Season Recap and a Look at 2024: Colonial Division
With all but a handful of games remaining between the teams still playing on Thanksgiving and the three Shore Conference teams competing for Group titles next week, now is a good time to look back at how the season went for all 42 Shore teams and take an early look at next year.
Obviously, in the age of rampant transferring, the phrase "will return" is not an ironclad statement, but for these purposes we will work under the assumption that underclassmen will be back with their teams next fall.
Here's how it went this season for the Shore Conference's Colonial Division, where Point Boro and Colts Neck shared the title this fall. Five of the division's six teams reached the state playoffs, with Point Boro making the deepest run with a berth in a sectional final.
A big question in this division is always whether one or more of the top teams will get realigned into the division of doom, the American Division, based on their success this year.
Point Boro (9-2)
It was a similar season to last year for Panthers – a dazzling regular season that came to a bitter end in the state playoffs. Point Boro won a share of its second straight division title, but then lost a heartbreaker to Willingboro in the Central Jersey Group 2 final. It’s the second straight year they were eliminated by the Chimeras.
They will get walloped by graduation after a 28-5 run over the past three seasons with this year’s stellar senior class playing a large role. Matt Oliphant is one of the best quarterbacks in Point Boro history, and Jake Croce is the program’s all-time leading rusher. The Panthers had 3,692 yards rushing as a team, and Oliphant and Croce combined for 2,704 of them, including 1,705 by Oliphant. The two also had a combined 37 rushing touchdowns. They also lose several integral seniors on the line on both sides, led by Charles Davison.
The next wave of Panthers talent will be led by rising sophomore Jake Clayton, who ran for 242 yards on an average of more than 10 yards per carry as a freshman slotback in the triple option. Colin Obser also returns as a running and receiving threat, while Tanner Hynes and Nick Jankovich are back on the defensive line. Head coach Brian Staub has built a strong program, and next year will be a big test of its depth.
Colts Neck (6-4)
The Cougars grabbed a share of their second straight division title behind another monster year from running back Chris Scully, who graduates as the program’s all-time leading rusher. They advanced to the sectional semifinals before running into the threshing machine of unbeaten Mainland, which is the favorite to bring home the overall Group 4 title next week.
Perhaps even more than Point Boro, Colts Neck will get hit hard by graduation. Scully rushed for 1,702 of the team’s 2,341 yards, and senior quarterback Dom Beninato had 346 more. They also graduate a senior-dominated line on both sides of the ball, along with three of their top four tacklers on defense. It's going to be almost an entirely new lineup next year for the Cougars, with junior linebacker James Bertan as the most productive returner on the heels of a 75-tackle season.
It was a roller coaster ride for the Braves that peaked on Oct. 6 when they stunned previously unbeaten Point Boro to hand the Panthers their only loss to a Shore Conference team this season. Manalapan lost three in a row to drop to 2-4, then shocked Point Boro, beat Red Bank and then, like Colts Neck, also fell victim to the dominance of Mainland in the state playoffs.
The Braves weren’t quite able to make a push for a division title after dropping down from the ruthless American Division but did take second after Point Boro and Colts Neck tied for the championship. This marks the first time Manalapan has had back-to-back losing seasons since 2000-01, so they will look to get back to their winning ways in 2024.
They return a crucial building block in quarterback Ryan Dougherty, who had 1,362 yards passing and 12 touchdowns in his first year as the starter. They also bring back their top two rushers, Ah’sere Woolfolk and Jason Rodriguez, and their leading receiver, Jackson Pfister, so the ingredients are there to make a leap offensively. Defensively, they take a hit with the graduation of linebacker Aidan Wilmot, but Pfister at linebacker and Vin DeFillippo at safety return as two of their top tacklers. They should be in the hunt for a division crown next season depending on how the division realignment shakes out.
After a great run of two straight sectional final appearances, graduation and a tough schedule against a host of bigger schools caught up with the Rockets this season. They were never able to replace the offensive production of star running back Kieran Falzon, averaging just 8.8 points per game this season.
They did flash that Rockets’ scrappiness in surprising a playoff team with a 20-16 win over Group 4 Manalapan during the regular season. All but two of the teams they played this season made the state playoffs, and the only fellow Group 2 schools they played were a pair of sectional finalists, Point Boro (9-2) and South Jersey Group 2 finalist Haddonfield. It showed how difficult the schedule was that they only had two wins yet made the postseason. The Rockets graduate quarterback Logan Goldsberry, slotback Jayden Craft, and top lineman Tommy Jeleniewski as part of a senior-laden group up front. They also lose standout linebacker Kyle Walling to graduation, so it’s going to take holdovers like RB/S Xavier Nunez, fullback Matt Jones and a new group of Rockets to get things turned around.
Long Branch (6-5)
It was a bumpy regular season followed by an impressive playoff run for the Green Wave, who look to cap their year by beating rival Red Bank on Thanksgiving. Senior quarterback Earnest Reevey broke his hand in a season-opening win, which had Long Branch shuffling around the lineup in a 4-4 regular season until he got healthy in time for the playoffs.
The Green Wave then knocked off Jackson Memorial and stunned unbeaten Brick Memorial on the road to reach the Central Jersey Group 4 final before falling to a loaded Winslow Township team. They are going to lose some stars to graduation, including Reevey, and running backs Da’Von Craft and Zaheem Brown, but they return a host of experience from a defense that held Jackson Memorial and Brick Memorial to a combined seven points in two playoff wins. Quentin Fisher will be back at quarterback after seeing time with Reevey unable to play, and Aulander Daniels, Nyron Snerling and tight end Miguel Maldonado return as targets in the passing game. Almost all the offensive line also returns.
The defense should be the backbone of a team capable of making a run at a division title in 2024. Linebackers Joseph Corley, Havier Gonzalez and Nehemiah Lambert will all be back, and Daniels and Christopher Moses return in the secondary.
Red Bank (3-6)
The Bucs entered the season with high hopes with a host of starters back from a 7-4 team, but it did not come to fruition on the field. They endured some injuries, including one to senior standout Liam Stack that kept him out of multiple games to start the season, and struggled offensively at 11.2 points per game.
When they stepped outside the division, they shut out a Monmouth team that reached the state playoffs and topped Lacey and Steinert.
Their 17 seniors hope to go out by upsetting Long Branch in the 100th edition of their Thanksgiving rivalry. Almost their entire starting lineup will graduate, with lineman Alex Costic, TE/LB Ryan Swords, TE Thomas McBride, RB/WR Quinn Niecz and safety Jermaine Rose among the handful of returners with experience.