Scanning the High School Football Scene With Ed Sarluca: Heading Into The Finals
The semifinals of the NJSIAA football championships provided some interesting games as 9 games involving Shore teams were played under not so great weather conditions this past weekend. With heavy rain predicted for Friday night, all but one game scheduled was postponed to Saturday. This included quite a few “turf” teams and I’ll never understand how rain can postpone a football game because turf fields were supposed to take the rain factor out of the equation. Well, that was not the case this past weekend. Yes, it rained heavily beginning about 3 p.m. Friday, but by 7 p.m. the rain was reduced to an occasional shower which was not a factor in the game I attended: Brick at Middletown South. As a matter of fact, it didn’t rain at all in the 2nd half. The home team administrators make the call as to whether the game is played and in this case, I thought it was a good decision to play. Players and coaches are geared up to play on the day and time the game is scheduled. Any possible circumstances that set that clock off frustrates the coach and players. With that said let's go back and look at the semifinals games from this past weekend.
Brick (8-2) destroyed Middletown South (7-3) in the lone Friday night game 42-14. It was the Jimmy Leblo show as the QB/WR scored 5 touchdowns in the first half as Brick used 4 turnovers and a tremendous defensive effort to grab a 35-0 halftime lead and cruised to the big win. Leblo ran for 127 yards on only 11 carries and scored 4 times and also caught a touchdown pass and was a star on defense with a fumble recovery. Quite a game for the senior leader. Brick has alternated Leblo, Anthony Prato and Cole Groschel at the QB spot all year. Give Head Coach Len Zdanowicz credit with his manipulation of this dynamic trio as he has made the correct decision more often than not throughout the season. Meanwhile, the Brick defense could not have played any better under the direction of coordinator Brian McNamara. They turned the Eagles over three times in the 1st half leading to 3 TDs. They yielded just 35 yards in the 1st half and were led by defensive back Mike McGuigan who intercepted two passes and ran one back for a touchdown. McGuigan now has 7 interceptions which leads the Shore Conference. The defense has played well all year and Friday they played their best, allowing only 96 total yards against the flexbone offense of Middletown South. Brick now moves to their 13th State final and will look for their 8th title against #1 seed Long Branch, who beat Brick Memorial 47-14 on Saturday afternoon. The championship game will be one of two featuring a matchup of Shore Conference teams against one another with RBC/Mater Dei Prep being the other. All told, 6 of the 12 shore teams playing in the semifinals advanced to the finals. Manasquan and Rumson complete the half dozen still alive to win it all.
This year after the champions are decided there will be one more game played by all public school winners. These “Bowl games” will all be played at MetLife Stadium. It will be North 1 vs North 2 and South vs Central in all five groups (10 total games). Those games will be the weekends of November 23/24 and/or November 30/December 1st. The Non Public groups 2, 3, and 4 championship games will be played the weekend of November 23/24 or November 30/December 1st also at MetLife Stadium. We are not playing after that, so there will not be overall public school champions...maybe in the future but not this year.
As mentioned earlier Long Branch (9-1) used a big second half (4 TDs) to beat Brick Memorial for the second time in 3 weeks. Jermaine Corbett ran for 314 yards and 5 TDs as the Green Wave cruised in the 2nd half to assure their date with Brick this Friday night at Long Branch. Brick Memorial lost their outstanding senior QB Tyler Sindel to a concussion early in the first half and played the rest of the way with junior Anthony Albanese, who did a nice job in the first half keeping the Stangs close. The Green Wave are looking for back to back Championships and their 4th overall state title overall in what will be their 10th championship game appearance.
Manasquan (8-1) beat Cinnaminson 14-7 at home on Saturday afternoon in the SJ Group 4 semifinals. RB Canyon Birch continues to lead the Warriors on the ground as he rushed for 152 yards and a TD on 34 carries, which is his normal workload week in and week out. James Pendergist returned a punt for a 33 yard TD and also had an interception on defense. Manasquan now gets #1 seed Hillside, who is the defending champ. Last year they beat Point Pleasant Boro 20-13 in finals. By the way, Manasquan will be our featured team this week on the Gateway Toyota Coaches Corner on Wednesday night from the Office Lounge in Toms River and Pendergist will be appearing on the show.
Perhaps the game of the week was Mater Dei Prep's upset win at DePaul High School on Saturday afternoon. Using a 41 yard TD pass from Rob McCoy to Clarence Lewis with 41 seconds left to take the lead, the Seraphs then held on for the dramatic victory. Mater Dei (10-1) has had a knack for dramatic wins the last 2 years and you can add this one to the list. Last year they won in the semis with a hook and lateral play over Holy Spirit to get to the finals where they lost to St Joe’s Hammonton 30-14. Two years ago the Seraphs won their only State Championship with a dramatic win over Holy Spirit (26-20). This year they have set up the matchup everyone wants to see as they'll face RBC for a state championship and also the #1 spot at the shore. Date and time to be determined at MetLife Stadium.
It was business as usual for the Caseys as they shutout Pope John 27-0 on Saturday night. It’s been QB Steve Lubischer leading RBC (9-0) most of the year. This week he was very efficient with his 5-7 passing with a TD and his 6 yard TD run. However, it was the defense that took center stage this week. They sacked Pope John’s QB 6 times with senior Gino Tartamella leading the D and getting 2 1/2 of those sacks. Much has been said over the course of the season about the schools up North and the killer schedule they play. Well, RBC had enough of that talk and they played with a chip on their shoulder on their home turf and proved that the schedule they prepared them for games like this. Now they get the matchup they have wanted all year as they'll face MDP for all the marbles.
Rumson (8-2) prevailed in the closest contest of the weekend over Red Bank 14-9. Rumson, which lives on their defense held the explosive Bucs to 99 total yards and just 50 yards rushing. On offense QB Collin Coles threw 2 TD passes to lead the Bulldogs. Now they'll face #1 seed Somerville (11-0), who beat them in the finals last December 20-15. Two years ago it was Rumson beating Somerville 21-13 in the semifinals so this will mark the 3rd straight year they have met in the playoffs. This will be the 14th finals appearance by Somerville, they have won 8 titles while Rumson will play in their 6th straight finals (10th appearance overall). They have won it 5 times. As you can see these are two playoff-tested teams and Saturday's meeting in Somerville should be another close, hard-fought contest.
Brick Memorial, Holmdel, Manalapan, Red Bank, Asbury Park, and Middletown South all lost their semifinal games last weekend. Brick Memorial, Manalapan, and Holmdel ended their seasons, while the other three will all play Thanksgiving Day games on November 22nd.
Again the Gateway Toyota Coaches Corner this Wednesday from the Office Lounge in Toms River will feature Manasquan and their Head Coach Jay Price and two of his outstanding players in James Pendergist and Ryan O’Leary. We'll be live from 7-8 p.m. on 105.7 The Hawk and also streamed live on the Shore Sports Network.
If approved by the NJSIAA the Jersey Mike’s Game of the Week will feature Brick at Long Branch in a Central Jersey Group 4 championship game. The game will be broadcast on 92.7 WOBM and also streamed live at shoresportsnetwork.com