What to Watch For: Week 4 Football Preview
Given that the temperature is still hovering around 75 degrees most days, it’s kind of hard to believe we’re coming up on the halfway point of the Shore Conference high school football season.
Week 4 has arrived to mark the midway point of the regular season, and for the teams that played Week 0, the playoff push has begun. The division title races are all still up in the air with several teams in the mix from Class A North to Class B South. It’s been an eventful and exciting first three weeks, and the intensity is only going to increase from here.
The Week 4 schedule is loaded with nondivisional and nonconference games, although a handful of noteworthy division games will be contested this weekend. There are games on Thursday, this week, as well, because of Yom Kippur, so we’ll have action spread out across three days.
Let’s get right to taking a closer look at the marquee games in Week 4.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: WEEK 4
Wall at No. 6 Long Branch, Friday at 7 p.m.
It will be a [not that] old-school B North and Central Jersey Group III battle on Friday night when a pair of unbeatens tangle as Wall welcomes No. 7 Long Branch. This is one of two very big divisional matchups in the Shore Conference this week.
The Green Wave were expected to be a contender and vastly improved after going 2-8 last season, and so far they have lived up to the billing. Long Branch is averaging 35.5 points per game in its 2-0 start with an offense that has put up points both through the air and on the ground. The aerial attack featuring quarterback Juwan Wilkins, wideouts T.J. Fosque, Pasa Fields, Matt Clark and Kevin Porch, plus tight end Kaymar Mimes, figured to be a major strength for the Green Wave. The question was the offensive line and running backs, but in last week’s 43-13 win over Colts Neck, that group was great as sophomore Jermaine Colbert ran for 250 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
Wall is 3-0, and that is a bit of a surprise considering how much the Crimson Knights lost to graduation off last year’s NJSIAA South Jersey Group III championship squad. Even though Wall has a new head coach this season, the fact that it is Tony Grandinetti, who was the offensive line coach last season, means staff continuity still remains. The marquee returners from last season: quarterback Eddie Scott, linebacker Tim McKernan and running backs Brady McNally and Chevesse Covin, have led the way in wins over Ocean, Central and Raritan.
Wall’s defense has its toughest challenge so far with a Green Wave offense that is dynamic, so we’ll find out if they can slow them down in any phase. Through the first two games it was the combination of Scott, McNally and Covin doing the majority of the damage on the ground for Wall, but in last week’s 28-10 win over Raritan junior tight end Tanner Powers emerged with a pair of touchdown catches. That’s something that bears watching for the Crimson Knights.
The other unbeaten team in Class B North is Red Bank Catholic. The Caseys have a nonconference game with Colonia on Friday night, so they will still be unbeaten within the division regardless of the outcome of that game. Class B North is the Shore’s deepest division, so there is still plenty of lifting to do for whichever team is victorious here, but a win to move to 4-0 would certainly be a big one.
Freehold at No. 1 Manalapan, Thursday at 7 p.m.
Freehold would still be a top-10 team if it didn’t have its Week 1 win over Freehold Township reversed to a forfeit for using an ineligible player, while Manalapan is the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. There are a lot of angles here, all of which point to a huge game in Class A North on Thursday night.
Manalapan has a balanced offense and a defense that has allowed just 13 points in three games this season. Senior running back Naim Mayfield has been sensational with 646 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on an insane average of 17.5 yards per carry. Because of that, the passing game hasn’t had to do too much, but when the Braves have thrown it it’s clear that senior Symir Blacknall is a breakout star. He has seven catches for 155 yards and a touchdown so far, plus a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, after playing mostly defense last season.
Senior linebacker Sal Tardogno and junior linebacker Tommy Pearce have been tackling machines with 46 and 43 tackles, respectively. They and the rest of Manalapan’s defense will have to be at their very best against Freehold and record-setting quarterback Ashante Worthy.
Playing defense against Freehold is a unique challenge because of Worthy’s skill set combined with the formation and tempo the Colonials operate at. The numbers on Worthy through three games are unreal: 1,313 combined yards and 14 touchdowns. He didn’t even play the second half of a 42-0 win over Neptune last week, so he’s done all of that in 10 quarters.
Worthy is a threat to score on every play when he tucks and runs, but it’s his ability to consistently hit big throws in the passing game that takes everything to another level. Having four good receivers certainly helps, and Matt Krauss, Matt Dasilva, Quincy Davis and Jahvonte Hair all have to be accounted for down the field.
If any team can slow Worthy down it’s Manalapan, the question is to what extent. A bigger challenge for Freehold will be slowing down Mayfield and the rest of Manalapan’s offense. When Freehold played another of the Shore’s top offenses - Howell in Week 2 - it gave up several big plays on the ground and in the air, so the Colonials need to prove they can get crucial stops and put pressure on the opposing defense to stop Worthy. The Braves are as good as any team in the Shore up front, and that could be the great equalizer on both sides of the ball.
A win for Manalapan sets up a date with Howell later in the season in what will more or less decide the division title. If Freehold can pull the upset it would really shake up the division, not to mention the SSN Top 10.
Middletown South at No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven, Thursday at 7 p.m.
Two of the Shore’s most successful programs over the past decade square off Thursday night at Borden Stadium. Middletown South is coming off a 10-7 win over Manasquan, while Rumson heads in after a 40-24 victory over Holmdel.
Middletown South’s offense is still a work in progress, but its defense looked lights out last week in shutting down Manasquan’s running game. The return of junior outside linebacker Matt Tardy was pivotal, as it freed up senior linebacker Jake Krellin on the opposite side. With teams unable to just run away from Krellin on every play, they’re forced to play it straight up more often. That means more opportunities for one of the Shore’s best defenders to wreak havoc, which Krellin did with 14 tackles (3 for loss) against Manasquan.
Rumson’s rushing offense had been outstanding over the first two weeks, especially senior tailback Peter Lucas. The speedster has 536 yards rushing and six touchdowns in two games so far, while fullback Alex Maldjian is a physical change-of-pace option. Quarterback Dan Harby is also a threat to take off and run.
If Middletown South is going to win this game it’s going to be with its defense. If the Eagles can slow down Lucas and force Rumson into third-and-long situations, Krellin and company are going to tee off. If Rumson wins the battle up front and can consistently move the ball, I don’t know if Middletown South’s offense will be able to keep up against a very good Rumson defense.
No. 9 Brick at No. 2 St. John Vianney, Friday at 7 p.m.
Brick finds itself in the Top 10 this week after a a 20-0 win over Toms River North moved the Dragons to 3-0. St. John Vianney pulled away from Red Bank for a 31-7 win to run its Shore Conference winning streak to 32 games.
Brick nearly upended St. John Vianney in overtime during a driving rainstorm last season, but there’s no question this is a tall order for the Dragons. Stopping a Lancers’ offense that is averaging 51.7 points per game is one task, while scoring on an SJV defense that has allowed just two offensive touchdowns is another.
While it is a game between ranked opponents, St. John Vianney is the heavy favorite. Senior quarterback Haaziq Daniels has been great thus far and has a very good supporting cast. The Lancers also have a massive offensive line that will wear its counterparts out over the course of 48 minutes.
No. 10 Monmouth at No. 8 Point Boro, Friday at 7 p.m.
Friday’s matchup between Point Boro and Monmouth features two teams with a combined 7-0 record, and is an intriguing game no one saw coming in August.
Monmouth is the surprise team of the season so far with a 4-0 record for the first time since 2006. Point Boro is 3-0 and playing like the best team in Ocean County right now.
Monmouth’s offense has basically been senior quarterback Ian Fitzgerald ripping off big gains and junior quarterback Dayshawn Porter adding some big plays, as well. Senior wide out Devon Johnson is a deep threat and senior running back Anthony Guarino is a tough, between-the-tackles runner.
Monmouth’s defense under coordinator Charlie Diskin has yielded just 10 points per game so far, but the Falcons will undoubtedly have their biggest test so far in taking on Point Boro and its explosive flexbone offense.
The Panthers run the triple-option better than any team in the Shore right now, led by senior quarterback James Fara, senior fullback Tanner Gordon and senior slot back Brandon Cipriano. Neither of their three opponents have been able to slow them down, even without Gordon, who has missed the last two games with an injury. His status is unknown for Friday night. With all three in the lineup, Point Boro has a trio of ball carriers that can take it the distance on any play. Cipriano has also been great in the passing game with a pair of touchdown catches.
Point Boro’s defense is allowing just 11 points per game, including a shut out against Lacey.
A win by Monmouth would be revenge for a 42-0 loss to Point Boro last season and would certainly vault them up the rankings a few spots. More importantly, it would almost guarantee them a playoff spot in Central Jersey Group III, which would be just the third in program history.
THE REST OF WEEK 4
Toms River North at No. 5 Howell: The Rebels (3-0) lost twice to Toms River North (0-3) last season and are out for revenge. I’m not saying Howell is going to try to run up the score, but the Rebels won’t be shy about putting points on the board against a team that dropped 58 and 62 points on them last season.
Neptune at Freehold Township: The Patriots and their Air Raid offense try to move to 4-0 against a winless Neptune team trying to get head coach Tarig Holman his first win in the scarlet and black.
Colts Neck at Marlboro: Either the Cougars or the Mustangs will pick up their first victory of the season.
Red Bank at Holmdel: The Bucs (0-3) were tied with St. John Vianney at the half last week before ultimately falling, 31-7. Holmdel (2-2) hung around with Rumson in a 40-24 loss, so both teams come in feeling alright off a defeat.
Ocean at Matawan: The Huskies (1-2) will try to bounce back after nearly knocking off Monmouth in a 14-13 loss, while the Spartans (0-4) are looking for their first win of the season.
Toms River South at Jackson Memorial: The Jaguars (1-2) lost a heartbreaker, 14-13, to Central, while the Indians (1-2) were shut out by Brick Memorial, 35-0. Both teams will try to avoid falling out of the Class A South division race.
Lacey at Jackson Liberty: A 3:30 Friday start has Lacey aiming to improve to 3-1 behind the ground attack of Jason Giresi and the arm of Coleton Klaus. Jackson Liberty has lost three games by a combined 13 points, including a 32-29 setback to Lakewood last week.
Donovan Catholic at Raritan: The Rockets have really struggled so far in an 0-3 start, but the combined record of their opponents so far is 8-0. Donovan Catholic is 1-2 and seems to get better each week.
Toms River East at Manchester: The Raiders (1-2) are confident following a 16-8 win over Southern that snapped a 12-game losing streak, while the Hawks (2-1) will try to rebound after a 28-20 loss to Barnegat.
Shore at Bishop Ahr: The Blue Devils (2-1) hope to get back standout Gil Goldsmith in a nonconference road game against the Trojans (1-2).
Brick Memorial at Sayreville: After a season-opening loss to Brick, the Mustangs have looked good in wins over Toms River North and Toms River South. Brick Memorial has two very good running backs in fullback Tony Thorpe and slotback Blaine Netterman, and if junior quarterback Tyler Sindel keeps improving this will be a dangerous team. They have a tough task on the road against the defending North 2, Group IV champion Bombers (3-0), however.
No. 3 Red Bank Catholic at Colonia: Running back Zack Bair and quarterback Steve Lubischer have led an RBC offense that is averaging over 50 points per game, and will try to keep things rolling on the navy blue turf of the Patriots (2-1).
Middlesex at Point Beach: The Garnet Gulls rallied for a victory over Asbury Park last week to improve to 3-0, and welcome the Blue Jays (1-2) to the beach on Friday night. Point Beach has multiple 100-yard rushers in every game this season.
Pinelands at Keansburg: The Wildcats (1-2) will take the long drive up the Parkway to take on the Titans (1-2) as both teams will try to even their records coming off a loss last week. Pinelands running back Evan Burton and Keansburg quarterback Danny Vital are two of the better players in the Shore most people haven’t heard of.
Barnegat at Manasquan: Junior tight end/defensive end Sean Morris has been a breakout start in helping the Bengals to a surprising 3-0 start. Manasquan is coming off a 10-7 loss to Middletown South and will try to hand the Bengals their first loss when they welcome them to Vic Kubu Warrior Field.
Canada Prep at No. 4 Mater Dei Prep: I don’t know anything about Canada Prep other than the team is from Ontario. I know Mater Dei has one of the best quarterbacks in the Shore with senior George Pearson. Currently Lacey assistant and former Seraphs standout John Tierney is among those getting inducted into the MDP Hall of Fame at halftime.
Asbury Park at Metuchen: The Bulldogs are 0-2 and have not been competitive in either game, so this looks like a good chance for Asbury Park to rebound from a tough loss to Point Beach and even its record at 2-2.
South River at Keyport: The Red Raiders will play a rare night game where they will rename their field after Hall of Fame coach Mike Ciccotelli. Keyport is 0-3 and faces a 3-0 Rams team that will try to spoil the party.
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.