What to Watch For: Week Seven
The playoffs are three weeks away and division championship have one or two games left to decide the championship. It’s crunch time in the Shore Conference and all over New Jersey, and Week Seven brings several key matchups in a weekend heavily featuring nondivisional games.
The aftershocks are still being felt after Red Bank’s seismic 24-21 Class B North victory over Red Bank Catholic last week. The Bucs, who are now 6-0 and ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, defeated the rival Caseys for the first time since 2004 to continue their incredible season that now has ‘state championship’ as a very realistic part of the conversation. Red Bank also has just one team in its way - Long Branch on Thanksgiving Day - to claim its first division title since 1977.
Top-ranked Middletown South unleashed five years of frustration on Manalapan in a 42-7 Class A North win to move one stop closer to the division crown. The Eagles had lost five straight to the Braves dating back to 2010. Middletown South has, stunningly, not won a division title since taking the Federal Division championship in 2009, but appear well on their way to ending that drought.
No. 6 Brick Memorial also picked up a key divisional victory by running past Jackson Memorial 28-7 for its fifth straight win. The Mustangs have been great since a season-opening loss to Brick and have won the first two games of a crucial three-game stretch of games against Old Bridge (31-17 win), Jackson and Middletown South.
Asbury Park, No. 2 St. John Vianney, Freehold and Toms River South also picked up key victories as they try to lock up a playoff berth.
As mentioned, the Week Seven slate is mainly comprised of nondivisional and nonconference games. Jackson Memorial versus Toms River South and No. 7 Toms River North versus Southern in A South, plus Wall versus Neptune in B North are the only divisional contests. Unquestionably, the biggest game this weekend pits No. 6 Brick Memorial and No. 1 Middletown South on Friday night in Brick. The Eagles are the No. 1 team in New Jersey, so it’s a huge challenge for a Brick Memorial team that has been rolling. It’s also the biggest test for Middletown South since a 41-21 comeback win over South Brunswick in Week One.
No. 8 Red Bank Catholic heads to Manalapan on Friday where both teams are coming off defeats. The Caseys dropped six spots in the SSN Top 10 after its loss to Red Bank, while the Braves fell to Middletown South for the first time in five years. RBC (5-1) and Manalapan (4-2) both could use the big power-point haul that would come from a victory.
Undefeated Point Boro (6-0) hosts a Raritan team coming off two straight losses in a possible NJSIAA Central Jersey II playoff preview. The Rockets were 3-0 before falling to No. 4 Red Bank and No. 2 St. John Vianney in consecutive weeks, but will test Point Boro’s stingy defense with an offense led by running back Derek Ernst.
Here’s what to watch for in Week Seven:
Clash of the Titans
No. 6 Brick Memorial hosts No. 1 Middletown South in a mega nondivisional matchup on Friday night where the Eagles will try to remain unbeaten and ranked No. 1in the state, and the Mustangs will try to shock the state and move closer to a top-two seed in Central Jersey Group IV.
Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie summed up Middletown South’s dominance perfectly when he was a guest on the Shore Sports Network Thursday Night Football Show when asked about what impressed him most about the Eagles. Currie said what jumped put most was how well the Eagles play in all phases of the game. He used the work amazing more than once, and that’s an apropos way to describe what Middletown South has done this season.
The Eagles have bludgeoned everyone in their path in scoring at least 41 points in every game and outscoring their opponents by at least 20 points. Senior running back Cole Rogers has ran for 613 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 9.4 yard per carry, and junior running back James McCarthy has added 469 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on 11.4 yard per carry. Senior quarterback Matt Mosquera has 638 yards passing and 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions, with junior Samson Dube and senior Tom Coffey as his main targets. The Eagles is offense has been perfectly balanced.
Defense has long been the Eagles’ calling card, and that has not changed in 2015. Senior linebacker Dylan Rogers has led a ferocious unit that has allowed just seven points per game and recorded three shutouts. Middletown South has been a turnover machine in intercepting nine passes and recovering two fumbles. The Eagles have also scored four touchdowns on defense or special teams.
Speaking of special teams, the Eagles have arguably the state’s best unit with Mosquera leading the way as a standout kicker and punter. The kick and punt return game with junior Jeff Lewandowski and senior Tom Marron has also been fantastic. Good luck finding holes in Middletown South’s game.
Despite all the superlatives that can be used to describe Middletown South, host Brick Memorial will indeed show up on Friday night with a stacked team of its own. The Mustangs flexbone rushing attack has been unstoppable over its last five games, while its defense has quietly put together some great performances against quality offenses.
Senior quarterback Tim Santiago has really come into his own in his second year as Brick Memorial’s starter, and enters Friday night’s game with a Shore Conference-leading 984 yards rushing, along with 11 touchdowns. His combination of power and speed gives him the ability to be equally as effective between the tackles and on the edge, and he is an early leader for Offensive Player of the Year.
The emergence of sophomore fullback Tony Thorpe has also had a huge impact on the Mustangs’ offense. Teams have had to account for the dive much more with Thorpe (594 yards and 9 touchdowns) bulldozing his way through opposing defenses. Senior running back Eli Lavarin puts the ‘triple’ into their triple-option with 309 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries as the pitch back. Brick Memorial’s offensive line is big and physical, as well, so it should make for a great matchup against a Middletown South defense that is always up for the task of stopping the run.
Brick Memorial’s defensive line has been a disruptive force and led the charge for a unit that has allowed 14 points per game, but just 10 during its five-game winning streak. Seniors Chris Hayes and senior twins Anthony and Mike Nobile, along with junior Justin Szuba, have combined for 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. The Mustangs have not faced an offense as dynamic as Middletown South’s all season, so this will be a true test for the entire unit.
The only team that has been able to move the ball on Middletown South has been South Brunswick, but the Vikings couldn’t muster anything after opening a 21-3 lead in the first game of the season. Since then, the Eagles’ defense has been lights-out. Brick Memorial’s offense has been incredible, but whether it can continue its run against a defense as formidable as Middletown South’s is the question.
Middletown South has won the last three meetings between the two teams, but all three a have been close. Last season the Eagles edged the Mustangs 24-21, and in 2011 Middletown South needed overtime to claim a 17-14 win. If that trend holds it should be a tremendous atmosphere and game on Friday night in Brick.
Off the Canvas
No. 8 Red Bank Catholic and Manalapan will get together on Friday night in a crucial game for both teams as the playoffs loom.
The Caseys are coming off a 24-21 loss to No. 4 Red Bank while the Braves a will try to rebound after falling to Middletown South, 24-21. At this point last season, this matchup had tremendous hype surrounding at as both teams entered undefeated and as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Shore Conference. That’s not the case this time around, but it will still be a contest between two very good teams with plenty to play for.
Red Bank Catholic hasn’t been the big-play machine on offense it was last season, but has ground teams out with its running game and the dual-threat abilities of senior quarterback Eddie Hahn. Red Bank shut down Red Bank Catholic’s offense last week, so the Caseys will certainly look to establish the run more consistently with running backs Mike Wilen and Dylan Murphy behind a stout offensive line.
Manalapan’s offense is usually one of the most balanced in the Shore, but always starts and ends with its running game. The Braves boast one of the top offensive lines in the Shore, led by returning first-team All-Shore lineman Joe Sellmeyer. Senior tailback Marcus Salinas has rushed for 635 yards and five touchdowns so far, and sophomore Naim Mayfield has come on as of late as both a running back and punt returner. He has ran for 153 yards and four touchdowns in just 17 carries and also returned a pair of punts for touchdowns.
It will be interesting to see how the teams respond after losses, which have been few and far between for both programs in recent years. Red Bank Catholic is third in power points in Non-Public Group III while Manalapan sits tied for fourth in Central Jersey Group V
Potential Playoff Preview
Raritan heads to undefeated Point Boro on Friday night in a nondivisional game that could the first of two meetings between the Rockets and Panthers.
Raritan (3-2) enters have lost two straight while Point Boro (6-0) is in the midst of its best start since 2007. The Rockets made their way into the SSN Top 10 after starting 3-0, but consecutive losses to No. 4 Red Bank and No. 2 St. John Vianney have them fighting to snap that skid and bolster their playoff chances. Point Boro is coming off a 28-0 win over Barnegat for its seconds shutout of the season.
Raritan has one of the Shore Conference’s best running backs in senior Derek Ernst, who ran for 1,500 yards last season and has 673 yards this year. Junior quarterback Marc Carnivale has thrown for 535 yards and seven touchdowns to give the Rockets some balance. Senior Nick Pasquin leads the receiving corps with 14 catches for 200 yards.
The Rockets are battle-tested and will certainly be a challenge for Point Boro and its stingy defense, which has allowed just 6.7 points per game. The Panthers have seen a great back this season in Central junior Mike Bickford, and while he did run for 120 yards and three touchdowns, he did not take over the game.
Point Boro’s defense is not only experienced, but usually well-rested. The Panthers’ option offense has been smooth this season with quarterback Noah Husak and running backs Nate Husak, Gene Franceschini and Devin Connelly, and that usually means long drives and lots of time taken off the clock.
Will the Rockets snap their brief losing streak, or will the Panthers remain undefeated with a big showdown against Lakewood looming next week?
More to watch:
**No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven (4-1) travels to undefeated Lakewood (5-0) on Saturday for another key nondivisional game, pitting outstanding Lakewood running back Amir Tyler against Rumson’s smothering defense.
**Freehold Township (3-3) can make a huge push for its first playoff berth since 2001 when it takes on undefeated New Brunswick (6-0), which is coached by former Asbury Park and Neptune head coach Don Sofilkanich.
**Matawan (3-3) goes for its fourth straight win after starting the season 0-3 when it takes on Long Branch (2-4) on Friday night.
**Pinelands and Holmdel will battle it out on Friday night to see who gets their first win of the season.
**Jackson Memorial tries to snap a three-game losing streak and keep its playoff hopes alive when it hosts a 4-1 Toms River South team starting the most difficult portion of its schedule.
**No. 7 Toms River North hosts Southern on Friday night where a win would set up a game versus No. 3 Brick next week for the Class A South division title.