Jackson Memorial proved this season that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

The Jaguars may not have won their division, but that didn’t stop them from unseating Red Bank Catholic as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference to end the Caseys’ three-year reign atop the rankings. Jackson finished the season 11-1 after capturing its first Central Jersey Group IV title since 2005. In their final regular-season game, the Jaguars ended RBC’s 40-game winning streak against Shore Conference competition by winning a 33-27 overtime thriller on their home field.

Jackson Memorial ended the season as the Central Jersey Group IV champions to take the final No. 1 ranking in the Shore Conference, and the Jaguars also finished ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 1 among public schools. (Photo by Scott Stump)

They also emphatically avenged their lone loss of the season by beating Class A South champion Brick 44-0 in the sectional semifinals. The Jaguars not only finished atop the Shore, but also have finished the season ranked No. 2 in the state in most state-wide rankings while also finishing as the No. 1 public school team in New Jersey this fall. Despite losing a quality senior class from an eight-win team a year ago, the Jaguars more than reloaded to come roaring to the front of the pack after being under the radar in the preseason.

With a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, sophomore Mike Gawlik and junior Vinny Lee, returning along with junior wide receiver/defensive back Kyle Johnson, junior kicker Jared Calhoun and a host of other talent, the Jaguars look to once again be right in the mix in 2015.

It was a banner season overall for the Shore Conference with a record six state champions, with five of them making the final Top 10 in one of the most competitive conferences in New Jersey.

Final Shore Sports Network Top 10

1. Jackson Memorial (11-1).

The Jaguars won their first Central Jersey Group IV title since 2005 and their fourth state title in history with a 21-18 win over No. 5 Middletown South under the guidance of Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year Walt Krystopik. They also boast a 33-27 win over No. 2 Red Bank Catholic and a 44-0 win over No. 6 Brick for an impressive resume that makes them the first public school team to finish No. 1 in the Shore since an undefeated Lacey squad in 2010. They also set a school record for points with 423 for the season and had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in history. They lose a talented senior class filled with All-Shore selections but with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers returning in Vinny Lee and Mike Gawlik, they showed this season they have the ability to reload for another run.

2. Red Bank Catholic (11-1).

The Caseys may have lost their perch at the top, but they will gladly trade that for the fact that they brought home their first state championship since 1976. They made a dominating run to the Non-Public Group III title under coach Jim Portela, blasting Bishop Eustace 62-7, routing three-time defending champion St. Joseph’s-Montvale 44-14 and then taking care of Delbarton 45-20 in the final. They also picked up lop-sided wins over No. 3 Manalapan, No. 7 Neptune, and No. 9 Long Branch and won Class B North for their fifth straight division title. RBC won a school-record 11 games and set the single-season school record for points scored with 543 to lead the Shore Conference. They graduate another outstanding senior class led by Shore Sports Network Defensive Player of the Year Jamie Gordinier, but with junior quarterback Eddie Hahn, junior running back/linebacker Dylan Murphy, junior two-way lineman Liam Smith and plenty more talent returning, they once again should be among the best in the Shore and the state in 2015.

3. Manalapan (11-1).

The Braves made history under coach Ed Gurrieri by capturing their first state title when they knocked off previously undefeated South Brunswick 21-7 to claim the Central Jersey Group V crown in their fourth straight trip to the state finals. They tied the school record for wins with their third straight 11-win season and also won their fifth straight division title. They graduate a tremendous senior class led by first-team All-Shore picks Kyle Mullen, Imamu Mayfield, Mike Caggiano, and Dan Debner, but have proven they are immune to graduation losses with their run over the past few years. 

4. St. John Vianney (10-1).

The Lancers had their best season since the early 1980s in their first year under head coach Mark Ciccotelli, taking home the Class A Central title for their first division crown since 1982 and going undefeated against Shore Conference competition. They also won their first state playoff game since 1981 before falling to Delbarton in the Non-Public Group III semifinals. The Lancers had wins over No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven, the Central Jersey Group II champion, as well as Central Jersey Group III champion Matawan and South Jersey Group III semifinalist Central, which was the Class B South co-champion. Their explosive offense averaged 42 points per game, second in the Shore Conference, and returns several of its key players next season, led by first-team All-Shore selection Anthony Brown, a junior quarterback. Wide receiver/cornerback Khalil Haskins, fullback/linebacker Calvin Beaty, lineman Micah Clark, wideout/defensive back Jeff Sheard, linebacker Tyler Tedeschi, and kicker Joe Rice all return next season to form what should once again be one of the Shore’s best teams. 

5. Middletown South (9-3).

The Eagles reached their 11th state final in the past 14 years under coach Steve Antonucci and gave No. 1 Jackson Memorial a battle before falling 21-18 for their fifth straight loss in a state championship game. Their only losses were to No. 3 Manalapan, Central Jersey Group V finalist South Brunswick, and the Jaguars, and they had two wins over No. 7 Neptune. With a loaded junior class led by the Rogers twins, Dylan and Cole, as well as quarterback/kicker Matt Mosquera, as well as a stellar sophomore class led by linebacker James McCarthy, this team has a ton of firepower returning to finally get over the hump and bring home its first state title since 2006 next season.

6. Brick (9-2).

The Green Dragons won their first division title since 2008 under coach Rob Dahl by claiming the Class A South crown and handing No. 1 Jackson Memorial its only loss of the season with a 30-24 overtime victory. Their two losses were a 44-0 loss to Jackson in the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals and a regular-season loss to Wall. They graduate a senior class headlined by quarterback Carmen Sclafani that made up nearly all of their starting lineup, so they will have a ton of production to replace next season to try to stay in the hunt in Class A South.

7. Neptune (8-3).

The Scarlet Fliers reached the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals in their first season under head coach Rodney Taylor before falling to Middletown South. Two of their three losses were to the Eagles and the other one was to No. 2 Red Bank Catholic. Their signature win was a 27-0 shutout of No. 9 Long Branch in which they held record-setting Long Branch senior tailback Dahmiere Willis to 17 yards rushing. They also had a 21-0 shutout of South Jersey Group V semifinalist Toms River North. Neptune graduates an outstanding class featuring the likes of Royal Moore, Oshane Curate, Andrew Holland-Samuels and Jaree Parrish, so there will be a lot for them to have to replace next fall.

8. Shore Regional (11-1).

The Blue Devils turned in one of their best seasons in their history under coach Mark Costantino as they marched to their first Central Jersey Group I title since 2010 and the sixth in their history after reaching the finals for the third straight year. They also captured their second straight Class B Central title thanks to the stingiest defense in the Shore, which allowed a conference-low 61 total points. They have a win over No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven, and their only loss was to state finalist Dunellen while playing without two of their top players. While they graduate a strong senior class led by linebacker James Bedell and running back/defensive back Mike Moore, they return standout junior fullback/linebacker Doug Goldsmith as well as junior running back Tyreek McCain and others to gear up for another run.

9. Long Branch (8-3).

The story of the season for the Green Wave was senior tailback Dahmiere Willis, who earned Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year honors after rushing for a Shore Conference-record 2,589 yards, the second-highest total in state history. Long Branch reached the Central Jersey Group III semifinals before falling to Carteret, a team it beat 31-6 earlier in the season. Their three losses were to Carteret, No. 7 Neptune and No. 2 RBC. The Green Wave also had a win over Central Jersey Group III champion Matawan in which Willis racked up a single-game school-record 370 yards rushing, and they beat Central Jersey Group II champion Rumson-Fair Haven. Long Branch loses a tremendous senior class led by Willis, linebacker Hunter Baillie, tight end/defensive end John Mimes, and cornerback Dave Colbert, but do return three junior starters on the offensive line and some promising skill talent.

10. Rumson-Fair Haven (9-3)

The Bulldogs won their second straight Central Jersey Group II title in two years under coach Bryan Batchler, blanking Delaware Valley 21-0 in another defensive gem in the finals. They also had a 31-10 regular-season win over Central Jersey Group III champion Matawan. Their losses were to No. 4 St. John Vianney, No. 8 Shore and No. 9 Long Branch, two of which came with star tailback Charlie Volker out of the lineup with an ankle injury. While Volker moves on to continue his career at Princeton and the Bulldogs lose some other solid seniors, their sophomore class is loaded, led by quarterback Mike O’Connor and linebacker Mike Ruane. They should be a legitimate threat to make it three straight state titles in 2015.