 and just routed Freehold 44-7. The Crimson Knights have already surpassed their win total from all of last season under second-year coach Nick Gregorio, and their defense has only allowed 14 points in three games under new coordinator Dan Curcione, who came over from Toms River North.
Coaches who have scouted Wall have been impressed with the improvement of senior tailback Pete Miceli, who had four touchdowns in the win over Freehold and is in the mold of the traditional Wall back who is undersized but hard-nosed, with deceptive speed to get to the outside. The Crimson Knights head to Long Branch on Friday night for a big game, so that is their chance to announce they are back among the championship contenders after getting crushed by graduation losses last season.
Mike Gesicki hangs with The King
No one has had more fun in the recruiting process than Southern senior wideout/tight end Mike Gesicki, who took an official visit to Ohio State this weekend and was at Saturday night's win over Wisconsin. In the pregame, he was able to witness a speech by a special guest - LeBron James.
Ohio State has gone all out trying to land Gesicki, whether it's Urban Meyer reminding him he is a vital missing piece of the puzzle or weighing in on this week's game against Toms River North. Gesicki has an official visit planned for Happy Valley on Oct. 12 for Penn State's game against Michigan and is expected to announce his decision shortly thereafter.
Break up the Seraphs
It's clear that the addition of several transfers and freshmen has made a dramatic impact at Mater Dei Prep, particularly offensively. North Jersey transfers Jelanie Mitchell, Tysaun White, and Derek Lopez (transferred in last year) and freshman Eddie Lewis have combined with mainstays Christian Palmer and Sam Miles along with a veteran offensive line to create offensive fireworks that haven't been seen at Mater Dei in a generation.
The Seraphs beat Dunellen 49-35 on Saturday, scoring the most points since they hung 49 on St. Peter's (New Brunswick) in 1972, according to head coach Steve Sciarappa. When the school that you last did that against doesn't even exist any more, you know it's been a long time. Lopez, Mitchell, White, Palmer, Miles and Lewis all found the end zone in the program's first win ever over Dunellen. It also marked a school record for combined points in a game, according to Sciarappa. The Seraphs scored 125 points all of last season and now have 121 through three games.
The performance by Mater Dei begs the question of whether the Seraphs have a shot at what is believed to be their first division title in school history. The offenses at Keyport, Asbury Park, Shore and Point Beach have all been low-scoring in the early going, so it's not outlandish to think the new-look Seraphs have a shot to beat all of those teams. Defending division champ Point Beach grinded out a 15-6 win over Dunellen a week earlier, and Mater Dei lit up the Destroyers. Obviously, the defenses at those aforementioned Class B Central opponents are tough and it won't be as easy to score, but it's not crazy at all to think Mater Dei will be a factor in a division race for the first time since it finished second behind Keyport in Class C North in 1999.
The Fresh Prince of Route 37
*Update: Manchester coach Gerard O'Donnell said on Monday that Will Smith will not be able to make it to his scheduled appearance at the fundraiser on Friday because of a scheduling conflict.
When I first got the text message from Manchester head coach Gerard O'Donnell, I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1st.
"Will Smith - yes that guy - will be at Manchester vs Lakewood fb game for fb fundraiser."
Yes, Will Smith of "Independence Day," "Men in Black,'' and, uh, "After Earth" fame will be at a football fundraiser for the Hawks at their home game against the Piners this coming Friday, according to O'Donnell. He said the parent of a player on the team has a friend in the entertainment business who hooked up the appearance by Smith to generate some buzz for the game and help raise money for the program. Also, in case any sort of enormous alien insects try to attack the field and disrupt the game, the Hawks will be well-prepared.
Congratulations to Jackson Liberty head coach Jim Sharples, who picked up his first career win in a 13-7 victory over Manchester thanks to a 98-yard pick-six by the Lions' C.J. Bailey. I'm sure it was an emotional night as it is the Lions' first win since the tragic death of Tim Osborn, the only coach in the school's history, in the spring...Colts Neck has outscored its first three opponents 132-0, although those opponents are a combined 0-9. Still, three straight shutouts is pretty impressive to start a season...From the pitch to the field, Manasquan junior James McAlary, who was a soccer player up until this year, scored his first two varsity touchdowns in a 42-3 win over Raritan...Brick's no-huddle offense uses playcards from the sidelines to signal in the plays. On one of the cards last week against Middletown South, the Green Dragons had a huge picture of my headshot from Twitter, and they lost 28-7. This week, they ditched my picture card and racked up 47 points to beat Toms River South. That is not a coincidence.