Shore and Point Beach Ready for Round Two
With each passing day leading up to Saturday’s Central Jersey Group I final, Point Beach head coach John Wagner gives his team another example of a squad that lost badly in the regular season and came back to beat that same opponent to win a state championship.
With each passing day at his practices, Shore Regional coach Mark Costantino reminds his team how many times in recent seasons they have beaten a tough opponent twice in a season and can do it again this week.
The top-seeded Blue Devils (10-1) and third-seeded Garnet Gulls (9-2) will meet at 10 a.m. at The College of New Jersey on Saturday, eight days after Shore routed Point Beach 31-0 to win the Class B Central title in their annual rivalry game. The question now is whether Point Beach can close that yawning gap in a barely over a week or whether Shore will lock down its second CJ Group I title in four seasons and first since 2010.
“I’ve been down this road before in my career, but these kids haven’t,’’ Wagner said. “They have to believe in what I’m saying. I think they have to understand that football is a 48-minute game and things happen in football games that just change. Field position changes, a turnover, a penalty. (Shore) is a big, physical team and you can’t get caught in front of those kids all the time. You’ve got to be able to handle the brunt of it. You’ve got to be able to defend the field.”
“We came in Saturday morning and watched the film,’’ Shore coach Mark Costantino said on the Investors Bank High School Football Show on 105.7 f.m. on Thursday. “Believe it or not, we could’ve played so much better than we did. We are a very mature, focused team. We said OK, it’s over, let’s go win a state championship, and we haven’t talked about it since.”
In 2010, Matawan beat Rumson-Fair Haven 48-21 in the regular season only to be shocked 13-7 in the Central Jersey Group II final by the Bulldogs. A year later, Rumson beat Matawan 21-9 in the regular season, only to be stunned 3-0 in the state final by the Huskies. Those teams were a study in how to turn the tide against a familiar opponent in game not too many are giving you a chance to win, and Wagner has cited them to his players.
One of the lessons that can be taken away is that the second time around, the team that lost the first one needs to control the ball better. The more it can bleed the clock, shorten the game and keep the game close, the more the momentum swings to their side after being blown out in the first meeting.
“A play in the first quarter of that (2011) game (against Rumson) will go down in Matawan lore,’’ said Huskies head coach John Kaye, who was an assistant under Hall of Famer Joe Martucci that season. “We knew we couldn’t give them the ball because they had an explosive offense, so our gameplan was that if it was fourth down and three yards or less, we were going for it every time no matter where we were on the field because we didn’t believe they could tackle (tailback) Larry Alston for less than three yards. It was fourth-and-3 on our own 17 in the first quarter, and we went for it, got it, then drove down the field and kicked a field goal for the only points of the game.”
That ball control offense mirrored what Rumson did a year earlier to shock the Huskies.
“In 2010, the second time around, we changed our gameplan,’’ said former Rumson coach Shane Fallon. “The first time we were about spreading them out, trying to throw and seeing if we could run. In the state final, we had a season’s worth of film on them and saw more tendencies. We knew they would expect us to throw the ball because that’s what hurt them the first time, so we wanted to run the ball with (quarterback Mike) Villapiano, eat up the clock and hope to get to the fourth quarter and steal the game.”
In their first meeting, Shore’s outstanding defense ate up Point Beach’s ground game in the Wing-T, holding the Garnet Gulls to 100 yards rushing and limiting 1,400-yard rusher Joe Wegrzyniak to 20 yards. If the Blue Devils can do that again, they will be champions. If Point Beach wants to reverse the result, it has to find a way against the Blue Devils’ imposing and physical front.
“Part of our thing on offense is to maintain control of the ball, and we just didn’t do a good job,’’ Wagner said. “We didn’t execute in certain situations. We have to do a better job with the ball on offense, and when we get down there, we have to put the ball in the end zone. We threw the ball 20 times (in the first game), and that’s not us.”
“It’s that fine line of you have to make some changes, but not too many changes so your kids don’t do things well,’’ Fallon said. “You want to break certain tendencies. It means maybe using stuff like the wildcat, unbalanced lines, motions and shifts, things you can do to make the other team think instead of react.”
Both teams are pretty straightforward, as they both employ the Wing-T, although Point Beach’s is more traditional while Shore’s is more out of a spread look. However, they are what they are. Point Beach is not going to come out in the shotgun and throw the ball 30 times, so it has to find a way to tweak what it does well to make it work if it wants to stay in the game.
“I coached against John Wagner in Union County when I was at Hillside and he was at Roselle Park, and he’s a Delaware Wing-T guy,’’ Kaye said. “They do what he does. If they didn’t do it well enough, they’re going to practice all week and do it better, and the same with ‘Cos,’ (Costantino), too. Both are Wing-T guys who work to outflank you and execute flawlessly.
“It’s a tricky situation because it’s a chess match. We did this, so they’re going to try to do that. You get to a point where you give guys too much credit. You think they’re going to line up in all these different fronts and take away those plays, and then you go out there and they line up the same way. You can outthink yourself.”
Unlike the Rumson-Matawan scenarios, the difference is that Point Beach only has eight days to figure it out, not successive weeks to assemble more film and tweak more things in practice. You change too much in a week and you run the risk of really confusing your players.
“The person with the chalk last wins,’’ Wagner joked. “You can overanalyze it. It’s a matter of us understanding what our gameplan is. We’re going to be in some mismatches because they’re so big, but it’s just a different style.”
It’s a fine line because sticking with the exact same gameplan and believing that your team’s talent is just better can sometimes be playing with fire.
“In the state final in 2011, we felt our personnel was better than their personnel and that we could stick with our gameplan and beat them,’’ Fallon said. “They played very, very well and we got beat. We didn’t make changes to our gameplan. We relied on our talent being better than their talent, and we lost.”
On the other side, Point Beach has to find a way to stop Shore’s ball-control offense, which produced a pair of 100-yard rushers in sophomore Doug Goldsmith and senior Brian Miller in the first meeting. An imposing offensive line led by seniors Chris Okupski and Matt Proto took it to the Garnet Gulls’ defense.
Certainly one of the biggest issues in a situation like Saturday can be overconfidence on the part of a Shore team that just won by 31 points.
“Not even a problem,’’ Costantino said. “We’ve played teams twice in a year a couple years in a row so it’s not a big deal for us to play teams twice in a season. Two weeks in a row, it’s a lot easier to prepare for them. We know what they do, they know what we do. They know how we play. I told my players the week of the game, they have not played a team like us all year, and now they have, so that helps them out.
“On the flip side, they know how good we are, and if they aren’t ready to meet the challenge, it’s going to be a long day for them. I respect them, and they’re good enough to come back and beat us. We’ve had a great week of practice, so we’re ready to go.”
“Shore’s coaching staff has to be making sure their kids understand they are going to get a much better performance and Shore will have to play as well or better to avoid that upset like we did to Matawan in 2010,’’ Fallon said. “For us (in 2010), that was the perfect storm. Matawan didn’t really respect us. They had beat us handily Week Four, and it came back to bite them.”
This is the first time in Wagner’s Hall of Fame coaching career, which includes two state titles during a long stint at Roselle Park, that his team has lost the first game and has to win the second game against the same team in a state final. A crucial component will be answering a big play by Shore with one of their own and not letting it snowball into another rout. It could be the difference between Shore’s sixth state championship in its proud history or Point Beach’s first championship ever in the Garnet Gulls’ first appearance in a state final since 1982.
“Even at the end of our Florence game last year (in the semifinals), we didn’t make a play,’’ Wagner said. “You have to make a play to win. Nobody thought we would be where we’re at after what we lost after last year. We just need them to step up one more time.”