What to Watch For: Week 6
With just four weeks remaining until the start of the NJSIAA playoffs, every game remaining on the schedule carries an additional weight for teams hoping to reach - and thrive in - the postseason.
Week Five saw several teams pick up critical wins both in and out of their respective divisions. No. 7 Toms River North led the way with a 33-23 takedown of Jackson Memorial, and in doing so stayed alive for a chance at a share of the Class A South title. Red Bank beat Raritan, 30-14, in a battle of unbeaten teams to improve to 5-0 and set up a huge clash this week with Red Bank Catholic.
Ocean got a late field goal from senior Matt Fisher to edge Middletown North, 17-14, and improve to 4-1, while Brick Memorial beat a strong Old Bridge team, 31-17, for a big nonconference win before two huge games against Jackson Memorial and Middletown South in the next two weeks.
Point Boro’s 26-21 win over Central kept the Panthers atop Class B South with Lakewood, while Middletown South, Red Bank Catholic Brick and St. John Vianney rolled to convincing wins to remain undefeated.
Things ramp up even more this week with four mega divisional games on Friday night. No. 2 Red Bank Catholic and No. 8 Red Bank will meet in the battle of the Red Bank. Both teams are 5-0, and first place in Class B North, among other things, is on the line.
No. 1 Middletown South hosts Manalapan in a big Class A North game where the Eagles will try to end a five-game losing streak to the Braves. No. 10 Jackson Memorial hosts No. 6 Brick Memorial in A South, where the Mustangs try to stay one game behind Brick while working toward a high playoff seed and the Jaguars, stunningly, try to avoid losing three games in a row.
In Class A Central, Raritan travels to No. 3 St. John Vianney with first place up for grabs.
Here’s what to watch for in Week Six:
The Battle of Red Bank
Technically, Red Bank Regional is in Little Silver, but this is a backyard brawl years in the making that will have both programs’ fan bases fired up on Friday night.
No. 2 Red Bank Catholic heads to No. 8 Red Bank on Friday night in the Jersey Mike’s Game of the Week with first place in Class B North on the line. Red Bank Catholic, last season’s NJSIAA Non-Public Group III champion, is expectedly undefeated with four shutouts in five games. Red Bank, meanwhile, is off to its best start in over a decade and is also 5-0 after an impressive 30-14 win over Raritan last week.
Red Bank has struggled over the last 10 years, but has come alive this season behind a veteran senior class. The Bucs have already equaled last season’s win total and need only one more win to guarantee the program’s first winning season since going 10-2 and reaching the Central Jersey Group III final in 2003.
Red Bank Catholic enters with a perfect 5-0 record after 25-0 Class B North win over Colts Neck for its fourth shutout of the season. Senior quarterback Eddie Hahn, along with running backs Mike Wilen, Dylan Murphy and Zack Bair ran for touchdowns. Hahn, who has verbally committed to UConn, has thrown for 650 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Wilen and Murphy have combined for 773 rushing yards and 11 touchdown behind a powerful offensive line led by seniors Liam Smith, a Duke recruit, and Ryan Oneidas.
Red Bank Regional is in the midst of its best season in over a decade, and is coming off a 30-14 nondivisional victory over a previously-undefeated Raritan to improve to 5-0. Senior Sadiq Palmer, a Syracuse recruit as a wide receiver, led a balanced rushing attack with 91 yards and a touchdown, and senior running back Alim Godsey added 74 yards and a score. Kicker Jack O’Connor had a big game with three field goals, including a 42-yarder. Godsey has ran for 500 yards and five touchdowns this season, while Navitsky has thrown for 500 yard and six touchdowns. Palmer has 16 receptions for 239 yards and three touchdowns.
Red Bank Catholic has dominated the rivalry for the past decade, winning nine straight games. Red Bank last defeated Red Bank Catholic in 2004 with a 22-21 victory.
Red Bank’s defense has been excellent this season, allowing a paltry 6.8 points per game. Senior defensive end Sean Naiman and junior linebacker Chris Outterbridge have been among the standouts in the front seven, while senior Matt Reardon has three interceptions at defensive back. The group will be tested in a big way against RBC’s rushing attack, however. If Red Bank Catholic is able to line up and run the ball at will, it’s going to be a long night for the Bucs. Stop the run, and things get interesting. A good sign for Red Bank is that it held Ocean’s Tyler Thompson, one of New Jersey’s best running backs, well under 100 yards in a 16-6 win in Week Three. The challenge this time is more about Red Bank’s defensive line against Red Bank Catholic’s offensive line, however.
The offense of the Bucs has been very balanced and has also utilized several different players. Godsey leads the rushing attack, but Navitsky, Palmer, senior Teddy Mitchell and junior Tyrese Morris have all received plenty of carries and made impact plays. The passing game has done its part and been explosive at times. Palmer is one of the Shore Conference’s most electrifying players, and although his numbers are fine he hasn’t had that insane display yet where he basically takes over the game. In a game like this, Red Bank needs him to make something happen.
One edge Red Bank has is with senior kicker Jack O’Connor. The senior has been among the best place kickers in the Shore Conference this season and is coming off a great game against Raritan. He is also a solid punter, and in a close game he can be a major weapon for the Bucs.
Red Bank Catholic’s offense revolves around its running game, but let’s not forget the Caseys have one of the area’s best quarterbacks in Hahn. Red Bank’s natural grass field could be a bit of an equalizer, especially if there is any rain Friday night, but Hahn, like Palmer for Red Bank, has the ability to completely take over the game with his legs, arm or both. Senior Mike Balzofiore has been his go-to receiving target so far with 13 receptions for 287 yards and a touchdown. Hahn missed time early in the season while recovering from a pre-season knee injury, but has looked fine since his return.
Red Bank Catholic’s defense has been fantastic with four shutouts in five games and a points allowed average of just 3.6. Murphy and Wilen are the leading tacklers with 52 and 44, respectively, and junior defensive end Nasir Darnell has enjoyed a nice start with 41 tackles, four tackles for loss and four sacks. Senior Charlie Gargiulo leads the Caseys with five sacks to go along with 37 tackles. Junior Max Hazard and sophomore Matt Ansel each have two interceptions on the season. Stopping Red Bank’s rushing attack and containing Palmer appear to be the first orders of business for Red Bank Catholic’s defense.
Red Bank Catholic is taking the approach that Friday’s contest is just another game, while for Red Bank it’s clearly the biggest game the Bucs have played since the 2003 sectional final against Middletown South. Both teams have championship aspirations, but after Friday there will be only one undefeated team in Red Bank.
Revenge in the Swamp?
No. 1 Middletown South hosts Manalapan (4-1) on Friday night at “The Swamp” in a key class A North game with major divisional implications.
Manalapan has won the last five games against Middletown South, but things are very different this season. Middletown South has been unstoppable in starting 5-0, averaging 44.2 points per game and allowing just seven. The Eagles defense has recorded three shutouts, including two straight, while the offense has scored at least 41 points in every game. Manalapan had its 33-game Class A North winning streak snapped by Middletown North in Week Four, so that took some of the juice out of this game.
The Eagles are now ranked as the No. 1 team in the state, which says a lot when a public school can rise above the North Jersey non-public powers. Middletown South has not shown any weaknesses so far, and even answered some questions in scoring 38 straight points to come from behind to beat South Brunswick, 41-21, in Week One. Senior quarterback Matt Mosquera, senior running back Cole Rogers, senior linebacker Dylan Rogers, junior running back and linebacker James McCarthy, junior defensive back Maxx Imsho; the list goes on. Middletown South is loaded with talent and has one of New Jersey’s best coaching staff’s led by 18th-year head coach Steve Antonucci. There is a very good chance the Eagles go 12-0 and finish No. 1 in the state. For now their focus is on Manalapan and ending their five-game skid against the Braves.
Manalapan hasn’t looked like the team that brought home the program’s first sectional title last season, but it’s not like the Braves have been a bust. The running game has been good with senior Marcus Salinas leading the charge behind a standout offensive line, and sophomore Naim Mayfield has been a big-play generator in the running game and on special teams. Sophomore quarterback Luke Corcione made his season debut last week in a 40-14 win over Lacey and went 5-for-6 for 105 yards and a touchdown. He had to sit the first four games after transferring from Red Bank Catholic. The Braves are high on his ability and potential, but going against Al Bigos’ defense in his second career start will not be easy.
In a loaded Class A South division there have already been some pivotal games, and another comes our way Friday night when No. 10 Jackson Memorial hosts No. 6 Brick Memorial.
The Jaguars are trying to avoid a third straight loss within the division after losing 2-0 to Brick and 33-23 to Toms River North. Brick Memorial has won four straight since a season-opening loss to Brick and is coming off a 31-17 win over Old Bridge last week.
Brick Memorial’s offense has been sizzling since the loss to Brick, averaging 44.5 points per game over its last four. The flexbone option attack led by senior quarterback Tim Santiago has been humming along, and the emergence of sophomore fullback Tony Thorpe has really made the Mustangs a bear to contain.
Jackson’s loss to Toms River North last week saw the Jaguars struggling to stop the run, as the Mariners ran for close to 300 yards and put up over 400 yard of total offense. Toms River North also did a good job at the point of attack on defense to limit Jackson’s rushing attack, which included forcing multiple three-and-outs. It will be interesting to see if Brick Memorial can learn anything from the game film and have the same type of success.
More to watch:
**No. 3 St. John Vianney (5-0) hosts Raritan (3-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday with first place in Class A Central on the line.
**Asbury Park (3-1, 1-1) can remain one game behind Shore in Class B Central with a game still left against the Blue Devils when it hosts Keyport (3-2, 1-1) on Friday night at 6 p.m.
**Freehold Township can even its record at 3-3 and make a push for a playoff spot when it hosts Marlboro on Friday night.
**Lakewood tries to remain unbeaten in Class B South and keep pace with Point Boro when the Piners travel to Donovan Catholic on Friday night. Point Boro will do the same with a road game at Barnegat.
**Brick will go for its fifth(!) straight shutout when it heads to Lacey on Saturday in a Class A South game.
**Toms River South can start 4-1 with a win at Southern on Saturday.