The Fifth Down: Week Two
Two teams have made their one-win seasons of a year ago seem like distant memories before Week Three even gets underway.
Red Bank Regional and Point Boro are each off to 2-0 starts after winning a combined two games last year, making each of them darkhorses in their respective divisional races.
The Bucs are off to their first 2-0 start since the days of star running back Eric McCoo in 1997, and a big reason is an offense that is significantly more explosive than last year. Red Bank routed Colts Neck 38-6 on Saturday for its highest point total since 2011. The Bucs averaged 11.5 points per game last year but have averaged 29.5 in their first two games this season.
"I definitely think we have some very explosive players,'' head coach Nick Giglio said. "I also like to think we have the makings of an offensive line that we haven't had in years past.That's the real key to it all."
Junior Jack Navitsky has stabilized a quarterback position that had been an Achilles' heel in recent seasons because of injuries or rotating multiple players at that spot.
"Jack takes on a leadership role, a calming role, and he also works as hard as anyone,'' Giglio said. "That's in addition to all the things he can do football-wise."
The Bucs also have good balance in their shotgun Wing-T offense, with junior wideout Sadiq Palmer as a home run threat in the passing game and a group of solid running backs. Penn State, Ohio State and Rutgers have requested film from Palmer's first four games this season, according to Giglio. Also a standout guard on Red Bank's basketball team, Palmer is being looked at as a receiver and a safety.
"He is maturing at more of what we thought he could be physically and mentally
as a safety and a receiver,'' Giglio said.
Palmer had an 80-yard touchdown catch against Colts Neck, while the Bucs rolled up 255 yards on the ground behind the tandem of Trevor Riley and Alim Godsey. Riley can get the hard yards between the tackles, while Godsey, who has an 87-yard touchdown run under his belt already this season, is a breakaway threat.
Riley is finally healthy after being banged up all of last season, while Godsey has the confidence from a full year of varsity action. Senior Jimmy Ferrogine also has been a strong performer as a blocking back and versatile player. Junior left tackle Ricky Wild leads a much-improved group up front.
"I also think the coaching staff did a great job in the offseason of pinpointing what things we're good at with our personnel,'' Giglio said. "We're able to spread the field out as much as possible."
A 21-14 win over Wall in the season opener was not only historic in that it was Red Bank's first home win under the lights in history, but it also was crucial to their confidence.
"Being able to have a fresh start and accomplish a goal at the same time was big,'' Giglio said.
The enthusiasm is now palpable in the school, as evidenced by the "Buc Deck" student section that has grown by the game.
"When we went to our away game at Colts Neck, we had a tremendous following in the stands and fence line,'' Giglio said. "The community has been terrific."
After a bye this week, Red Bank faces Neptune, which it has beaten two straight times, in a key Class B North game.
While Red Bank has not had a winning season since going 10-2 and reaching the Central Jersey Group III final in 2003, Point Boro is trying to make last year look like a blip on the radar amid its usual state playoff appearances.
"We played a ton of sophomores and juniors last year, so just having the kids be a year older has helped because they matured a lot,'' said head coach Sean Henry. "They're using last year as a motivator. That was terrible last year. We did stuff to change the culture back."
The Panthers brought in some links to their recent successful past, which included an undefeated season in 2005 and three straight seasons of seven or more wins from 2006-08. Former stars Shane O'Connor, Tom Orrok and Ty Hughes all have joined the staff.
"That's probably been one of, if not the biggest, thing,'' Henry said. "A lot of the kids on the team were in middle school when those guys were winning here, and they all had good college careers, so it shows these kids what can be done here."
The primary improvement shown thus far is on defense, where the Panthers have only allowed nine points combined in two games after giving up 27.8 points per game last year.
"This is the second year of running the 3-3-5 stack on defense, so the kids are not having to think as much, and they can just react,'' Henry said. "We've also been a lot more physical defensively."
Senior Jack Fitzsimmons, who is also the starting quarterback, anchors the defense at middle linebacker, and junior Gene Franceschini has been a force at the hybrid "snake" position as a safety/linebacker, with Devin Connelly leading the secondary at cornerback.
"We've been getting five or six guys to the ball at all times,'' Henry said. "Everyone has stepped up at different points."
The Panthers are back to their grinding, flexbone rushing attack after returning to their bread-and-butter offense late last season following some early-season changes.
"We tinkered with the playbook at the beginning last year and it was not working, so we got back to the flexbone and it has carried over,'' Henry said.
Eagles are Golden
Central had the most eye-opening victory of Week Two with a 21-15 upset of defending Class B South champion Barnegat that declared the division race to be wide open. Central avoided the turnover issues and stalled drives in the red zone that plagued it in a season-opening loss to Lakewood and came up with some big turnovers of its own like Jordan Hardy recovering an onside kick and a late interception by defensive back Matt Aires.
Central was selected as the Jersey Mike's Team of the Week. Read more about the Golden Eagles here.
News and Notes
**Red Bank Catholic senior running back Tommy Spernal has waited his turn until this year to become a regular part of the Caseys' offense, and he has exploded in the early going thanks to his game-breaking speed. He is averaging a crazy 13.4 yards per carry through three games in leading the team with 27 carries for 361 yards. His latest gem was a 171-yard, 3-touchdown effort on only six carries in a 42-10 win over St. Joseph's-Metuchen.
**Not trying to jinx him here, just passing along an impressive stat. Middletown South junior Matt Mosquera, now in his second year as the team's starting kicker, has never missed an extra point in his varsity career in 54 tries. He went 40-for-40 last year and this season is 14-for-14. He also kicked five field goals last year and already has three this season after booting two in a 41-0 win over Neptune. This year might be more impressive because he is also the team's starting quarterback, so he does not focus solely on kicking.
**St. John Vianney is off to its first 2-0 start since 1998 under new coach Mark Ciccotelli and looks like a serious contender for its first division title since 1982. The Lancers' showdown with Rumson-Fair Haven on the road next week on Oct. 2 could potentially be a de facto Class A Central championship game, although there is still a long way to go after that one. Junior Anthony Brown, who has thrown for 194 and 255 yards in his first two games, could end up leading the Shore Conference in passing at the rate he is producing.
**Like Mosquera, Shore Regional senior Jake Monteiro has taken on a much bigger role this season after being a standout kicker for the Blue Devils since his sophomore year. He also now plays in the secondary, and he had one of the team's three interceptions in a 10-0 win over Spotswood. Monteiro has also taken over the punting duties that were done by now-graduated quarterback Matt Muh last season, and he bombed a 66-yard punt in the win over the Chargers.
**Manasquan senior James McAlary looks to have stepped into the role vacated by graduated 1,000-yard rusher Joe Murphy nicely, as McAlary ran for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 15-6 win over Monmouth for the Warriors' first win.
**Even though Holmdel is off to an 0-2 start, junior Pete Savrides has been one of the Shore Conference's most productive wideouts thus far with five touchdown catches in two games.
**Trying to pass late Manasquan and Middletown North legend Vic Kubu for second all time in wins in Shore Conference history has been a tough obstacle for Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo, who is tied with Kubu at 263 wins. The Lions have now lost seven straight dating back to last season, which may be the longest such streak of Vircillo's Hall of Fame 34-year career as the only coach in Lacey history.
**Toms River South senior defensive back Khaleel Greene nearly made it two straight years that a Shore Conference player registered the rare feat of four interceptions in one game. He had three in the first half, including one he took 82 yards to the house, in a win over Toms River East, and he got his hands on a fourth pass but couldn't hold on. Current Yale freshman Noah Yates picked off four passes for Point Beach in a win over Keansburg last year.
**In their two games between this year and last year, Mater Dei Prep and Dunellen have split the two victories and combined for 172 points. The Seraphs lost 50-38 this year after winning 49-35 last season.
**While Pinelands is off to an 0-3 start, the Wildcats are clearly improved under second-year coach Brian Wilkinson. They have lost all three games by a combined 21 points, so they have been right in every game. The change to a multiple-wing running attack also has been noticeable. Last year, they rushed for 796 yards in 10 games. Through three games this season, they have already run for 536, led by 214 by Jaylin Roman. Defensively, they have not allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points after giving up 36.9 points per game in going 1-9 last year.
**Lakewood has not won a division title since 2000 but is in a good spot to make a run at the Class B South crown this year. Defending champion Barnegat already has a loss to the Central team that the Piners beat in the season opener. They have three division games coming up in which they will be favored, so if they can navigate that stretch, a Halloween game against Barnegat followed by a game against a Point Boro team that beat them last year will be the defining part of their regular season.
*Running back Andrew Casten (Red Bank Catholic) rolled up a career-high 153 yards rushing and three touchdowns in Harvard's 41-18 win over Holy Cross in the season opener. Wide receiver Anthony Firkser (Manalapan) added four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.
**Looking up that Red Bank hasn't started 2-0 since the Eric McCoo era in 1997 brought up the memory of this play below. I will be away this weekend in Happy Valley for the Penn State-Northwestern grudge match with my younger brother, who is a graduate of Penn State, where McCoo played running back in the late 1990s. The last time I was with my brother at a game between our alma maters, McCoo ran wild on Northwestern in a 41-10 romp by the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium in 1998. This play was when it officially got ridiculous. McCoo fumbled it forward and it skipped right back to him as he kept running for a touchdown.
**For any Shore Conference teams with kicking woes, this strategy used by a South Dakota high school team could be something new to try on extra points.
**Finally, if you haven't watched it yet, the inspirational postgame speech of Texas high school standout Apollos Hester is in the interview pantheon.