The race for the No. 1 spot in the final Asbury Park Press Top 10 could become complicated if a certain scenario plays out.
Red Bank Catholic, currently No. 1, has topped 25 conscutive rankings dating back to the start of the 2011 season. The Caseys, who have finished No. 1 two of the last four seasons, have won 23 straight games against Shore Conference opposition. They will be favored to beat Rumson-Fair Haven on Thanksgiving Day in their regular-season finale.
However, Red Bank Catholic will be an underdog when it plays at St. Joseph (Montvale) (7-2) on Dec. 1 in an NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinal.
Should the Caseys lose to either St. Joseph or in the Non-Public Group III championship game against what is likely to be Delbarton (9-1), does the door open for No. 2 Manalapan (9-0) or No. 3 Lacey (10-0) or No. 6 Point Beach (9-0) to claim the No. 1 spot?
All three would have to run the table to even be in the discussion, because Red Bank Catholic will still have not lost to a Shore Conference school in over two years, and its loss will have to come to a state powerhouse.
It appears Manalapan is the favorite in Central Group V and will be a heavy favorite this week against Marlboro in its regular-season finale.
However, Manalapan and Red Bank Catholic have one common opponent, No. 10 Middletown South. The Caseys recorded a resounding 34-7 win at Middletown South on Oct. 26. Manalapan outlasted the Eagles, 35-31, on Sept. 28 at Middletown South.
Lacey, if it defeats Kingsway in a South Group IV semifinal on Dec. 1, will then likely face talented Timber Creek (7-2) in the South Group IV championship game at Rowan University. The Lions will likely be an underdog in that game.
Point Beach could have to play a very good Shore twice over the next three weeks and a solid Florence team squad in the Central Group I semifinal.
Red Bank Catholic is still favored to wind up No. 1, but the debate could get interesting.
1. RED BANK CATHOLIC (9-0): Last week: No. 1. James Taylor returned two punts for touchdowns and Larry Redaelli ran for two TDs as the Caseys made it 23 straight wins over Shore Conference opponents with a 54-0 victory over Monsignor Donovan in an NJSIAA Non-Public Group III quarterfinal. The Caseys will next try to wrap up the outright Class A Central championship against an opponent they have dominated the last nine seasons. Next game: Thursday at Rumson-Fair Haven (7-2).
2. MANALAPAN (9-0): Last week: No. 2. Tyler Leonetti ran for two TDs, Saeed Blacknall returned the second half kickoff 84 yards for a TD and Mike Isabella threw a TD pass to Anthony Firkser as the Braves moved to 9-0 for the first time in their history with a 39-7 win over Monroe in an NJSIAA Central Group V quarterfinal. Manalapan will next try to win the outright Class A North championship for the third straight year. The opponent is one they have not lost since 1994. Next game: Wednesday at Marlboro (4-5).
3. LACEY (10-0): Last week: No. 3. Kyle Spatz’s 14-yard TD run with 2:20 left broke a tie as the Lions outlasted Toms River South, 45-31, in an NJSIAA South Group IV quarterfinal. Spatz, who had 122 yards and three TDs, added an 8-yard TD with 1:12 left. Christian Tutela had five receptions for 179 yards and two TDs and quarterback Conor Davies and Tom Kelly combined to go 12-for-13 for 266 yards, with Davies going 9-for-9 for 171 yards and two TDs. Next game: Dec. 1 vs. Kingsway (6-3) in a NJSIAAA South Group IV semifinal.
4. COLTS NECK (8-1): Last week: No. 4. Mike Campbell continued his outstanding season by throwing for 224 yards and three TDs, two of which were to Gio Zefferino, and Anthony Garguilo ran for 234 yards and a TD as the Cougars defeated Steinert, 34-20, in an NJSIAA Central Group IV quarterfinal and their first home playoff game. Next game: Wednesday at Howell (1-8).
5. LONG BRANCH (8-1): Last week: No. 5. Senior quarterback Avry Griffin had a 68-yard TD run and sophomore defensive end Hunter Baillie had a 14-yard interception return 16 seconds apart early in the fourth quarter as the Green Wave pulled away for a 26-3 win over Matawan in an NJSIAA Central Group III quarterfinal. Vicente Mota booted two field goals and Griffin threw a 35-yard TD pass to Deon Williams in the first half. Long Branch will next try to clinch a tie for the Class B North championship against an opponent who has played well the second half of the season. It would be Long Branch’s first divisional title since 2007. Next game: Thursday vs. Red Bank (4-5).
6. POINT BEACH (9-0): Last week: No. 6. Dannt Tighe ran for three TDs and Kyle Samaritano ran for two scores as the Garnet Gulls set a school record for wins in a season and made it nine straight games where they have scored 40 points or more with a 44-6 win over South River in an NJSIAA Central Group I quarterfinal. It was Point Beach’s first home playoff game since 1980 and makes it the first time it has won playoff games in two straight seasons. Next is a winner take all game for the Class B Central divisional championship. The game could be a preview of the Central Group I championship game. Next game: Thursday vs. No. 9 Shore (8-1).
7. NEPTUNE (7-2): Last week: No. 7. Senior Myles Martin’s 5-yard TD run on the first play after the Scarlet Fliers recovered a punt that bounced off the leg of a Lakewood player in the final minute of the third quarter broke a scoreless tie and sent Neptune on its way to a hard-fought 14-7 win over Lakewood in an NJSIAA Central Group III quarterfinal. Ajee Patterson added a 9-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter after Shakeem Richardson intercepted a pass at the Piners’ 11. The win made it 10 straight playoff games Neptune coach Mark Ciccotelli has won since 2008 at both Freehold and Neptune. The traditional emotional rivarly game is next for the Scarlet Fliers. Next game: Thursday vs. Asbury Park (6-2).
8. SOUTHERN (7-2): Last week: No. 8. Sophomore Logan Sheehan blocked an extra point with 3:13 left and the Rams then were able to run out the clock as they recorded a wild 33-32 win at Washington Township in a NJSIAA South V quarter. Senior running back Abe Gonzalez ran for a career-high 238 yards and four TDs on a career-high 39 carries and senior quarterback Dan Higgins threw for 210 yards and a TD to Rob Yaiser. It was Southern’s first playoff win since 2008. Next game: Thursday at Central (3-5).
9. SHORE (8-1): Last week: No. 10. Jack Kelly ran for 170 yards and two TDs, Matt Muh threw a 30-yard TD pass to Mark Costantino Jr. and ran for a TD as the Blue Devils rolled to a 48-12 win over Keansburg in an NJSIAA Central Group I quarterfinal. Next is the much anticipated, winner-take-all game for the Class B Central championship against a team it could become quite familiar with over the next three weeks. Next game: Thursday at No. 6 Point Beach (9-0).
10. MIDDLETOWN SOUTH (6-3): Last week: Not ranked. The Eagles continued the dominance over Mercer County Schools with a resounding 40-8 win at No. 2 seed West Windsor-Plainsboro South in a NJSIAA Central Group IV quarterfinal. Jake Ripnick ran for four first half TDs and Kyle Brey ran for a TD and threw for another. Middletown South’s three losses are to the No. 1, 2 and 4 ranked teams, teams whose combined record is 26-1. Next is the rivarly game against an opponent it has not lost to since 2000. Next
game: Thursday at Midd. North (2-7)