The Jeep Store/Shore Sports Network Football Top 10 for Nov. 2
I've thought a lot about this edition of The Jeep Store/Shore Sports Network Top 10, probably more than I've ever had to in my 17 years covering Shore Conference football. Ever since Friday night's games concluded, I knew this was going to be difficult.
I crunched some numbers, went through all the scenarios, garnered several outside opinions, and more. It started to become a bit existential, which is to say maybe I was overthinking things. My approach for ranking teams in all the sports I cover comes down to who is currently playing the best. Head-to-head results obviously play a major part in that, but sometimes they can't make the decision completely. That is the case in separating Donovan Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, and Red Bank Catholic.
Those three are clearly the top three teams in the Shore Conference. The order isn't nearly as easy to figure out. They've all defeated each other, so the head-to-head argument goes out the window. Then you start looking at things like point differential, power points, strength of schedule, etc., and it gets even more muddled. Sometimes it comes down to simply trusting your judgment and your eyes.
Heading into Week 10, the team playing the best football in the Shore Conference is Donovan Catholic, which is the new No. 1 team in the SSN Top 10 entering the NJSIAA state playoffs. The Griffins took down RBC, 28-7 in Week 9, to hand the Caseys their first loss and it was a more-or-less dominant victory over a team that looked it may not lose at all this season.
The deciding factors were how well the Griffins have looked over the last month and the most recent results between the three teams. Rumson-Fair Haven does own a 14-0 win over Donovan Catholic from Week 2, but in Week 7, RBC won 21-14 over Rumson and then last week Donovan Catholic beat RBC by three touchdowns.
Judging by my Twitter mentions and my email inbox, there are some people who believe Donovan Catholic should be disqualified from being the No. 1 team in the Shore because the Griffins had to forfeit three wins for the use of an ineligible player. I've made my opinion clear on that, but here goes again.
Donovan's use of an ineligible player was explained as an administrative error, and after researching the facts I believe that is clearly what it is. The player who saw the field erroneously had zero impact on any of Donovan's first four games, so while a lot of people are dying on the hill that the Griffins cheated and should continue to be punished, I'm sorry but I just don't agree with you. This wasn't a team knowingly playing a star player who contributed to victories (which has happened in the past in the Shore). That would be a different story completely.
The Griffins record is officially 5-4 but they are 8-1 on the field. The three games they forfeited were wins of 54-14, 34-13, and 35-0. I am not going to further punish the players, who did nothing wrong and have been excellent on the field.
It's important to remind everyone that this is NOT the final Top 10. Even though teams go in separate directions for the postseason and it's not an apples-to-apples comparison, the playoffs absolutely matter. The team that finishes No. 1 in the final Top 10 will be the one with the best overall body of the work, the team that has the best overall season and the team we feel is No. 1 based on everything from September to December. That could very well be Donovan Catholic, but it could certainly still be Rumson or RBC. Heck, another team could go on a championship run and change the entire narrative. Stranger things have happened.
While the matter of who is No. 1 is the big topic, there is also a new team in the Top 10 plus some movement in the bottom half. The playoffs are here with a total of 25 Shore Conference teams having qualified. There is still a lot of football to be played.
1. Donovan Catholic (*5-4, 8-1 on the field). Last week: No. 3
Senior running back Nunes Bukula IV ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, including a 52-yard, game-icing touchdown run with 3:03 left in the game, as the Griffins went into Count Basie Field and dealt Red Bank Catholic a 28-7 defeat to run their on-field winning streak to seven games and take over as the No. 1 team in the Shore. Bukula also had a 7-yard touchdown run, senior quarterback Jalin Butler ran for 75 yards and a touchdown and senior wide receiver Kyree Drake ran for a 13-yard touchdown. The defense was outstanding in holding a high-octane RBC offense off the board until late in the fourth quarter. Donovan now embarks on its playoff quest as the No. 8 seed in the Non-Public A bracket. If the Griffins win their first game they will face top-seeded and undefeated Bergen Catholic, which is the No. 1 team in New Jersey, in the second round Next game: Friday vs. Notre Dame (4-4) in the Non-Public A first round.
2. Red Bank Catholic (8-1). Last week: No. 1
Senior quarterback Alex Brown threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Robert Stolfa but that was the only score the Caseys could muster in a 28-7 loss to Donovan Catholic that dropped them from the ranks of the unbeaten and from the top spot in the Top 10. RBC drops just one spot to No. 2 because of their recent head-to-head victory over Rumson-Fair Haven, however. The Caseys were seeded No. 2 in the Non-Public B playoffs. Next game: Friday, Nov. 12 vs. Morris Catholic (4-5) in the Non-Public B quarterfinals.
3. Rumson-Fair Haven (7-1). Last week: No. 2
It does look like Rumson got short-strawed here, dropping one spot to No. 3 after a 43-6 demolition of Long Branch, which was ranked No. 6 and undefeated heading into the game. But in keeping consistent with using the most recent results to sort through the muck, Rumson's Week 7 loss to RBC has them coming in behind the Caseys this week. Senior running back Geoff Schroeder rushed for a career-high 262 yards and four touchdowns, senior quarterback Coiln Kennedy ran for a touchdown, and senior running back Dan Garvey also ran for a touchdown. No matter their ranking here, the Bulldogs are a superb team who can still make their case for No. 1 in the final Top 10. They are the top seed in the Central Jersey Group 3 bracket and will begin their journey for sectional title No. 7 on Friday night at Borden Stadium. Next game: Friday vs. Oakcrest (3-5) in the Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals.
4. Middletown South (6-1). Last week: No. 4
Senior running back Dan Primiano ran for 193 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries while senior defensive end Jack Latore and sophomore linebacker Colin Gallagher led a suffocating defensive effort as the Eagles blanked Lacey, 34-0, to improve to 6-1. Latore had 11 tackles with three tackles for loss and half a sack, and Gallagher made eight tackles with 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. Sopohmore running back Donovan Summey added 89 yard rushing and two touchdowns on eight carries and senior quarterback Tom Schork ran for 64 yards on four carries. Defensive backs Tyler Carey and Jake Czwakiel each had interceptions. Middletown South is the No. 2 seed in the North 2, Group 4 bracket. The Eagles' 10 sectional titles are the second-most in Shore Conference history. Next game: Friday vs. North Hunterdon (5-4) in the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals.
5. Wall (5-3). Last week: No. 5
The Crimson Knights scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to run past St. John Vianney, 34-13, for their third straight win entering the playoffs. Senior quarterback Jake Davis ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and senior running back Matt Dollive ran for 98 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Senior wide receiver Jackson Coan added a touchdown run. Senior linebacker Charlie Sasso led the defensive effort with 13 total tackles, a tackle for loss, and a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown. It has been an up and down season for Wall but the opportunity is in front of them to make it another special year. They are seeded second in the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs. Next game: Friday vs. Hopewell Valley (5-3) in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals.
6. Manalapan (6-2). Last week: No. 7
The Braves move up one spot after a 28-0 win over Central Regional. Junior wide receiver/defensive back Alex Dille caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Mike Heckel and also returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown. Senior running back Elijah Marquez had two touchdown runs, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter. After a tough 2020 season, Manalapan has bounced back as a championship contender once again. The Braves are the No. 2 seed in the South Jersey Group 5 bracket. Next game: Friday vs. Edison (6-3) in the South Jersey Group 5 quarterfinals.
7. Manasquan (6-2). Last week: No. 9
The Warriors move up two spots in the rankings thanks to a 28-0 win over Asbury Park. Junior quarterback Brett Patten threw touchdown passes to Matt O'Donnell and Patrick Woodford and also ran for 70 yards and a touchdown. Junior running back Jhamier Howard ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and Woodford ran for 72 yards on 12 carries. The path will not be easy but Manasquan will take the field this Saturday to start its pursuit of state title No. 13. Next game: Saturday vs. Holmdel (3-5) in the Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals.
8. Point Boro (7-1). Last week: No. 10
Sophomore fullback Jake Croce ran for 186 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and made 11 tackles on defense as the Panthers defeated Middletown North, 20-12, for a solid road win that has them jumping up two spots this week. Senior quarterback Charlie Vitale and junior fullback Tyler Gordon also had touchdown runs while sophomore running back Matt Oliphant ran for 43 yards and also had a critical 77-yard punt down to the Middletown North 1-yard line late in the game. Sophomore nose guard Charlie Davison totaled a team-high 14 tackles and Gordon added 12 to lead the defense. Point Boro is the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group 2 bracket. Next game: Friday vs. Monmouth Regional (6-3) in the South Jersey Group 2 quarterfinals.
9. Long Branch (6-1). Last week: No. 6
A blocked punt touchdown by Shamar Williams accounted for Long Branch's only points as the Green Wave tumble three spots after a lopsided 43-6 loss to Rumson-Fair Haven. Long Branch has to regroup quickly as it prepares to face a familiar foe in the first round of the playoffs. Next game: Saturday vs. Freehold (5-4) in the South Jersey Group 4 quarterfinals.
10. Toms River North (5-3). Last week: not ranked
The Mariners enter the rankings after a 17-0 shutout of Southern Regional, which was ranked No. 8 last week. Sophomore quarterback Micah Ford continued his excellent season with 190 yards rushing and a touchdown on 24 carries plus over 100 yards passing and a touchdown. Sophomore wide receiver Tareq Council caught three passes for 105 yards and a touchdown and the defense held Southern standout running back Jaiden Brown to just 59 yards rushing. The Mariners are a very young team that has steadily improved this season and they will try to ride that momentum into the playoffs. Next game: Friday vs. East Brunswick (8-1) in the South Jersey Group 5 quarterfinals.
Dropped out: Southern (No. 8 last week)
Keep an eye on:
Middletown North (5-3)
Colts Neck (5-3)