What to Watch Four: Week 4 Football Preview
Week 4 of Shore Conference football is upon us with a pair of nondivisional games between top-10 teams highlighting the weekend.
The big one is No. 1 Middletown South hosting No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven in a matchup of returning state champions and teams ranked in the top 10 in New Jersey by NJ.com. Also, No. 4 St. John Vianney travels to Keller Memorial Field to take on No. 9 Brick.
As far as divisional battles go, No. 9 Freehold Township taking on Neptune in Class A North is an important game for the Patriots, who are looking to start 4-0 for the first time since the Reagan administration. In Class A South, Toms River South is looking for its third divisional win against a Jackson Memorial team trying to right the ship after losing two straight.
It’s supposed to rain all weekend, so miserable conditions will likely be par for the course over the next two days. We’ll see how that affects each game.
Let’s take a deeper look at what to watch for in Week 4.
Game of the Week: No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven at No. 1 Middletown South
One of the most anticipated matchups of the season takes place Friday night at “The Swamp” when top-ranked Middletown South and its 15-game winning streak hosts No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven on a nondivisional game.
Although the bulk Rumson’s success has come over the last 10 years, these are two of the Shore Conference’s top programs yearly. Middletown South has 10 sectional titles and is routinely among the best public school teams in New Jersey, while Rumson has won four sectional titles, including three in a row heading into this season.
Middletown South entered the season No. 1 and is still there despite some early-season struggles. Not everyone believes that should be the case, notably Shore Sports Network’s own Ed Sarluca Sr., who feels Toms River North deserves to jump the Eagles for the top spot. Middletown South needed a goal line stand in the final minute to beat Manasquan, 21-14, in Week 3, so there appears to be some dents in the Eagles’ armor.
Rumson, meanwhile, has been more or less perfect, albeit against teams with an combined 0-6 record. The Bulldogs are averaging 45 points per game and have shut out both Raritan and Holmdel. They haven’t played near the competition level Middletown South has, with the Eagles earning wins over No. 7 Red Bank Catholic, Ocean and Manasquan.
The rainy, windy weather expected for Friday night seems like it will have more of an effect on Middletown South’s offense, which is balanced, but throws the ball much more than Rumson. Senior quarterback Aneesh Agrawal has thrown for 466 yards and five touchdowns on 40-for-68 passing. Rumson senior quarterback Mike O’Connor has thrown for 130 yards and three touchdowns on 9 of 14 passing, but those numbers are a bit skewed because the Bulldogs have played two games and both were blowouts.
Both teams feature deep rushing attacks that will try to impose their will. Middletown South sophomore Anthony Summey has 356 yards and 5 touchdowns to lead the Eagles, while Agrawal can also make plays with his legs and has a pair of rushing touchdowns so far this season. Middletown South also has do-everything senior Maxx Imsho and wide receiver Samson Dube to work in at running back, plus junior Chaz Alessi, so if the weather makes passing difficult, the Eagles have plenty of options in the backfield. Agrawal has a deep corp of receivers to throw to with Dube, who leads the team with 15 receptions, and seniors Jeremy Joyce and Jeff Lewandowski, who have eight and seven receptions, respectively.
O’Connor and senior running back Matt Vecchiarelli form the two-headed monster that powers Rumson’s running game. Vecchiarelli has 250 yards and four touchdowns on just 25 carries, while O’Connor has rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries. Junior Peter Lucas gives the Bulldogs another speedy option in the backfield, while junior fullback Alex Maldjian has been a capable blocker over the first two weeks. In the passing game, O’Connor has 6-foot-5 junior Tyler Pierson and senior Trevor Caruso as his main targets.
Both teams feature standout offensive and defensive lines, so those will certainly be battles to watch.
Rumson’s defense has been perfect so far, but will without a doubt face its biggest test of the season. UMass-bound senior linebacker Mike Ruane leads the way with standout senior Mike Murdock in the secondary and senior anchor Liam Adams at defensive tackle.
Middletown South has plenty of top-notch defenders with Imsho, senior defensive lineman Will Gulick, junior defensive lineman Jake Krellin and senior linebacker Kevin Higgins. Junior linebacker Chris Patterson had a great game in the win over Manasquan and looks like an up-and-coming playmaker. Higgins is one of the best linebackers in the Shore, but has missed the past two games with a foot injury. If he is ready to go Friday night it will be a major boost for the Eagles’ defense.
If there was ever a time to pick against Middletown South it would be now. The Eagles weren’t dominant in wins over Ocean and Manasquan, but this program under Steve Antonucci is known for rising to the occasion and playing well in big games. With that being said, Rumson has the goods to pull the upset. Aside from getting pelted by rain on the sideline, I look forward to what should be a great game.
Lancers Try to Slay the Dragons
No. 4 St. John Vianney heads to No. 8 Brick’s Keller Memorial Field on Friday night in search of its third straight 4-0 start, while the Dragons are looking to rebound from a 62-34 loss to No. 2 Toms River North.
The Lancers’ running game, powered by Villanova recruit Chris Chukwuneke and supplemented by junior Johnny Buchanan, has led the way offensively. In the win over Red Bank last week, however, quarterback Matt DeGennaro fired three touchdown passes, showing the Lancers can indeed be balanced when they want to.
Chukwuneke has 416 yards rushing and six touchdowns through three games while Buchanan has 153 yards and three touchdowns, plus a receiving touchdown. DeGennaro has 383 yards passing and three touchdowns and Samuel East and Zyaire Sterling lead the receivers.
St. John Vianney’s defense has been outstanding in wins over Matawan, Raritan and Red Bank, allowing just one defensive touchdown. Buchanan is also a standout linebacker and leads the Lancers with 31 tackles. Defensive end Nick Densieski is second in the Shore Conference with five sacks.
Brick’s defense was carved up for 62 points and 472 yards by Toms River North, but that is a unique situation considering the Mariners’ offense is one of the state’s best. Brick’s defense is usually among the stingiest in the Shore, so the thought is last week was an aberration. Senior linebacker Dean Helstowski leads Brick with 28 tackles and junior defensive end Josh Garrett has two sacks. Garrett has also established himself as an outstanding special teams player with two blocked punts. Brick has blocked three punts in the last two games, so that is something St. John Vianney will have to look out for. The weather could make for a low-scoring game, and a big play on special teams could be the difference.
The Dragons’ offense was a bright spot versus Toms River North, led by senior quarterback Anthony Costanza. He has been one of the most surprising players in the Shore Conference this season, throwing for 326 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 214 yards and five touchdowns. His toughness and consistency are a major reason why the Dragons average over 30 points per game. Brick also has one of the Shore’s top all-around players in Ja’Sir Taylor, who has been recruited as a wide receiver by Temple but has played more running back so far this season. Senior receiver John Prato is the top target in the passing game when Taylor is in the backfield, while sophomore Cole Groschel has shown his versatility with big plays at running back and wide receiver.
Freehold Township Goes for 4-0
Freehold Township travels to Neptune on Friday night where it will try for the program’s first 4-0 start since 1980.
The Patriots are averaging 34 points per game in their “Air Raid” offense with senior quarterback Charles Sabbagh throwing for a conference-leading 888 yards and eight touchdowns. He has a deep group of receivers with Adrian Rybaltowski, Tyrique Hall, Javier Rodriguez and Anthony Lotti. Running back Max Nowak is also a threat out of the backfield as he his tied with Rybaltowski for the team-high in receptions with 13.
Freehold Township’s defense is led by senior linebacker Mike Ferdinandi, who is tied for third in the Shore Conference in tackles with 38. Junior defensive back Kevin Doherty is tied for the conference lead in interceptions with three.
If the Patriots can get past Neptune it sets them up for a big season. After the Scarlet Fliers, Freehold Township plays Perth Amboy and Jackson Liberty, who are a combined 0-6 heading into Week 4. The Patriots could certainly be 6-0 heading into a Week 7 matchup with rival Howell.
Neptune is still a bit of an unknown. The Scarlet Fliers lost to Middletown North 34-7 in Week 1, then had a bye before beating Freehold, 28-7, last week. Junior quarterback Chase Fairbanks has four touchdown passes, all of which have come to senior wide out Kahmar Rice.
Jaguars Try to Dig Out of 1-2 Hole
It’s been a tough start for two-time defending Central Jersey Group IV champion Jackson Memorial, who have lost two games in a row following a season-opening win over Jackson Liberty. The Jaguars’ offense has scored just 19 points in its last two games, and will try to get untracked against a Toms River South defense that is sixth in the Shore allowing just nine points per game.
The Indians, meanwhile, are 2-0 in Class A South, so a win would keep them stride-for-stride with Toms River North and Central atop the division.
The Rest of Week 4
Metuchen (1-1) at Asbury Park (2-1), 6 p.m.: Monmouth Regional knocked off Metuchen, 33-22, in Week Two, so the Blue Bishops have a decent gauge against the Bulldogs.
Raritan (0-3) at Donovan Catholic (0-3), 6:30 p.m.: After playing three of the top teams in the Shore to start the season, Raritan look to get on a roll starting with the Griffins.
Howell (2-1) at No. 2 Toms River North (3-0), 7 p.m.: Mariners senior quarterback Mike Husni has 1,016 yards and 12 touchdowns between rushing and passing this season.
Matawan (1-2) at Ocean (1-3), 7 p.m.: Ocean senior wide receiver Joey Aldarelli leads the Shore Conference with 23 receptions for 319 yards and four touchdowns.
Sayreville (3-0) at Brick Memorial (0-3), 7 p.m.: The Mustangs are 0-3 for the first time in many years, and now have to deal with a Bombers team that is undefeated.
No. 6 Wall (3-0) at Long Branch (1-1), 7 p.m.: The Crimson Knights’ defense is 11th in the Shore allowing 13.7 points per game, while Long Branch running back Keith Cooper is averaging 10.5 yards per carry. Something will have to give.
Manasquan (2-1) at Barnegat (2-1), 7 p.m.: The Warriors look like a completely different team than what we’ve seen the past two seasons. Senior Adam Schreck is underrated and integral for Manasquan as a defensive end, tight end and kicker.
Colonia (1-2) at No. 7 Red Bank Catholic (2-1), 7 p.m.: The Caseys are down to their third-string quarterback in converted running back Nick Brusca. It all falls on the running game against Colonia. It’s not a good weekend for passing, anyway.
Keansburg (0-3) at Pinelands (0-3), 7 p.m.: The Wildcats were a play or two from taking down Lacey last week. They’ll try to get into the win column against the Titans.
Mater Dei Prep (3-0) at Highland Park (2-1), 7 p.m.: The Seraphs continue to get better each week, which is bad news for everyone else. The weather could slow them down, but not enough for the Owls to take advantage.
Bishop Ahr (2-1) at Shore (2-1), 7 p.m.: The Week 1 loss to Asbury Park was a wakeup call for the Blue Devils. Since then they’ve outscored their opponents 77-28.
Manchester (1-2) at Toms River East (0-3), 7 p.m.: The Raiders haven’t scored a point yet this season. It’s been a rough start for head coach Kyle Sandberg, but this is a chance to get into the win column and starting building some positive vibes.
Marlboro (1-2) at Colts Neck (0-3), noon: Marlboro’s Cameron Caorsi leads the Shore in rushing with 701 yards and eight touchdowns. No team - not even Manalapan - has been able to slow him down so far
Point Boro (3-0) at Monmouth (2-2), noon: The Panthers’ offense is crisp and efficient with junior quarterback James Fara at the helm. The Matt Cilento era has gotten off to a perfect start. Monmouth quarterback Jay Eustace quietly has eight total touchdowns.
No. 3 Manalapan (3-0) at Freehold (0-3), 1 p.m.: Manalapan junior running bak Naim Mayfield is averaging 12.5 yards per carry and junior quarterback Luke Corcione is completing 74 percent of his passes. The Braves have made it look easy thus far.
Jackson Liberty (0-3) at Lacey (2-1), 1 p.m.: Lacey wide receiver Chase Stephensen is tied for third in the Shore with 13 receptions as the favorite target of quarterback Colton Klaus.
Keyport (2-1) at South River (1-2), 2 p.m.: The Red Raiders will look to get back on track after losing to Mater Dei Prep last week. South River lost to Bishop Ahr, which lost to Point Beach, which Keyport beat Week 1.
Point Beach (1-2) at Middlesex (0-3), 3 p.m.: The Garnet Gulls look to even their record against the winless Blue Jays.
Football 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.