Class B North proves to be tough division

Class B North proves to be tough division

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Class B North proves to be tough division

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The Shore Conference Class B North football grind.

It is as difficult gauntlet to navigate as there is in Shore Conference scholastic sports.

“A lot of people compare it to playing in the SEC (collegiate football’s Southeastern Conference) week in and week out,” said Neptune coach Mark Ciccotelli. “Emotionally, you have to be there each and every week.”

Last week was the perfect example of how rugged Class B North can be.

Matawan, which is ranked No. 4 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10 and has moved into the division this season after spending the last two seasons in Class A Central, had to rally to record a 21-14 overtime win over Freehold.

Wall, which is also new to the division after spending the last two seasons in Class C Central, upended fellow divisional newcomer Red Bank Regional, 34-28, in double overtime. The Crimson Knights were an unknown in the divisional race before the season began after suffering massive graduation losses.

This week will see the season’s first big Class B North game as No. 2 Neptune (2-0, 1-0) will host No. 5 Long Branch (2-0, 0-0) on Saturday at Neptune’s Memorial Field.

The winner could well move into the pole position in the divisional race, although Neptune is at Matawan next Friday night and Long Branch hosts Matawan in late October.

The winner will also earn valuable position in the race for power points in the NJSIAA Central Group III bracket.

Other key games this weekend have No. 7 Southern (2-0, 1-0) hosting Toms River North (1-1, 0-1) tonight in a Class A South game. Also, in Class A South, Jackson Memorial (1-1, 1-0) will host No. 9 Brick Memorial (2-0, 1-0) tonight; Holmdel (2-0, 0-0), which has not been scored upon, will try to show it is a contender in Class A Central when it plays at No. 8 Rumson-Fair Haven (2-0, 1-0) tonight. Also, tonight in Class A Central, one of the state’s best girls basketball and softball rivalries will have its first football renewal since 2005 when No. 1 Red Bank Catholic (2-0, 1-0) hosts St. John Vianney (1-1, 0-1).

Ocean (1-1, 0-1) will return to action tonight after it had to forfeit to Neptune last week because of six players amongst its varsity and junior varsity programs were diagnosed with impetigo, when it hosts Matawan (2-0, 1-0) in a Class B North game.

The Toms River North at Southern game is the Asbury Park Press Game of the Week with video highlights to be posted on APP.com late tonight. The Toms River North-Southern game will be broadcast live on 105.7 FM tonight beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45.

Long Branch coach Dan George said the prospect of playing a Class B North team enables him and his coaching staff to have the players attention.

“You can’t waste time all week,” George said.

The Long Branch-Neptune rivalry has developed into one of the Shore’s more entertaining ones through the years. George’s first Long Branch team in 1999 recorded probably the biggest of his 107 wins during his 16-season head coaching career when it defeated Neptune, 28-13, in the Central Group III championship game. That Long Branch win snapped Neptune’s 33-game winning streak at Memorial Field that dated back to 1993.

Neptune has defeated Long Branch the last two seasons.

“You talk to anybody who played at Long Branch and they will talk about how they did against Neptune,” George said. “These kids all know each other. If they all could pick a game to play their best game it would be the Neptune game.

“There is so much tradition through the years. So many people on both sides of the ball, played on one side and had a relative who played on the other side.”

What both teams know about the other is that each has outstanding talent.

It appears Neptune has more than adequately been able to fill the hole left by the graduation of quarterback Jaheem Woods. In its 41-13 win over Raritan in the opener, senior Ajee Patterson, in his first varsity start, rushed for 123 yards and three TDs and threw for 170 yards and a score.

“They lose the Player of the Year in the Shore Conference and they replace him with a player who is every bit as exciting and dangerous,” George said.

“I thought he did some nice things (in the opener),” Ciccotelli said. “He’s getting better every day.”

Neptune has several other game-breaking players on offense in senior wide receiver Geoff Fairbanks and senior running back Myles Martin.

Long Branch, which is playing without senior tailback Dwight Clark (ankle injury) has one of the Shore’s most physical players in senior fullback/middle linebacker Jamil Jackson. Jackson ran for 174 yards and a TD and was outstanding on defense in a 18-13 win at Manasquan in the season-opener.

“He’s a tough, hard-nosed throwback type of football player,” Ciccotelli said. “He plays the game the right way. He’s physical and athletic. You better get more than one guy to him. He’s a load to bring down. I have a lot of respect for that young man.”

Southern, which has not allowed a point in its first two games, will have to contain the multiple weapons of Toms River North, led by sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani and junior wide receiver/running back Joey Fields.

The Rams will look to control the ball behind senior running back Abe Gonzalez, who ran for 163 yards and two TDs in a 19-0 win over Toms River South last week.

Brick Memorial and Jackson Memorial have staged their share of dramatic games over the years, including last year’s 19-14 Jackson Memorial win on a TD in the final minute.

The Mustangs have become more of a big play offense this year, led by senior quarterback Ryan Cieplinski and junior running back/wide receiver Mike Basile, who accounted for all five of the Mustangs’ TDs last week in a 36-21 win at Middletown North.

Jackson Memorial, which was defeated by Manalapan, 30-12, in its opener, will try to grind it out behind their veteran offensive line and junior running back Khani Glover, who ran for 193 yards and three TDs in a 33-17 win at Toms River East last week.

Holmdel’s defense, led by linebackers Frankie Condito, Brett Lambert and John Tascione, will get a stiff test from a Rumson offense, led by quarterback Danny Roberto, wide receiver John Ryan and senior running back Travis Clark.

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