With two weeks to go, there are plenty of interesting debates looming for the final Shore Sports Network Top 10.

Rather than go crazy with scenarios just yet, let things play out first. Last year, we were having the same discussion about whether Manalapan would jump Red Bank Catholic if it went 12-0 and the Caseys finished 10-1 with a loss to St. Joseph-Montvale. However, Manalapan faltered in the Central Jersey Group V final against South Brunswick, negating the argument.

Manalapan roared back from a near-upset a round earlier to rout three-time defending sectional champion Sayreville 34-7 and reach its third straight state final. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)
Manalapan roared back from a near-upset a round earlier to rout three-time defending sectional champion Sayreville 34-7 and reach its third straight state final. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

The Braves once again will have their hands full in the state final against a very talented Hunterdon Central team, so it’s all about a word you will hear frequently in Manalapan huddles and coming out of the coaches’ mouths: “Finish.” The Braves are out to finish the job and win the program’s first state title, so until they do that, the argument can wait.

Red Bank Catholic also has to take care of an undefeated Rumson-Fair Haven team heading to a state final of its own. This is RBC’s chance to make a final statement to remain No. 1, while it’s Rumson’s chance to make its own claim to the top spot. If the Bulldogs end the season by beating an RBC team that has won 32 straight against the Shore Conference and then takes out undefeated Weequahic in the Central Jersey Group II final, that’s a compelling argument to jump to the top spot as well.

Also, if either Shore or Point Beach can take both games from the other one to win the Class B Central and Central Jersey Group I titles, someone is most likely getting bumped out of the top 10 to make way for the Blue Devils or Garnet Gulls. Again, let’s see what happens first.

Shore Sports Network Top 10

1. Red Bank Catholic (9-1). Last week: No. 1.

The Caseys hung in there for a half with the No. 1 team in the state and a consensus top-five team in the nation in an eventual 28-7 loss to defending champion St. Joseph-Montvale in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals. This is the second straight year that the Green Knights have knocked the previously unbeaten Caseys out in the semifinals, as RBC’s defense showed the ability to compete at the highest level while the offense struggled against a fast and physical St. Joe’s defense. RBC’s chance to emphatically drive home its status as the No. 1 team in the Shore comes up on Friday in a showdown at home against No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven with the Class A Central title on the line. RBC is gunning for its fourth straight division title and its seventh in the last nine seasons. It also has beaten Rumson 10 straight times in their annual rivalry.

2. Manalapan (10-0). Last week: No. 2.

A week after there were some doubts about the Braves when they escaped an upset bid by Brick Memorial, they hammered three-time defending sectional champion Sayreville 34-7 in a game they dominated from beginning to end. The victory put Manalapan into its third straight state final, as it will take on seventh-seeded Hunterdon Central (7-4) in the Central Jersey Group V final at 7 p.m. on Rutgers on Dec. 8 in a bid to win the program’s first state championship. Senior tailback Tyler Leonetti ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Bombers, while senior linebacker Chris Noesges (14 tackles) led a stellar defensive effort. The Braves will look to continue their dominance in the Thanksgiving series against Marlboro (2-7) on Friday, where they can lock up their fourth straight outright Class A North crown. They hope to take care of business and keep everyone healthy for the showdown against Hunterdon Central.


3. Rumson-Fair Haven (10-0). Last week: No. 4.

The Bulldogs move into the top three thanks to Ocean’s loss, and now have the defining stretch of their season coming up. They pulled out a 28-21 win over Rahway in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals thanks to the heroics of junior tailback Charlie Volker to remain as one of only two undefeated teams left in the Shore. Volker exploded for a school-record 314 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 32 carries, including the game-winning 80-yard touchdown run with six seconds left in regulation. Now they face No. 1 Red Bank Catholic on the road Friday night in an attempt to break a 10-game losing streak against the Caseys in their annual rivalry game. That will be followed by their third trip to the state finals in the last four seasons, as they take on Weequahic (10-0) in the Central Jersey Group II championship game at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Kean University. The Bulldogs are seeking their second state title in school history and their first since 2010.

4. Colts Neck (9-1). Last week: No. 5.

The Cougars advanced to their first state final in program history with a 28-19 win over Nottingham in Central Jersey Group IV and will now take on top-seeded Brick in the championship game at 4 p.m. on Dec. 7 at The College of New Jersey. Senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo continued a monster season with 160 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the victory. After tying the single-season school record for wins that they set last year, Colts Neck can make it a record 10 wins by beating Howell (4-5) in their game on Saturday before turning their attention to Brick.


5. Ocean (9-1). Last week: No. 3.

The bad news is that Ocean lost 30-14 at home to third-seeded Hopewell Valley in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals to end their undefeated season. The good news is that most of the rest of the top 10 also lost, so the Spartans don’t tumble too far. Senior Cole Mehr had both touchdowns on a short run and an 80-yard kickoff return in the loss, as the game was tied at 14 at the half before Hopewell Valley pulled away to reach its first state final in school history. The Spartans will look to hit the 10-win mark when they wrap up their season with a nondivisional game against Monmouth (3-6) on Thanksgiving Day. In hindsight, it looks like the Spartans benefited from a bad year in Class B North, which went a combined 1-4 in playoff games. Ocean’s best wins are over Long Branch (6-3) and a Matawan (6-3) team that missed the postseason. On the flip side, if the Spartans beat Monmouth, their only loss could be to a potential state champion.

6. Manasquan (7-3). Last week: No. 6.

The top-seeded Warriors lost 27-10 at home to defending South Jersey Group III champion Delsea in the semifinals on Saturday to bring their playoff run to a close. Their offense was bottled up by a rugged Crusaders defense while Delsea’s punishing Wing-T running attack put up over 200 yards on the ground. Manasquan will look to finish strong by beating Wall (3-6) for a second time this season when they meet on Thanksgiving in their annual rivalry game. This team is looking like the quintessential “team that beat who they were supposed to beat, and lost to who they were supposed to lose to.” Their best win is from the season opener over Long Branch. They took No. 3 Rumson to the brink in losing 22-15 inside the final minute, and their other two losses are Delsea and No. 1 Red Bank Catholic.

7. Jackson Memorial (7-3). Last week: No. 7.

This is the type of team that could move up when it’s all said and done because of its body of work. The Jaguars, who lost 35-14 in the South Jersey Group V semifinals to a loaded Cherokee squad, could potentially boast a win over a state champion if No. 8 Brick knocks off No. 4 Colts Neck in the Central Jersey Group IV final. Jackson Memorial won a tough division (Class A South), and its losses are to Cherokee, No. 2 Manalapan, and No. 10 Toms River South. The Jaguars look to remain undefeated against their cross-town rival when they face Jackson Liberty (4-5) on Friday night in a nondivisional game.

8. Brick (8-3). Last week: No. 8.

The Green Dragons upended Burlington Township, 45-24, in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals to reach their first sectional final since 1994. They will have their chance to shake up the top 10 and shoot up in the rankings when they face No. 4 Colts Neck in the state final on Dec. 7. They have two weeks to prepare and don’t have to worry about injuries in a meaningless game because they don’t have a Thanksgiving game. The tandem of junior quarterback Carmen Sclafani and junior running back/linebacker Ray Fattaruso has taken it up a notch in the postseason. Sclafani ran for 197 yards and four touchdowns and Fattaruso had 203 yards and a score while also making 15 tackles on defense in the win over Burlington Township. Defensive back Ja’Quez Johnson also had a pair of interceptions, including one he returned for a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Brick’s losses are to Jackson Memorial (without Sclafani), as well as two sub-.500 teams in Toms River East (3-6) and Middletown South (4-5), but they have gotten hot at the perfect time.

9. Toms River South (7-3). Last week: No. 9.

The Indians’ playoff hopes ended in excruciating fashion, as they blew a 24-0 halftime lead and lost 28-24 to Shawnee in South Jersey Group IV to deny them their first trip to a state final since 1998. Tymere Berry, Khaleel Greene and Otis Kearney all ran for first-half touchdowns before things slipped away. Now they have a tough game on Thanksgiving to wrap up the season when they face old rival Lakewood (6-4), whose own playoff hopes ended with a loss to Weequahic in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals. The Indians’ best victory this season is a win over No. 7 Jackson Memorial, and a win over another playoff semifinalist in Lakewood certainly couldn’t hurt their case.

10. Barnegat (9-1). Last week: No. 10.

The Bengals advanced to their first state final in their short program history with a 28-25 win on the road over Northern Burlington in South Jersey Group III. Junior quarterback Cinjun Erskine had a combined 222 yards and two touchdowns between rushing and passing to help power the biggest win in school history. Barnegat will take on defending champion Delsea in the final at 4 p.m. at Rowan University on Dec. 7. First, the Bengals look to put the finishing touches on their outright Class B South title by beating Pinelands (1-8) on Thanksgiving before preparing for the biggest game in school history. A win over Delsea would send them flying up the rankings. Right now, their biggest win looks to be the semifinal victory over Northern Burlington.

Teams to watch:

Shore (9-1): The Blue Devils advanced to their second straight Central Jersey Group I final with a 15-6 comeback win over Asbury Park thanks to a clutch touchdown pass from Matt Muh to Brian Miller in the fourth quarter and another strong performance by a defense led by James Bedell and Doug Goldsmith. Now comes the defining stretch of their season, as they play Point Beach on Friday for the Class B Central title, and then play the Garnet Gulls again on Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. at The College of New Jersey in the state final. They have won nine straight, and knocking off Point Beach twice would mean bumping someone out of the top 10 to make room for them.

Point Beach (9-1): Basically everything I just wrote about Shore, reverse it and apply it to Point Beach. The Garnet Gulls are playing in their first state final since 1982 and the second one in school history after a 41-22 win over Burlington City. Junior running back Joe Wegrzyniak had 167 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and senior wide receiver/defensive back Noah Yates continued his great season with an interception return for a score and a touchdown catch. Point Beach has never won a state title, so it will look to make history against Shore. It also has never won back-to-back division titles, which it would accomplish with a win over the Blue Devils on Friday.

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