The team that was expected to finish ranked No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10 Poll at the start of the season wound up No. 1 after taking a slight detour late in the season.
Red Bank Catholic, which had been ranked No. 1 for 26 consecutive polls dating back to the start of the 2011 season, dropped to No. 2 in the final in season poll after it was defeated, 42-7, by St. Joseph (Montvale) in an NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinal.
Manalapan, which at the time was the Shore’s lone remaining unbeaten team, moved into the top spot in that final in season poll and had the chance to finish ranked No. 1 for the first time with a win over South Brunswick in the NJSIAA Central Group V championship game.
However, an impressive South Brunswick team defeated Manalapan, 33-22, and denied the Braves’ their first sectional championship.
Red Bank Catholic winds up No. 1 for two reasons.
Reason No. 1 is Red Bank Catholic and Manalapan have one common opponent — No. 6 Middletown South. Both played Middletown South at Middletown South’s “The Swamp.” The Caseys defeated Middletown South, 34-7, Oct. 26. Manalapan defeated Middletown South, 35-31, on Sept. 28.
Reason No. 2 is Red Bank Catholic lost to a team that defeated both Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic this season and is considered by many scholastic football observers to be the top team in the state.
Every team in the Shore would have likely lost to St. Joseph (Montvale) by a similar score.
Red Bank Catholic, which has a 24-game winning streak against Shore Conference opponents, finishes ranked No. 1 in the Shore for the third time in the last five seasons.
1. RED BANK CATHOLIC (10-1): Last poll: No. 2. The Caseys won the outright Shore Conference Class A Central championship. It was the ninth straight season Red Bank Catholic has won some sort of Shore Conference divisional championship. The Caseys also advanced to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals before they were defeated by powerful and eventual Non-Public Group III state champion St. Joseph (Montvale). First game
2013: Sept. 6 or 7 vs. Red Bank (4-6).
2. MANALAPAN (11-1) Last poll: No. 2. The Braves won the outright Class A North championship for the third straight season and advanced to an NJSIAA sectional championship game for the second straight season before they were defeated by South Brunswick, 33-22, in the Central Group V championship game. Manalapan will carry a 17-game divisional winning streak into next season. First game 2013: Sept. 6 or 7 vs. Jackson Memorial (3-7).
3. LACEY (10-1): Last poll: No. 3. The Lions, in their first season in Class A South, won the divisional title. Lacey won its first 10 games before it was defeated by Kingsway in an NJSIAA South Group IV semifinal. First game 2013: Sept. 6 or 7 vs. Pinelands (0-9).
4. NEPTUNE (9-3): Last poll: No. 4. The Scarlet Fliers shared the Class B North divisional championship. It is the first time since 1998 Neptune has finished at least tied for first overall in a division. The Scarlet Fliers also advanced to the NJSIAA Central Group III championship game for the second straight year, but they fell short in their bid for a second straight sectional championship and fifth overall when they were defeated by Nottingham. First game 2013: Sept. 6 or 7 at Raritan (0-10).
5. SOUTHERN (9-3): Last poll: No. 5. The Rams won six straight after a two-point loss to Lacey on Oct. 13 and recorded two dramatic playoff wins on the road to advance to the NJSIAA South Group V championship game. However, Southern’s attempt to win its first sectional championship fell short as it was defeated by powerful and unbeaten Williamstown. It was the second time in the last five seasons Southern advanced to a sectional championship. First game
2013: Sept. 6 or 7 vs. Freehold Township (4-6).
6. MIDDLETOWN SOUTH (8-4): Last poll: No. 6. The Eagles went on a late season run and avenged an earlier loss to Colts Neck to advance to the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship game before they were defeated by powerful and unbeaten Sayreville. It was the 10th time in the last 12 seasons, 11th time in coach Steve Antonucci’s 15 seasons and 19th time overall Middletown South has been in a sectional championship game. First game 2013: Sept. 13 or 14 vs. Brick (3-7).
7. COLTS NECK (9-2): Last poll: No. 7. The Cougars set a school-record for wins in a season, had home playoff games for the first time in their history and recorded just their second all-time playoff win and first since 2000 before they were defeated by Middletown South in an Central Group IV semifinal. First game 2013: Sept. 6 or 7 at Toms River East (2-8).
8. LONG BRANCH (9-2): Last poll: No. 8. The Green Wave shared the Class B North championship with Neptune and won seven straight after a loss to Neptune on Sept. 22 before they were defeated, 7-0, by eventual Central III champion Nottingham in a Central III semifinal. It was the first divisional title since 2007 for Long Branch, which also recorded its first playoff win since 2007. First game 2013: Sept. 6 or 7 vs. Manasquan (5-5).
9. POINT BEACH (10-1): Last poll: No. 9. It was a record-setting season for the Garnet Gulls, who won their first 10 games to set a school-record for wins in a season and averaged 42.3 points a game through their first 10 games before they were defeated by eventual Central Group I champion Florence in an NJSIAA Central I semifinal. Point Beach did win the Class B Central championship, its first divisional title since 1997. First game 2013: Sept. 6 or 7 at Cardinal McCarrick (1-8).
10. SHORE (9-3): Last poll: The Blue Devils advanced to the Central Group I championship game for the second time in the last three seasons before they suffered a heart-breaking 23-17 double overtime defeat to Florence. Shore had advanced to the sectional final with two wins by a combined 79-19. First game 2013: Sept. 6 or 7 vs. Rumson-Fair Haven (7-3).