What to Watch For: Week Eight
Seven teams enter Week Eight in Shore Conference football with a chance to clinch either outright division championships or no worse than a tie for division crowns as we hit the home stretch of the season.
Also, with the state playoff cut-off date looming next week, there are plenty of teams fighting for their playoff lives or to improve their seeding in these final two weeks before the postseason kicks off.
Here is what to watch for in Week Eight:
The division races in five of the Shore Conference's six divisions could all but officially be decided by this weekend's games.
No. 1 Red Bank Catholic heads to Ocean (2-4) on Friday night looking to clinch the outright Class B North crown for its fifth straight division title, one game after the Caseys' impressive 35-7 win over No. 2 Manalapan in a nondivisional game. The Caseys will most likely be without their top two receivers, Trevor Cowley and Nick Lubischer, due to injuries, but are still an overwhelming favorite to polish off the division title.
In Class A North, the winner of the showdown between No. 2 Manalapan (6-1) and No. 6 Freehold (7-0) on Saturday will clinch at least a tie for the title. The Braves are looking for their fifth straight division title, while the Colonials are trying to win their first division crown since 2010. Manalapan senior running back Imamu Mayfield, who leads the Shore Conference with 21 touchdowns, will face off against his old team, as he transferred from Freehold after his sophomore year.
The Colonials will counter with their own explosive rushing attack behind senior Josh Dixon, who has 1,171 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. If Manalapan wins, it only has to take care of business against a one-win Howell squad a week later to wrap up the outright crown. If Freehold wins, the Colonials then have another formidable obstacle in Middletown South next week in order to claim the outright crown.
In Class A Central, undefeated St. John Vianney (7-0) can clinch no worse than a tie for its first division title since 1982 by beating Monmouth (2-4) on Friday night. A win at Manasquan on Nov. 8 would then give the Lancers the outright title and put them only one victory away from tying the single-season school record of 10 victories set when the Lancers won their only state title in 1980. The ball will be flying around against Monmouth, as St. John Vianney junior quarterback Anthony Brown leads the Shore with 1,557 yards passing and 18 touchdown passes, while Monmouth senior Jimmy Green is third with 1,172 yards passing along with 10 touchdown passes.
In Class A South, Brick (6-1) should have a battle on its hands as it tries to knock off Toms River North (5-2) to clinch no worse than a tie for the division title, which would be Brick's first since 2008. Brick senior quarterback Carmen Sclafani faces off against his old team, as he transferred from Toms River North before last season.
Sclafani's replacement, sophomore Mike Husni, needs 109 yards rushing and only six yards passing to go over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing for the season. The last quarterback to achieve that feat for Toms River North was Sclafani, who also did it as a sophomore. This game is also big in the power-points department as Brick tries to overtake Jackson Memorial for the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group IV, where the Green Dragons are the defending champions.
Both teams have star tandems that love to pound the ball on the ground, with Husni and junior Asante Moorer leading the Mariners, and Sclafani and senior Ray Fattaruso leading the Green Dragons. Husni and Sclafani are both dual threats who are also having big passing seasons and have big-time targets like Toms River North senior tight end Jordan Craig and Brick sophomore wide receiver Ja'Sir Taylor as playmakers downfield.
Toms River North, meanwhile, is trying to make a push for a home game in South Jersey Group V, where it currently sits in fifth in power points. Brick has been laying low with a pair of victories over winless teams after a stunning loss to Wall (1-6), so this is the Green Dragons' chance to remind everyone that they are the team to beat in the division and in the state playoffs. Toms River North will try to show that its roster of young stars is ready to make noise now rather than getting everyone talking about next year.
A win by the Mariners would also leave the door open for Jackson Memorial to potentially tie or pass Brick for the division crown in the final two weeks. The Jaguars play at winless Toms River East on Saturday and are one game behind Brick in the divisional standings.
In Class B Central, the winner of Friday night's Point Beach at Shore Regional showdown will clinch no worse than a tie for the division title. Shore is looking to win its second straight crown, while Point Beach is trying to capture its second in the last three seasons. If Point Beach wins, it still has a tough game remaining against Mater Dei Prep next week, and a loss in that game could mean a three-way tie for the crown between the Blue Devils, Seraphs and Garnet Gulls.
If Shore wins, it just has to take care of business against Asbury Park (1-5) on Nov. 7 to lock up the outright title because it already knocked off Mater Dei Prep.
This is the third straight year that the division title has come down to this game, and as usual the two teams are mirror images. They both look to pound it on the ground in their Wing-T offenses and they play physical defense against the run. Point Beach has star fullback/linebacker Joe Wegrzyniak back in the lineup after a two-game absence because of injury, while junior standout fullback/linebacker Doug Goldsmith is in his third game back for Shore after missing the first four games of the season with an injury.
Shore's passing game has been nonexistent, while Point Beach has had some success behind senior quarterback Jake Fioretti, but it should still come down to which team takes care of the ball the best and which group up front exerts its will in the trenches.
Point Beach could really use this game because it is hanging on for the seventh seed right now in Central Jersey Group I, where it is the defending champion, and this is its eighth game, so next week's game against Mater Dei Prep will not count toward its seeding. New Egypt is nine points behind Point Beach in the eighth spot and has two games left that count toward its seeding, so this game is huge for the Garnet Gulls, who beat Shore in last year's state final. A win by Shore could potentially mean a rematch of last year's championship in the first round this year.
Shore is in the third spot and could make a move to lock down the No. 1 seed in the bracket with a win.
Class B South picture getting clearer
The only division where numerous scenarios could still occur as far as the title is concerned is Class B South, but this week's games should help shed light on how it will shake out.
If defending champion Barnegat beats Lakewood at home on Friday night, the Bengals would then have to beat a one-win Pinelands team on Thanksgiving to clinch no worse than a tie for the title. If Lakewood knocks off Barnegat, the Piners would then have to win at home against Point Boro (3-4) a week later to claim no worse than a tie for their first division title since 2000.
Jackson Liberty and Central also remain right in the mix for at least a share of the title. Jackson Liberty has to beat Point Boro on the road on Friday night to stay tied for first, which would then set up a big game at home against Central next week that would be for no worse than a tie for the Lions' first division title in program history. Jackson Liberty also needs the wins as it makes a push for its second state playoff berth ever. The Lions are currently in ninth in power points in Central Jersey Group IV, and only the first eight games count toward playoff seeding, so Friday's game against the Panthers is a must-win as far as that's concerned.
Central faces winless Donovan Catholic on Friday night, and if it takes care of business, the Golden Eagles can clinch no worse than a tie for their first division title since 1994 with a win over Jackson Liberty a week later.
Got all that? Still a lot of important football to be played in this division.
Middletown North (4-2) currently sits in 11th place in power points in Central Jersey Group IV, so it has to have its next two games, starting with North Brunswick (2-5) on Friday night and followed by Freehold Township (3-4) a week later to give itself a shot to make the final eight for its second straight state playoff appearance.
Speaking of Freehold Township, an overtime loss to New Brunswick last week dented its state playoff hopes, but the Patriots still have a shot in Central Jersey Group V as they sit in eighth and have a winnable game against Edison (2-5) to reach the state playoffs for just the second time in school history. Their game against Middletown North a week later will not count toward their playoff qualification because it's their ninth game.
Neptune (4-2) faces old rival Long Branch (6-1) on Saturday in a huge game, playoff-wise, particularly for the host Scarlet Fliers. Long Branch needs the win and probably some residual points to claim the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group III, while Neptune would all but cement a playoff spot by stopping the Green Wave's six-game winning streak.
Neptune is tied with Jackson Liberty in the ninth spot in Central Jersey Group IV, so a victory over the Green Wave would vault the Scarlet Fliers up into the middle of the pack of qualifiers. The question is whether they can stop the Shore Conference's leading rusher, Long Branch senior Dahmiere Willis, who has rushed for over 200 yards in six straight games and is coming off a school-record 370-yard explosion in a win over Matawan.
Toms River South (3-3) is also in must-win mode when it heads to Brick Memorial (4-3) on Saturday in Class A South. The Indians currently sit in 11th place in power points in South Jersey Group IV, but with games against Brick Memorial and Brick (6-1) in the next two weeks, they can come flying back into the picture with a pair of upsets over teams ranked in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. Much of it comes down to whether their run defense can stand up to strong ground attacks by both teams after struggling in that department against other top Class A South opponents.
Southern (3-3) is in a similar situation, sitting in ninth in power points in South Jersey Group V with a game on Saturday against Lacey (1-6) followed by another big one a week later against Brick Memorial. The Rams need to knock off the Lions, who just ended an 11-game losing streak with a shutout victory, to set up a key showdown with the Mustangs next week for their playoff hopes.
Holmdel (2-4) still has a shot at a spot in Central Jersey Group III, where the Hornets currently sit in 10th place in power points, so a win over Red Bank (2-4) is a must this week for their hopes.
More to watch:
**Central running back Mike Bickford will try to make it four straight 200-yard rushing games when the Golden Eagles face winless Donovan Catholic on Friday night.
**Raritan (3-3) could most likely lock down a home game in Central Jersey Group III with an upset of No. 10 Rumson-Fair Haven (4-2) on Friday night, while the host Bulldogs need the win in their push to get the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group II, where they are the defending champions.
**Manasquan (3-3) at Matawan (3-4) is another important game for both teams. Manasquan is looking to get a home game in South Jersey Group III, where it currently sits in sixth place, while this is Matawan's eighth game, so it's the Huskies last chance to grab a bunch of power points to possibly make a run at the No. 3 seed in Central Jersey Group III, where they currently sit in fourth in power points.
Our condolences also go out to Matawan head coach John Kaye, whose father, also named John, passed away on Tuesday.
**With a victory over winless Highland Park, Mater Dei Prep can run its record to a combined 7-1 against Greater Middlesex Conference teams between last season and this season.
**Manchester (0-6) will try to get its first win under new coach Bill Furlong when it faces Pinelands (1-6) on Friday.
**Colts Neck (0-7) will try to get its first win under new coach Peter Shaw when it faces Wall (1-6) on Saturday. Wall, by the way, looks to still get a state playoff spot despite only having one win. The Crimson Knights currently sit in seventh in South Jersey Group III because they got so many power points for their upset of Brick and because the section only has five teams with winning records.