What to Watch For: Week Five
After a weekend full of crazy weather, stunning upsets and marquee matchups, the divisional pictures are starting to shape up as we near the midpoint of the regular season.
Two teams picked up crucial divisional victories on their respective quests for championships last week as No. 3 St. John Vianney held off No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven 13-6 to take control in A Central, and No. 4 Brick clipped No. 5 Jackson Memorial 2-0 to move into first place in A South. Middletown South and Middletown North remained undefeated in A North, potentially setting up a Thanksgiving Day battle for the division title, while Red Bank and Red Bank Catholic will each be undefeated when they meet in two weeks. Shore Regional is the team to beat in B Central with a 4-0 record, and Lakewood and Point Boro have kept pace with each other as unbeaten teams in B South.
One of the biggest victories of the weekend came from Middletown North, which stunned Manalapan 18-8 to end the Braves’ 33-game Class A North winning streak. The Lions were selected as the Jersey Mike’s Team of the Week for their efforts. They get another big test this week in a nondivisional game against Ocean.
Red Bank continued its great start with a 28-7 win over Neptune to improve to 4-0, while Raritan blanked Freehold 34-0 for an impressive nondivisional victory to set up a Friday matchup of unbeaten teams between the Bucs and Rockets.
The headliner for this week’s schedule of games is the Class A South battle between No. 5 Jackson Memorial and No. 8 Toms River North. Each team has a divisional loss, so the pressure will be on for both teams to keep their chance at a divisional title alive.
Point Boro and Central also tangle in an important Class B South game as the Golden Eagles try to stay in contention while the Panthers look to remain unbeaten.
Here’s what to watch for in Week Five:
No. 5 Jackson Memorial will travel to Gernard Field on Friday night to take on No. 8 Toms River North in what is essentially and elimination game in regards to the division title. The Jaguars are coming off a 2-0 loss to Brick in the muck and mire that was Keller Memorial Field last weekend, while the Mariners have won two in a row and averaged 48.5 points per game in those wins.
The game is also the Jersey Mike’s Game of the Week, and will be broadcast on WOBM 1160/1310 AM.
Jackson was rolling until the combination of the weather and a smothering Brick defense kept them off the scoreboard. It was the first time the Jaguars have been shut out since 2013. Taking nothing away from Brick or any of the teams that won in terrible conditions last weekend, I still wonder what would have been different with regular playing conditions. Regardless, the Jaguars need to rebound in a hurry with a talented Mariners team waiting.
The key to Jackson’s success remains its power rushing attack with junior running back Mike Gawlik and senior running back Vinny Lee running behind a bruising offensive line. You can imagine that group will be looking for redemption in a big way Friday night. Once that part of Jackson’s offense gets going, everything seems to fall in place with junior quarterback Danny Barker hitting big plays off play-action passes.
Jackson’s defense was outstanding in the loss to Brick and has allowed just 12 points this season. The challenge for them, and really for any team facing Toms River North, is to slow down junior quarterback Mike Husni. A dual-threat quarterback who ran and threw for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore, Husni steers the Mariners’ offense. So far this season, Husni has thrown for 531 yards six touchdowns and ran for 421 yards and seven touchdowns. Toms River North also has a 1,000-yard running back in senior Asante Moorer, and playmakers at receiver with juniors Bryce Watts and Darrion Carrington.
Jackson senior defensive end Tyler Towns has been a menace with 22 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, so the Mariners will have to account for him coming off the edge. Seniors Adante Davis and Nick Papandrea have also been strong with 33 and 29 tackles, respectively.
For Toms River North’s defense, junior linebacker Pete Laquaglia has risen up to become one of the leaders. He has a team-high 43 tackles through four games with six tackles for loss. Senior defensive tackle Dashon Copes is once again playing like one of the best in the Shore with 41 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.
If Jackson Memorial can get its running game back to where it was over the first three weeks while containing Husni on defense it will win. The Mariners have to be able to stay balanced on offense and limit Jackson’s run enough to force the Jaguars to pass. It’s a great matchup on paper that should deliver on the field.
Surprise unbeatens meet in Hazlet
When the season began it was unlikely anyone was earmarking the Week Five between Red Bank and Raritan as a can’t-miss game, but that’s exactly where we are this weekend as the 4-0 Bucs travel to the Launch Pad to meet the 3-0 Rockets in a nondivisional game.
Red Bank, which is ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, is off to its best start in at least a decade after defeating Neptune 28-7 last Thursday to improve to 4-0. The Bucs have been excellent on defense so far in allowing just 20 points this season. The Bucs’ signature win so far is a 16-6 victory over Ocean in Week Three where they limited Spartans star running back Tyler Thompson, so they’ve proven they can do it against top competition. Junior linebacker Chris Outterbridge has been very good while Matt Reardon and Sadiq Palmer have three and two interceptions, respectively.
Red Bank senior running back Alim Godsey has rushed for 427 yards and four touchdowns this season, while senior quarterback Jack Navitsky has thrown for 401 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 201 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs also have one of the Shore’s most electrifying players in Palmer, a standout wide receiver who has a non-binding verbal commitment to Syracuse University. He has 15 receptions for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
Raritan, meanwhile, is undefeated and now ranked No. 10 after an impressive 34-0 victory over Freehold. The Rockets started the season with a 26-14 win over Manasquan for the program’s first ever win at Manasquan. After a bye in Week Two, the Rockets have been nearly flawless with a 40-3 win over defending NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II champion Matawan and the 34-0 win over Freehold.
Senior running back Derek Ernst has picked up right where he left off after running for 1,505 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. He has already gained 467 yards and scored three touchdowns on 55 carries, an average of 8.5 yards per carry and 155 yards per game. Stopping him is a must for the Bucs, as he has had big games in all three of Raritan’s wins. Junior quarterback Marc Carnivale has been efficient with 260 yards and five touchdowns on 16-of-30 passing.
There are no division implications here, but whichever team comes out victorious should be on their way to a playoff berth. They would also head into huge respective divisional games next week with plenty of momentum. Red Bank meets Red Bank Catholic and Raritan takes on St. John Vianney in Week Six.
Can Middletown North build off last week’s win over Manalapan?
After knocking off Manalapan 18-8 last week to end the Braves’ 33-game Class A North winning streak for the program’s biggest win in the last 10 years, Middletown North will try to keep the momentum rolling in a key nondivisional game against Ocean.
It’s a testament to the program as a whole that Middletown North has started 3-1 playing mostly without star running back and linebacker Chad Freshnock, who is week-to-week with an injury. Sophomore running back Connor Welsh has stepped in and produced 263 yards rushing and five touchdowns and caught two passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Junior quarterback Donald Glenn has been among the best passers in the Shore with 655 yards and seven touchdowns, and junior receiver Brendan Kube has 22 catches for 377 yards and three touchdowns after a monster 14-catch, 250-yard effort against Freehold in Week Three.
Middletown North’s defense has gotten contributions from a number of players. Junior linebacker Nick Kish leads the Lions with 46 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack. Senior defensive end Matt Dombrowski has made 30 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and a team-high 5 sacks. Junior linebacker Brock Zenker has also gotten off to a strong start with 35 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 interception.
Ocean is also 3-1 after a 26-12 win over Manasquan in Week Four. The Spartans offense goes through senior running back Tyler Thompson, who is off to a great start and ran for 229 yards and a touchdown last week. Thompson has 690 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on 83 carries. Junior quarterback Cody Pickett has thrown for 538 yards and six touchdowns and ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Pickett has a variety of weapons in the passing game with running backs Thompson and Ruquan Dean dangerous out of the backfield and wide outs Greyson Stoothoff and Joey Aldarelli solid both underneath and down the field.
A win by Middletown North would give the Lions a very realistic shot at being 7-1 heading into the playoffs. An Ocean victory would be big for the Spartans’ playoff hopes considering they already have one loss and still have to play No. 2 Red Bank Catholic on October 30.
Contender or pretender?
The race for the Class B South division will become much clearer after Friday night’s game in Bayville between Central and Point Boro. The Panthers come in with a 4-0 mark and a perfect 3-0 record in the division, and can take a major step toward the division title. The Golden Eagles, having already lost to Lakewood, need a win to stay in the title hunt.
Point Boro’s defense was among the Shore’s best last season and have been excellent again with just 19 points allowed and one shutout in four games. Central will be the biggest test the Panthers have faced this season, however, with standout junior running back Mike Bickford and versatile senior quarterback Mike Miserendino leading the way. Bickford has 613 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on 67 carries and Miserendino has ran for 205 yards and two touchdowns while adding 445 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Bickford ran for 197 yards and three touchdowns and also ran a kickoff back for a score in last week’s 49-8 win over Pinelands.
Point Boro has been solid running its option offense with senior quarterback Noah Husak and running backs Nate Husak, Gene Franceschini and Devin Connelly, and will need to grind out long drives to keep Central’s offense off the field. Games like this are what a senior-laden Point Boro team have been building toward over the past few seasons, so they will surely be amped. Central is in desperation mode knowing falling to 3-3 will make it tough for the Eagles to secure of a playoff spot.
More to watch:
**No. 7 Brick Memorial host Old Bridge (3-1) in a key nonconference game Friday night. It starts a monster three-game stretch for the Mustangs with games against Jackson Memorial and Middletown South to follow. Old Bridge’s only loss is to South Brunswick.
**Toms River East (at Freehold Township), Lacey (at Manalapan), Manchester (vs. No. 3 St. John Vianney), Pinelands (at Monmouth), Colts Neck (vs. No. 2 Red Bank Catholic), Holmdel at Spotswood and Marlboro (vs. Freehold) will all look to pick up their first wins of the the season.
**No. 4 Brick visits Wall on a nondivisional game on Friday night with revenge on its mind. The Crimson Knights stunned the Dragons 28-27 in double overtime last season when Brick was No. 2 in the Shore, and the unbeaten Dragons will hope to avoid a similar outcome and improve to 5-0.
**No. 1 Middletown South will have senior running back Cole Rogers back for its Friday night game against Howell at The Swamp. Rogers, who ran for 1,8059 yards and 27 touchdowns last season, has been out with an injury.