What to Watch For: Week 1
Since Shore Conference teams began playing games in Week 0, I’ve often referred to the lightly-schedule opening weekend as the appetizer for the full-slate of games in Week 1. It’s hard to do that this year considering the first weekend included a game between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, but the premise remains true. After 10 teams beginning their season last week, the rest of the Shore gets going this week as the journey toward a state championship kicks into full gear.
There will be 42 of the Shore’s 43 schools in action this weekend with only Asbury Park having the dreaded Week 1 bye and (im)patiently to wait until Week 2 to get going. There are some great matchups including a top-10 showdown between St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven, the annual clash between Brick and Brick Memorial and a rivalry renewed with Point Boro hosting Manasquan.
Let’s dive right in with a look at the Week 1 schedule.
A RIVALRY REMAINS
With divisional realignment in 2018 a lot of traditional Shore Conference rivalries have gone by the wayside, at least in terms of them being played within the same division. St. John Vianney vs. Rumson-Fair Haven doesn’t fall directly into that category, but the Lancers and Bulldogs have played one another in the Class A Central division for several years with the game between the programs deciding the division title. Now they’ll meet again in a crucial early-season Colonial Division matchup between ranked teams.
The Colonial Division looks to be the strongest from top to bottom in the Shore, and No. 6 Rumson and No. 2 St. John Vianney are a major reason why. The Lancers entered the season having won 38 straight games against Shore Conference teams, which includes four consecutive division championships. Rumson has been to five consecutive NJSIAA sectional championship games and won four state titles during that run.
The Lancers’ winning streak was snapped last week, however, as top-ranked Red Bank Catholic dealt SJV a 41-14 setback. Now they will try to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time since falling to Manasquan and Colts Neck in Week 4 and Week 5 of the 2013 season.
Plenty of question marks surround SJV heading into its second game. First, it’s unclear whether junior quarterback C.J. Duell will be in uniform. Duell transferred from St. Joseph Prep in Philadelphia and led SJV to the Shore Conference 7-on-7 championship over the summer. He was on the sideline but not in uniform during the game against Red Bank Catholic, and Lancers head coach Joe Martucci offered no comment following the game regarding Duell’s status. Sophomore quarterback Josh East got the start in his place and went 6-of-10 for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Despite getting 154 yards rushing on 23 carries from junior running back Kavon Chambers, a Central Regional transfer, the Lancers’ offense struggled and finished with just 200 yards and one touchdown. Their other touchdown came on defense, so it was a far cry from the powerful SJV offense we’ve seen over the previous four years. This is a largely inexperienced group with just Chambers, senior offensive linemen C.J. Hanson and Paul Liseno and senior tight end Andrew McGimpsey returning as starters, so some early struggles are not shocking. The problem for SJV is that the schedule doesn’t give them a chance to ease into the season.
Rumson enters the season with one of the top defenses in the Shore, highlighted by senior linebackers Keegan Woods and Christian Lanzalotto, and senior defensive lineman Henry Sullivan. The Bulldogs allowed just 13.8 points per game last season and also return defensive linemen Joe Afflitto, Gordon Forsyth and Isaac Vernon and outside linebacker/strong safety Michael Lizotte. It figures to be tough sledding against this group, particularly in the run game. If Duell doesn’t play and Rumson can keep Chambers in check, it could be another frustrating night for the Lancers.
St. John Vianney’s defense allowed 41 points but did force a turnover with a fumble return for a touchdown. It wasn’t an encouraging performance based solely on the numbers, but remember it did come against an RBC offense that looks to be the best in the Shore. Rumson’s offense does not bring that same kind of firepower, but who does? Where the Bulldogs are a bit green is on the offensive side. They’ll be breaking in a new quarterback in junior Collin Coles and lost 2,200-yard rusher Peter Lucas to graduation, so those are two positions to watch early in the season. Rumson brings back versatile fullback Alex Maldjian along with one of the top tight ends in the Shore, senior Ian O’Connor. The offensive line is senior-laden with Ryan McCann and Evan Davis returning to anchor the group.
A win here will obviously give either team a leg up in the division, but this also isn’t a division where you can tell right away who the contenders are and which game will decide the title. Every team in the Colonial has a long way to go. No team wants to start 0-2, so expect to see some level of desperation from St. John Vianney. Rumson has lost four straight to the Lancers, so there’s some extra motivation to end that streak.
THE BATTLE OF BRICK, PART 39
One of the Shore Conference’s best rivalries takes center stage on Saturday when Brick Memorial hosts No. 4 Brick at DiFabio Field. Brick has won the last five meetings and will look to add to its overwhelming advantage in the all-time series.
Since the game was moved off Thanksgiving it has been played in Week 1. The difference this season is that Brick Memorial played in Week 0, dismantling Central, 49-0, and brings some momentum into Saturday morning’s 11 a.m. start.
The Mustangs graduated some key pieces from last season’s Class A South co-championship squad, including all-time leading rusher Tony Thorpe and two-way standout Blaine Netterman, so there were some question marks entering the season. Brick Memorial made a statement that it doesn’t plan on stepping back with a dominant performance on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Tyler Sindel ran for 91 yards and two touchdowns, senior running back Ja Billingsley ran for 66 yards and two touchdowns, C.J. Lavarin and T.J. McArthur had one score each and David Baez had an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. McArthur (10 tackles) and fellow sophomore David Szuba (nine tackles, fumble recovery) led a defensive effort that held Central to 39 total yards.
Having Sindel back leading the Mustangs’ triple-option offense for the second year is huge, and with Billingsley, C.J. and Jeff Lavarin and McArthur also in the backfield, Brick Memorial has a nice collection of skill players behind an experienced offensive line.
On the south side of town, Brick returns nearly all of its starters from last season’s team that reached the Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals. The Dragons have some dangerous playmakers on offense with do-it-all senior Cole Groschel and quarterback Jimmy Leblo, and have the ability to move players around with the same personnel on the field.
Defensively, the Dragons could be one of the best in the Shore one year after finishing eighth in scoring defense at 15.3 points per game. Seniors Cory Englehardt and Christian Malta anchor the defensive line, senior Richie Tallmadge leads the defense from middle linebacker and the entire secondary returns with Anthony Prato and Mike McGuigan Jr. at cornerback and Leblo and Groschel at safety.
Brick has done as good a job as anybody in defending Brick Memorial’s flexbone offense, which is why it will be seeking its sixth straight win versus the Mustangs. Last season the Dragons keyed in on Thorpe and held him in check, forcing Sindel to beat them in what was his first start. Now their focus will certainly be on Sindel come Saturday, but he can offset that by making proper reads and getting the ball into the right players’ hands.
The atmosphere is always electric when Brick and Brick Memorial square off, and Saturday should be no different. It’s also still a division game with both now in the Colonial Division, so there’s more than just bragging rights up for grabs.
A RIVALRY RENEWED
Manasquan and Point Boro were Thanksgiving rivals from 1972-1999, but since then the two teams have met sparingly. That changed in a big way last season when the Warriors and Panthers met in the playoffs for the first time.
Point Boro won that game, 27-6 in the Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals, to upend the defending champions and reach their first sectional final since 2007. Now they’ll face off again to open the season as members of the Liberty Division.
After an 11-1 season, Point Boro graduated most of its stop players, including All-Shore quarterback James Fara, running backs Brandon Cipriano and Tanner Gordon, two-way linemen Gabe Fattizzi and Anthony Bonavito and defensive back Trevor McNamara. They also have a new head coach in Brian Staub, although with Staub stepping up from offensive coordinator and the rest of the staff remaining intact, it has mainly been a seamless adjustment for the program.
Senior Garrett Romer was a standout linebacker last season on Point Boro’s fourth-ranked defense and will return in that role, but he’ll also step in to run the Panthers’ triple-option offense. Senior Trent LiVolsi moves from guard to running back, and how well that duo performs will go a long way toward dictating the team’s success. Seniors Kyle Komanitsky at slot back and Scott Franceschini on the offensive line are also returning starters.
LiVolsi at defensive end, Romer at middle linebacker and Komanitsky at cornerback are the only returning starters on defense.
Manasquan, meanwhile, has been stinging since the playoff loss to Point Boro and returns a senior-heavy team ready to exact revenge. The Warriors have seven starters returning on both offense and defense with Canyon Birch at tailback, Rashid Tuddles at fullback, James Pendergist at wide receiver and Art Foreman, Mike LaPoint, Alex Wells and Anders Scala back along the offensive line.
The Warriors’ defense was No. 2 in points allowed at 12.2 last season and figure to once again be among the Shore’s best. Foreman, Wells and Dylan D’Anton give ‘Squan a strong presence in the trenches and the linebacking corps of Jack Fabean, Birch and LaPoint finish off a very strong front seven. Tuddles, Pendergist, Matt Lyons and Mike Page comprise the secondary.
Fabean, however, won’t play Friday night and figures to be out for at least a few games after suffering a leg injury during a scrimmage. His absence will be a tough hole for Manasquan to plug while he’s out.
Manasquan is ranked No. 8 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and is the early favorite to win the division. Point Boro looks to be the top contender, so even though it’s the season opener it could very well be the game that decides the division crown.
THE REST OF WEEK 1
Central at Howell: The Golden Eagles will try to bounce back from a 49-0 loss to Brick Memorial while Howell opens its season with a new cast of skill players let by running back Gerard Urso and quarterback Jason Caston.
Toms River North at Manalapan: The Mariners are trying to rise from the ashes of a 1-9 season and the No. 7 Braves are looking to reload after losing a fantastic senior class off an 11-1 year. Manalapan has won 16 straight games against Shore Conference teams.
Freehold Township at Middletown South: Freehold Township is coming off the best season in program history and will try to knock off the Eagles in what would be a program-defining victory. Middletown South returns home after absorbing a 62-14 loss to Coatesville, which is one of the top teams in Pennsylvania.
Jackson Memorial at Southern: Our Jersey Mike’s Radio Game of the Week has the No. 10 Jaguars facing longtime rival Southern in a Constitution Division matchup.
Lakewood at Wall: A veteran offensive line looks to lead the way for the Crimson Knights. Dante Morris and Ty Pierce lead a Lakewood squad looking to make another run toward the postseason.
Toms River East at Long Branch: The No. 5 Green Wave are coming off a 41-14 win over Hammonton and are a heavy favorite at home against the Raiders.
Red Bank at Toms River South: The Bucs head south to Detwiler Stadium for the first time in over 50 years and face the Indians in a tossup battle in the Freedom Division.
Ocean at Red Bank Catholic: The top-ranked Caseys are coming off a 41-14 win over No. 2 St. John Vianney and will play the Spartans in their home opener. Ocean fell to Lacey, 14-12, in Week 0.
Raritan at Neptune: Raritan debuts its new option offense led by running back P.J. Buccine while Neptune hopes to get off on the right foot following a winless season.
Pinelands at Shore: A veteran Blue Devils team plans on returning to championship form this season and opens its season against the Wildcats, who lost to No. 3 Mater Dei, 41-8, in Week 0.
Jackson Liberty at Barnegat: Old B South rivals open the season against one another. The host Bengals return several starters on both sides of the ball and need to avoid the upset.
Holmdel at Manchester:Holmdel has the pieces in place to have its best season in a decade and will travel to Manchester for a National Division game.
Middletown North at Freehold: The No. 9 Lions head to Freehold for an interesting Colonial Division matchup. Quarterback Sean Glenn, wide receiver Aidan Campbell and running back Connor Robbins lead Middletown North while quarterback/wideout Matt Krauss, tight end Quincy Davis and lineman Alex Verardi are among Freehold’s top returners.
Marlboro at Lacey: The host Lions will try to build upon their Week 0 victory over Ocean in hosting the Mustangs, who open their season.
Monmouth at Colts Neck: The Falcons had a tremendous season last year but lost a lot to graduation. Colts Neck has a new head coach in Matt Ahearn and is trying to turn things around after four straight losing seasons.
Matawan at Mater Dei:The fourth-ranked Seraphs defeated Pinelands, 41-8, in Week 0 and will try to extend their Shore Conference winning streak to 13 games against Devin Williams and the Huskies.
Point Beach at Keyport: Point Beach’s Frank Papalia and Keyport’s Andy Carlstrom coached together at Holmdel and also in Maryland, and will now face each other in the season opener as both debut at their new schools. Keyport returns several key players but is coming off a 1-9 season, while Point Beach was in a state final last year but was hit very hard by graduation.
Donovan Catholic at Keansburg: The Griffins return a very good core of juniors led by quarterback Ryan Clark and wide receiver Andre Laney as they look to take the next step in the second year under head coach Dan Curcione. Keansburg will shift Liam Riecks to quarterback as they look to build on a 5-5 season.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.