The Fifth Down: Week One
Two Shore Conference teams that entered the preseason with their offenses generating the majority of the attention showed that their defenses have what it takes to be championship units during dominating wins in Week One.
Brick posted its first shutout since 2011 and its first shutout of rival Brick Memorial since 1998 when it routed the Mustangs 42-0, holding them to 92 total yards. Meanwhile, St. John Vianney announced its arrival as a serious contender for the Class A Central crown under new coach Mark Ciccotelli with a 31-10 victory over Matawan in which it did not allow an offensive touchdown and squashed the Huskies' offense to the tune of minus-6 yards rushing for the game.
While St. John Vianney's offense, led by junior quarterback Anthony Brown and senior wideout P.J. Braccia, rolled up 360 total yards on a Matawan defense that was one of the Shore's best last season, the Lancers' 3-3-5 stack defense under new coordinator Noel Kavanagh only allowed 96 total yards. They came up with three turnovers, recovering two of the seven fumbles by the Huskies and getting an interception from junior cornerback Khalil Haskins, who transferred from Matawan to St. John Vianney in the offseason.
"Coach Kavanagh does a great job preparing these guys,'' Ciccotelli said. "I think they really executed what 'Kav' put in place."
Sophomore Tyler Tedeschi had an outstanding debut at linebacker with 8 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries to lead the way. Junior Calvin Beaty, another Matawan transfer, also has flashed star potential as a middle linebacker at 225 pounds. Ciccotelli said Beaty reminds him of former Freehold Boro and Neptune star linebacker Jazzmar Clax, a first-team All-Shore talent who now plays fullback at UConn.
"(Beaty) is big, tough, and quick,'' Ciccotelli said. "He really studies the game and works to make himself better."
Next up for the Lancers' defense is Holmdel, which put up 37 points behind sophomore quarterback Aneesh Agrawal, who threw for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 39-37 loss to Monmouth in the Hornets' opener.
As for Brick, the Green Dragons' offense was predictably explosive under senior quarterback Carmen Sclafani, while the defense played a little cat-and-mouse with Brick Memorial in the preseason. Like many teams, they didn't want to tip their hand to what they might do in the regular season so they stayed in their vanilla 3-4 defense during preseason games before switching to a 4-3 to face Brick's flexbone option offense. They held the Mustangs to 50 yards rushing with two schemes, a base front and also a slanting front that took advantage of the ability of their defensive linemen to get off the ball quickly.
Surely adding to the frustration of the Mustangs is that perhaps the most disruptive force on Brick's defense was defensive tackle Chris Kimbiz, who transferred from Brick Memorial across town before this season. Kimbiz was able to consistently blow up plays at the point of attack in the middle, where the fullback dive is a staple of Brick Memorial's offense. He also had a sack and a forced fumble that teammate Ray Fattaruso picked up and returned for a 50-yard touchdown. The result was the most lop-sided score in the 33-year history of the Brick-Brick Memorial series, according to the Asbury Park Press.
You can read more about Brick's defensive performance here.
Sophomore Quarterbacks Shine
One week after a 40-20, season-opening loss to Freehold Township, new Howell coach Luke Sinkhorn decided to go with a change at quarterback from junior Mark Iacobino to sophomore Bobby Cavallero. The sophomore responded by going 8-for-14 for 200 yards passing and three touchdowns in his debut to help power a 20-16 nondivisional victory over Colts Neck.
Cavallero and Iacobino had been in competition during the preseason, but Cavallero was injured in the first scrimmage. Iacobino then banged up his ankle against Freehold Township, which had limited his mobility.
"Bobby gives us a little more dynamic playmaking ability,'' Sinkhorn said.
They kept the gameplan conservative as far as throwing downfield, but Cavallero executed the short throws well and hit some slants. It also helps that the Rebels have senior Jarvis Leaks, a running back with good speed who is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Leaks had five catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, taking two short passes and turning them into touchdowns of 50-plus yards.
"When you get the ball in the hands of a playmaker, he can make it look good,'' Sinkhorn said.
The Rebels' defense also bounced back from a subpar performance against Freehold Township, getting two stops inside their own 10-yard line in the second half to seal the win.
"The defense we came out with this Saturday was what we had in preseason,'' Sinkhorn said. "Our effort was just better, and our D-line did a better job of getting off blocks."
As for Cavallero, he looks to have locked down his spot with his strong debut as the Rebels get ready to face a Freehold Boro team on Saturday that is off to a 2-0 start.
"I think Bobby is going to be the starter from now, and we'll go from there,'' Sinkhorn said. "Iacobino will get more work on the defensive side of the ball and still be an important part of our team."
Another sophomore who raised some eyebrows in his first start at quarterback in Week One was Holmdel's Aneesh Agrawal. He erupted for 315 yards passing and four touchdowns on 17-for-24 accuracy with no interceptions in a 39-37 shootout loss to Monmouth Regional and its own standout quarterback, senior Jimmy Green, who threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in the win.
Holmdel only averaged 9.7 points per game last year, so despite the loss, it was a promising debut of the spread offense out of the pistol formation under new head coach Jay Graham. Under new offensive coordinator Pete Christathakis, the Hornets put up 31 points in the first half alone, more than they scored in any complete game all of last year, to take a 13-point lead before the Falcons came flying back.
Agrawal and senior Erik Alvino had been competing for the starting job in the preseason before Agrawal injured his finger when he slammed it into the helmet of Barnegat star Manny Bowen during a scrimmage. The day before the Monmouth game, Graham declared Agrawal the starter, and he rewarded his confidence with a monster debut.
"I was definitely nervous all day Friday in school going into the game Saturday,'' Agrawal said. "But our passing game is really strong, and I have some great receivers in Steven Walier and Pete Savrides."
Agrawal threw three touchdown passes to Savrides and one to Walier, who are both juniors. Senior Adam Ibrahim is another weapon in the passing game.
"With those three out there, it made me feel confident and helped me have a good game,'' Agrawal said.
Agrawal has some running ability out of the read option, a system he has been playing in since Pop Warner. The offense should also get a boost as senior star Frank Condito continues to come back from a meniscus injury in his knee in the preseason. He played at linebacker but has not played at running back yet, where he was a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore. Junior Matt Nuzzi is bolstering the Hornets' running game to try to give them balance.
The loss to the Falcons was a lesson in finishing, as they could not close out the win despite the big first half. What also hurt was four turnovers, all fumbles, including two on special teams.
"In the second half, we took our foot off the throttle,'' Agrawal said. "We can't think that 31 (points) is enough, and we can't be satisfied. We have to keep putting up points."
Agrawal looks to see a serious test this week against St. John Vianney. As discussed above, the Lancers' defense is coming off a dominant performance against Matawan and is known for bringing pressure from all angles.
"We're going to have to do more three-step drops and mix things up,'' Agrawal said. "We have to just keep passing and keep scoring."
Good News, Bad News for the Rockets
Raritan started its season off with a bang in a wild, 41-34 win over Class A Central rival Manasquan, but unfortunately it came with a price.
Senior running back Richie Salerno, who was in the midst of the biggest game of his career with 193 yards rushing and two touchdowns by the third quarter, left the game with an injury and did not return. He is out for the season with a torn ACL, according to Rockets coach Anthony Petruzzi.
"It hurts because he's a senior, he means a lot to our team, he's a likeable kid, and he works his butt off,'' Petruzzi said. "We have guys to step up, and we expect Derek Ernst and the guys who are going to back him up to do the same thing, but obviously losing a senior leader is tough."
On the positive side, the Rockets put up their highest point total since beating St. John Vianney 41-35 in 2011 thanks to Salerno's running and the dual threat capability of senior quarterback Riley Sullivan, who ran for a 25-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winner. Senior wideout Dylan Dewysockie also made some plays downfield that showed how much of a menace he is to opposing defenses because of his 6-foot-4 frame and long arms that can reach right over defensive backs for long completions. Ernst also chipped in with a touchdown run and a fumble recovery for a score.
"I just think our offensive line is better than it's been in the past,'' Petruzzi said. "They kept our quarterback upright for the most part, and kept pushing guys into the second half."
Petruzzi also learned about the resilience of his team. Raritan blew a 27-0 lead, and whereas in the past the Rockets would have folded when Manasquan roared back, they recovered to close out the win.
"I think the problem was that we've been down in the past few years and played from behind, so it was an unnatural thing for us was to play with the lead because it's something you're not able to practice,'' Petruzzi said. "We knew that the kids could come back. We knew they had it in them. We wanted to see how this season is going to be, and whether it would be 'same old Raritan,' and they definitely showed some heart and courage."
Taking a Walk
The team with the shortest distance to travel during Week One was Toms River South, which walked to its game, right down Hooper Avenue in Toms River, to get to Donovan Catholic before its 40-7 victory. Check out some photos below.
A Scene to Remember
The atmosphere at Brick Memorial for the Brick game was the best of the young season so far, with about 4,000 people roaring throughout and great support from both student sections. Job well done by both sides.
*Two kickers made their varsity debuts in impressive fashion in St. John Vianney's 31-10 win over Matawan. Junior Joe Rice booted a 40-yard field goal for the Lancers, the longest in the Shore so far, while Matawan senior Adam Elliot, a converted baseball player, hit a 37-yarder.
*Speaking of baseball players coming out for the football team, senior wide receiver Max Hawkins had a strong debut for Manasquan in a 41-34 loss to Raritan. Flashing great speed, Hawkins caught a 55-yard touchdown and also had a great diving catch to set up another touchdown.
*Freehold only has 30 players but has held its own with a 2-0 start against a schedule filled with Group IV and Group V teams. That has required some creative practices that keep the coaching staff in shape.
"We have to be very creative,'' head coach Dave Ellis told SSN contributor Art Gordon. "There are days that we only have 21 to 23 players practicing. Sometimes our coaches have to step it up and jump in there for a couple reps.”
*Part of developing a strong foundation for a program is the mentality of the "next man up" if someone gets injured. Point Beach senior Zach Schaller demonstrated that for coach John Wagner's squad on Friday when he filled in for standout senior running back Mike Frauenheim, who suffered a hand injury that made it difficult to carry the ball. On the game-winning fourth-quarter drive, he had runs of 11, 12 and 20 yards to set up quarterback Jake Fioretti's touchdown, and he also had a diving catch that set up a touchdown right before the half. His stats weren't gaudy, but his play was huge at crucial junctures to help get the win.
*Red Bank Regional's 21-14 win over Wall was the first win under the lights in Bucs' history. It also was Red Bank's first season-opening win since 2010.
*Toms River North achieved the rare feat of three 100-yard rushers in one game in its 30-14 win over Lacey, rolling up 398 yards on the ground. Quarterback Mike Husni (154) and running backs Parker Day (124) and Asante Moorer (120) all went over 100, with the Mariners averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Watch Husni's interview after the win here.
*Monmouth University safety Mike Basile (Brick Memorial) was named the Big South Conference Freshman of the Week for his performance in a win over Wagner.
*The College of New Jersey freshman running back Khani Glover (Jackson Memorial) was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Offensive Rookie of the Week.
*Finally, a nice tribute to a good friend and former teammate by Stonehill College linebacker Tommy Farrell, a Donovan Catholic grad. Farrell was able to get a No. 7 practice jersey to honor the late Francis Duddy, who died in a car crash at 19 years old in February. Duddy, the son of Donovan Catholic head coach Dan Duddy, played on the same Griffins team with Farrell and wore No. 7.