The Shore Football Report: 2023 Midseason Report
It feels like just yesterday we were pumping out previews and buzzing about scrimmages, and now we’re halfway through the regular season of Shore Conference football.
With the home stretch coming up and division titles, playoff berths and postseason seeds about to be determined, it’s time to take stock of what has gone down so far and what to expect as the spotlight and stakes ratchet up in the next month.
I broke it down into multiple categories looking at the top candidates for major awards, the best storylines and milestones, the big games to watch for in the next few weeks, and of course, the SSN All-Name Team.
Offensive Player of the Year
Micah Ford, Sr., QB, Toms River North
Connor Dietz, Sr., QB, Brick Memorial
Emanuel Ross, Sr., WR, Red Bank Catholic
Matt Oliphant, Sr., QB, and Jake Croce, Sr., RB, Point Boro
Najee Calhoun, So., RB, and Michael Thomas III, Jr., WR, Donovan Catholic
Chris Scully, Sr., RB, Colts Neck
Nazir Treadwell, Sr., QB, Keyport
Josh Love, Sr., RB, Manchester
Dark horses: Owen O’Toole, Jr., QB, Rumson-FH; Jonah Glenn, So., RB, Jackson Mem.; Nick Cardone, Sr., QB, Freehold Twp.; Mike Frawley, Sr., WR, Pinelands.
Breakdown: Micah Ford, the reigning Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year, was a frontrunner but his recent injury opens the door for a free-for-all. Ford has missed one game and may miss two or three more after amassing more than 1,000 yards of offense in the Mariners’ first four games. However, it’s not over for him yet, because if he returns and Toms River North storms to a second straight NJSIAA Group 5 title, he will leave a lasting impression at the most important time of the year.
Dietz is on track for a potential 2,000-yard rushing season as a quarterback, which is some rare territory in Shore Conference history. He already owns almost every Brick Memorial school record, so it’s really going to be his performance in the playoffs against high-profile teams that will be his opportunity to make it to the front of the pack.
Donovan Catholic and Point Boro have multiple electric playmakers, which could split the vote. Ross’ numbers aren’t totally crazy for RBC because the Caseys are a run-first team, but he is a devastating weapon who finds the end zone about one of every five times he touches the ball. When RBC quarterback Frankie Williams puts up a fade pass to the end zone to Ross, opposing fan bases hold their breath and pray.
Scully, Treadwell and Love are guys who put up big numbers every week, but their candidacies mainly depend on how they do against the best teams on their schedule. Among the darkhorses, O’Toole has been up and down against a rugged schedule, but he can roar back into the picture this week when the Bulldogs take on unbeaten Point Boro. Glenn also keeps piling up numbers, and if the Jaguars keep winning, his name will rise up the list.
Defensive Player of the Year
Zaier Day, Sr., DL, Donovan Catholic
Davin Brewton, Sr., LB, Red Bank Catholic
Colin Gallagher, Sr., LB, Middletown South
Jackson Whitacre, Sr., DL, Shore Regional
Jeremiah Pruitt, Sr., LB/S, Toms River North
Matt Cassidy, Sr., LB, Marlboro
Jake Toye, Sr., LB, Brick
Shaun Hubbard, Sr., DE, Jackson Memorial
Dark horses: Mike Consolazio, Sr., LB, Marlboro; Dan Kikta, Sr., DE, Monmouth; Cooper Bunnell, Sr., DL, Rumson-FH; Cole Toddings, Jr., LB, Barnegat.
Breakdown: Right now, I would say Brewton and Day are the front-runners, but there's a long way to go. Thankfully, we have plenty of big games coming up to start separating some of these standouts.
Zaier Day has been an unblockable force up front for one of the Shore Conference’s toughest defenses, and he has a signature game on his resume after the No. 1 Griffins stifled one of the state’s most explosive offenses in the win over Toms River North.
Brewton is committed to Pittsburgh for a reason. He has been everywhere with 50-plus tackles and two defensive touchdowns against a high-level schedule. He plays in coverage, rushes the passer and stuffs the run. RBC’s defense has dominated Shore competition, only allowing 13 total points in three games.
Gallagher is the reigning SSN Defensive Player of the Year and has lived up to that billing with double-digit tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.
Shore Regional doesn’t quite get the spotlight of the big American Division teams, but Whitacre is a force. The Delaware recruit sets the edge in the run game and consistently gets after the quarterback for a team that should be in the state title hunt and has a chance to grab a piece of a division title.
Picking one player from Toms River North’s stout defense is not easy, as the Mariners have had a host of talented contributors. I went with Pruitt, who is second on the team in tackles and tackles for a loss and also has two fumble recoveries and a pair of sacks. It’s mainly due to his versatility. He can line up almost anywhere on the field, from edge rusher to linebacker to the secondary, which gives the Mariners plenty of options.
Cassidy is a returning first-team All-Shore player on a Marlboro defense that has only allowed 21 points in four games, but his own teammate is giving him a run for his money. Senior linebacker/edge Mike Consolazio has eight sacks, including a T.J. Watt-level six in one game.
Toye is the leader of another one of the Shore’s top defenses, while Hubbard has nine sacks for a Jaguars team that is only allowing 11 points per game. Brick and Jackson Memorial face off against each other this week, so we’ll see who shines brightest.
Among the darkhorses, Bunnell was a first-team All-Shore talent last year but Rumson’s defense has struggled against top teams. Again, a big game against Point Boro’s explosive triple option attack could get him right back in the mix.
Kikta quietly has 12 TFLs and 4 sacks for a Falcons team that has only allowed 20 points all season. The Liberty Division is a little skewed because many of the offenses in that group have really struggled.
It’s also worth mentioning that Holmdel has only allowed 20 points in four games, but it’s a different defensive star every game. Their stats are very even, so it’s truly been a team defensive effort in the Hornets’ 4-0 start. We’ll see if someone emerges for them as the season goes on.
Coach of the Year
Dan Curcione, Donovan Catholic
Jeff Rainess, Holmdel
John Tierney, Pinelands
Jason Dagato, Marlboro
Jason Glezman, Keyport
Matt Martin, Toms River South
Tommy Farrell, Manchester
Walt Currie, Brick Memorial
Breakdown: Honestly, it’s impossible to do this category at midseason. Almost every year, state titles, playoff surprises and division titles are what usually seals the winner of this accolade. That means coaches like Mike Lange (RBC), Dave Oizerowitz (TR North), Brian Staub (Point Boro), and Vin Mistretta (Jackson Mem.) will be ultimately judged on how they finish in their division and what they accomplish in the state playoffs.
Curcione has the biggest win on the resume after Donovan Catholic halted Toms River North’s 17-game winning streak. Running the table in the American Division is huge for Curcione’s candidacy because it’s so hard to win their state bracket in Non-Public A against the Bergen Catholics of the world.
Rainess has turned a one-win Holmdel team from last year into a 4-0 squad off to its best start in 16 years, and Martin has done a similar job at Toms River South. The Indians are off to a 3-1 start after a one-win season and are right there in the hunt for their first division title in 21 years.
Tierney has unbeaten Pinelands off to its best start in decades with just the second division title in program history and first since 1987 within striking distance. Dagato has kept the Marlboro train rolling for the Mustangs’ best start since 1994 despite graduating a standout senior class.
Glezman has Keyport in the driver’s seat for back-to-back division titles for the first time since the days of Ken Cattouse and J.J. Bedle in 2002-03 despite losing his starting quarterback to transfer. The Red Raiders just beat Farrell and the Hawks, who started 4-0 for the first time in program history and are three wins away from setting a new single-season wins record at Manchester.
Currie has the Mustangs at 5-0 for the first time in 11 years as they shoot for their first division title since 2017 and their first state sectional title since Staub was quarterbacking the Mustangs in 2008.
Biggest surprise teams
Toms River South
Breakdown: Holmdel and Toms River South each only had one win last season and have roared back to become serious contenders for division titles. The Hornets are 4-0 for the first time since 2007 and just became the first public school team to shut out Manasquan at Vic Kubu Warrior Field since Point Boro did it in that same 2007 season.
Toms River South ended a 10-game losing streak and has won three in a row. The Indians are tied for first place with Pinelands in the Liberty Division as they seek their first division crown since the days of the Dillard brothers in 2002.
Monmouth has already jumped from a two-win team in 2022 to a 4-1 start this season under coach Dan Wendel. The Falcons have been all about defense, winning one game 7-6 and another 7-0 and falling 6-0 to Toms River South.
Freehold went winless last year and did not score more than 13 points in any game. The senior-laden Colonials have rebounded under coach Dave Ellis to a 2-2 start that includes a win over first-place Patriot Division team Keyport in which they put up 35 points.
Jonah Glenn, So., RB, Jackson Memorial
Blaise Boland, Jr., LB, Toms River North
Jake Clayton, Fr., RB, Point Boro
Jack Cannon, So., QB, Holmdel
Trey Tallmadge, So., LB, Brick Memorial
Nyzier Matthews, So., DB, Brick Memorial
Mekai Henderson, So., RB; Andrei Mathews, Jr., RB/WR, Keyport
Kurtis Mayer, So., DL, Manchester
Breakdown: First off, apologies to the young offensive linemen of the Shore. I’m sure there are players making an impact but unless we hear that from coaches it’s tough to quantify while watching games. I will look to highlight top offensive linemen in a future column.
Glenn looks like the latest star running back for the Jaguars as he bids for a 1,000-yard season, while Boland has become one of the top playmakers on one of the Shore’s best defenses after replacing his brother in the lineup. Clayton’s big-play ability gives Point Boro optimism for the future despite knowing the Panthers will graduate some superstars off this year’s team, while Cannon has added a passing dimension to the Hornets’ veer running attack that has them off to an unbeaten start.
Matthews has been Mr. Clutch for the Mustangs with a pick-six in a crucial win over Freehold Township and the game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter of a win over Middletown North. Henderson and Matthews have combined with Nazir Treadwell to make Keyport one of the most exciting teams in the Shore thanks to their ability to score from anywhere on the field.
I wouldn't say Tallmadge is really a breakthrough player because honestly he started as a freshman and was a known standout coming into this year, but it's worth mentioning as he has 46 tackles, a pair of sacks and an interception.
Mayer already has piled up eight sacks and four other tackles for a loss as a leader on the Manchester defense.
Fahkir Hercules, Sr., OL/DL Asbury Park
Dirk Hohenkirk, Jr., WR/DB, St. John Vianney
Jack Ironside, Sr., DE, Freehold
Jobby Dekis, Jr., LB/TE, Raritan
Royalty Riley, Jr., WR/DB, Central
Dante Jehn, Sr., LB, Monmouth
Kingston Pinnock, Fr., OL/LB, Neptune
“Gee” Newsome, Sr., WR/DB, Pinelands
Ace Etienne, So., DB, Manasquan
Mert Fat, Jr., K/P, TR East
Brave Haugh, Sr., TE, Marlboro
Jimi Popp, Jr., DB, Brick Memorial
Jabdiel Borges, Sr., WR/DB, Keansburg
Breakdown: Always a favorite category, and the NCAA version is a fun one. First off, Bob Badders and I would like to commend the parents of all these players on a job well done because their names are awesome.
Dante Jehn has an upcoming Disney+ “Star Wars” spinoff as a heroic Jedi master, and “Extraction 3” starring Jack Ironside and Brave Haugh will be streaming soon on Netflix. Jabdiel Borges will be scheming to overthrow the queen in the next season of “House of the Dragon.”
Jobby Dekis is named after Yankees folk hero Joba Chamberlain (that’s actually true compared to the stuff I just made up), while Jimi Popp sounds like he should be a YouTube star with 20 million followers.
Keyport 35, Manchester 33
This was the barnburner we hoped it would be, as Naz Treadwell and Mekai Henderson took turns throwing 60-yard haymakers with Manchester’s Josh Love to hand the Hawks their first loss. When the smoke cleared, Keyport pulled it out thanks to freshman kicker Marshall Colangelo, who made all five of his extra points. It also put Keyport one win away from clinching no worse than a tie for its second straight division title.
Donovan Catholic 21, Toms River North 7
Aesthetically it might not have been the prettiest game, but when you shut down a team that had won 17 in a row and averaged 44 points while doing it, that’s one to remember. Plus, it was tied 7-7 late before Donovan Catholic sophomore running back Najee Calhoun scored twice, including a 59-yard burst that put the game on ice and sent the Griffins’ home crowd into a frenzy. It’s the biggest home win in Donovan Catholic history.
Jackson Memorial 21, Manalapan 13 (OT)
We all know how this one ended. Was it a fumble or a touchdown?
Holmdel 20, St. John Vianney 14 (OT)
Not only did the Hornets win the battle of Holmdel on a pulsating walkoff thanks to a touchdown run by Gary Collyer, it also marked their first win over the Lancers in 13 years.
Manasquan 14, Shore 7
This season-opening slugfest came down to the final minute when Manasquan quarterback Frank Furfaro hit Will Burns for a 21-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left in the game. It also had crucial title implications in the Constitution Division race.
Middletown South 35, Wall 29
This one was a 10 on the Richter scale. The Eagles seemed dead in the water after getting stopped on a two-point conversion in the final minutes with no timeouts remaining. Senior Owen Richter had other ideas when he tipped a pass to himself and took it 43 yards to the house for the game-winning pick-six. Middletown South scored twice in the final 2:44 to pull out the win.
Games to circle coming up
Rumson-FH at Point Boro, Sept. 29
This is a nondivisional game, but it’s huge for power points, rankings and possibly a sneak preview of the Group 2 playoffs. Point Boro enters undefeated with an offense that has lit up every team they’ve played, while Rumson steps outside the American Division. Both of these teams have designs on the overall Group 2 title and could possibly meet again in the postseason, so this may just be Round One.
Pinelands at Toms River South, Oct. 6
Somebody is going to clinch no worse than a tie for their first division title in a looooong time with a victory in this game. Pinelands has only won one division crown in its history, and that was in 1987. Toms River South is seeking its first division title in 21 years. Also, it's worth noting that if Pinelands wins, the Wildcats will still have another tough game against Monmouth (4-1) that they would have to win to have the Liberty Division title all to themselves.
Jackson Mem. at Marlboro, Oct. 7
The winner of this game clinches no worse than a tie for the Freedom Division title. Marlboro has only won one division title in its history, and that was in 1994, while the Jaguars are looking to win back-to-back division crowns. It will be strength on strength, as both teams love to pound the ball with the run game and play shutdown defense.
Red Bank Catholic at Toms River North, Oct. 20
If both teams don’t lose between now and this game, this is a massive American Division showdown. A haul of power points and a top two spot in the SSN Shore 16 will be on the line along with division title implications. If RBC wins, it would most likely set up a winner-take-all game with Donovan Catholic. If Toms River North wins, it gives them a chance to snag a co-championship in the division. Plus, these two teams were in the conversation for No. 1 all of last year but couldn’t settle it on the field because the Mariners were in a different division. Now we get to see it unfold.
Shore at Holmdel, Oct. 20
If Holmdel remains unbeaten in the division heading into this game, the Hornets would clinch no worse than a tie for the Constitution Division crown with a win, one season after going 1-8. Shore Regional is looking to get its piece of the title with a win if the Blue Devils can reach this game with still only one divisional loss.
Brick at Brick Memorial, Oct. 20
An electric crosstown rivalry on the weekend of the playoff cutoff with a division title potentially on the line? Sign me up. Brick Memorial has a chance to clinch no worse than a tie for the Independence Division title two weeks earlier against Freehold. If the Mustangs make it past that game, they have to go through their bitter rival to lock up the division all for themselves. Brick still has a chance to claim a share of the title if it does not lose any more divisional games heading into this showdown. Brick Memorial will be the favorite on paper, but the Green Dragons have owned the Mustangs, going 10-1 against them in the last 11 seasons.
Donovan Catholic at Red Bank Catholic, Oct. 27
This will be kind of strange because the public school playoffs start this weekend, but the biggest game could potentially be this mammoth regular-season showdown. If both teams remain unbeaten against Shore Conference competition, this game is basically for No. 1 in the Shore, depending on what they may do in different state playoff brackets. It also could be for the outright title in the American Division, but that’s only if the two teams survive some other tough divisional games to set this one up. Either way, Count Basie Field will be rocking to end the regular season in style.
Milestones and storylines
Southern coach Chuck Donohue gets his 275th win
The longtime Southern coach is the only coach in state history to lead four different teams to a state sectional final. He reached another milestone in his career when the Rams beat Middletown North last week for his 275th career win. Donohue is now in striking distance of becoming just the third Shore Conference coach in history to reach 300 wins, behind only late Brick legend Warren Wolf (364) and current Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo (309).
Connor Dietz turns Brick Memorial’s record book into his autobiography
The senior quarterback is now the program’s all-time leading rusher and in range of becoming its all-time leading passer. He has a slew of other records that Bob Badders detailed in his story when Dietz set the new rushing mark last week.
April Florie and Holly Lucas make Shore Conference history
It’s been a season of breakthroughs for women in Shore Conference football. Toms River East assistant April Florie is the first female football coach in the conference’s history. Pinelands sophomore Holly Lucas is the first female lineman to play in a varsity game after she saw action in a season-opening win over Point Beach. She is the rare girl who’s not a kicker to play in a Shore Conference game.
Florie and Lucas took a little snapshot of history when they gathered for a photo before Pinelands’ win over Toms River East last week.
Nontraditional powers rise up
If I told you 10 years ago that Pinelands, Holmdel, Marlboro, Manchester and Monmouth would all be in first or second place in their respective divisions and chasing titles in the same season, you would’ve slowly backed away from me before calling in the men in the white coats.
It’s a new day in Shore Conference football, as the nontraditional powers are building foundations in hopes of being regular contenders. The four programs have a combined 11 division titles in history, and seven of them are by Holmdel. Only Marlboro has ever won a state title among the four of them, and that was 29 years ago.
But that’s in the past, and now they are hoping to add some new banners this season. Pinelands, Marlboro and Holmdel are unbeaten, and Monmouth and Manchester are each 4-1.