What to Watch For: Thanksgiving Games
For all but seven teams in the Shore Conference, the season is already over or it will wrap up by Thanksgiving Day, highlighted by some of the Shore's oldest rivalries.
With more teams moving their rivalry games to earlier in the season or getting rid of them altogether, the 10 games between Wednesday and Thursday represent the fewest amount of Thanksgiving games in Shore history. Still, there are plenty of subplots and things to watch as the seniors from these teams get one more chance to strap it up for their high school team.
Then it will be on to the NJSIAA finals, where Manalapan, Jackson Memorial, Middletown South, Matawan, Rumson-Fair Haven, Shore Regional and Red Bank Catholic will all try to bring home titles.
Here's what to watch for on Turkey Day. Also, we wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all the Shore Conference football fans, coaches, parents and players out there and want to say thanks for all your support of Shore Sports Network this season.
A New Rivalry is Born
With Rumson-Fair Haven having ended its 61-year Thanksgiving rivalry with Red Bank Catholic after losing 11 straight to the Caseys through last year, the Bulldogs start a new one on Wednesday night against Shore Regional, their bitter rival in every other sport.
It starts with a bang in that both teams are state finalists, as Rumson is trying to win its second straight Central Jersey Group II title, while Shore will play in its third straight Central Jersey Group I final. The last time the two played was just last year, with Rumson winning 13-6. The Bulldogs (8-2) have won three straight against the Blue Devils (9-1), whose last win over Rumson came in 2008.
The main question is whether having both teams playing in finals a week later will result in them going at less than full power on Wednesday night. Rumson's top player, senior tailback Charlie Volker, has missed three games this season with a nagging high ankle sprain, while one of Shore's top players, junior fullback/linebacker Doug Goldsmith, has also battled an ankle injury. Those two may end up seeing less or no action in order to preserve them for next week with a state championship on the line.
Both teams feature strong run defenses that will battle for supremacy against two standout running attacks. With a wintry mix of slush expected to be falling during the game, this should be a slugfest on the ground between two physical teams. Shore has other solid backs in senior Mike Moore and junior Tyreek McCain, while Rumson has another explosive running threat in sophomore quarterback Mike O'Connor. The only other thing this game needs is a creative name, like maybe the Devil Dawg Bowl or something.
The random coincidence of this new game is that for the past few years, Rumson's game against RBC often pit a Bulldogs team playing with an eye on the state finals the following week against a Caseys squad that had lost in the semifinals and was looking to finish the season on a high note. Now, in the first year since the change, RBC also has a game to look forward to after reaching its first state final since 1980. The Caseys don't have a Thanksgiving game, so they can rest up and throw all their energy into beating Delbarton at MetLife Stadium at 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 for their first state title since 1976.
Willis Gunning for Shore Conference Record
Long Branch is coming off a heartbreaking Central Jersey Group III semifinal loss to Carteret in which it had the ball one foot away from the end zone with under a minute to go only to be stopped in a 21-17 loss, but the Green Wave can end on a high note with a potential milestone on Thanksgiving.
Senior running back Dahmiere Willis enters the game with 2,295 yards rushing this season. The Shore Conference single-season record is 2,544 set by Pinelands' Matt McLain in 2010. Willis has had seven games of 200-plus yards this year, including a pair of 300-yard games. Considering Willis has averaged 25 carries per game this year, you can bet they will feed him all day to try to get him the 250 yards he needs to break the record.
Former Pinelands offensive coordinator John Tierney, who is now an assistant at Lacey, likes to remind me that McLain achieved his feat in 10 games, so maybe we will have to go with the Roger Maris asterisk if Willis beats that number in 11 games.
Certainly the Red Bank defense would love nothing more than to stop him short of his quest, so it should be another hard-fought battle between two old rivals for the Ty Lewis Trophy, named after the late Red Bank coach who was a mentor for Long Branch head coach Dan George, who was an assistant at Red Bank in the 1990s.
Old Rivalries Renew
Thursday will mark the 95th meeting between Toms River South and Lakewood on Thanksgiving in the Shore's oldest rivalry. The Indians (4-5) are trying to end a disappointing season in which they missed the playoffs by finishing on a high note against their old rivals to conclude some brilliant careers, including that of Toms River South senior quarterback Tymere Berry and running back Khaleel Greene. The Piners (4-5) are also looking to finish strong after making a second straight playoff appearance this fall, and also have some great seniors wrapping up their careers, including Temple-bound quarterback Chapelle Cook and tight end/defensive end Datrell Reed.
Neptune (7-3) will look to cap a successful first season under coach Rodney Taylor that includes a playoff win when it hosts Asbury Park (2-7).
Middletown South (8-2) will look to continue its dominance of Middletown North (6-3), which has not beaten the Eagles since 2000 in their annual game. Fans are also encouraged to bring toys as part of a collection drive for Toys for Tots at the game, so help out some needy kids this year while watching your Lions or Eagles square off.
Manasquan (3-6) and Wall (2-7) face off at Vic Kubu Warrior Field in what is usually the Thanksgiving game that draws the biggest crowd. You can listen to the action live on 1160/1310 a.m. and streaming right here on our site.
More to watch for:
--Barnegat can clinch a tie for its second straight Class B South title and its third in four years with a win over Pinelands on Wednesday night. A senior class featuring numerous three-year starters will wrap up a strong three-year run for the Bengals, while Pinelands looks to build on the dramatic improvement it showed this year.
--After playing all of its games on the road this season due to field renovations, Central (7-3) will finally get a home game when it christens its gleaming new athletic complex and turf field with its annual game against Southern. The Golden Eagles have already won their first division title and first playoff game since 1994. Sophomore running back Mike Bickford enters the game with 1,879 yards rushing, which is in striking distance of the school record of 2,050 yards set by Kalyph Hardy in 2011. No sophomore has ever run for 2,000 yards in Shore Conference history.
Southern (5-4) will have something to say about that, as it has had the upper hand in this rivalry since it renewed in 2012, winning both games. This is an interesting game to compare the strength of divisions, as Central is the Class B South champion, while Southern finished fifth in a rugged Class A South.
--Raritan (4-5) leads the "Battle of the Border" series with Holmdel 4-2, but the Hornets have won the last two, so the Rockets will look to end a resurgent season in which they made their first state playoff appearance since 2009 by beating the visiting Hornets (2-7).
--Ocean (4-6) leads the all-time series with Monmouth Regional, 17-2, and looks to finish off a season in which it made an underdog run to its second straight Central Jersey Group III semifinal. These games have been wild the last two years, with Monmouth taking the lead against a 10-win Ocean team last year before a late rally by the Spartans, and Ocean winning 15-13 on a game-winning safety in 2012.