Manalapan will be able to make the last statement when it comes to the discussion of which team will have the final No. 1 ranking in the Asbury Park Press Top 10.
The Braves, who have been ranked No. 2 all season, will try to win their first NJSIAA sectional championship next Sunday night at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium when they take on Hunterdon Central (7-4) in the Central Group V championship game.
A Manalapan win would give it a legitimate case to be No. 1. It will have gone unbeaten against a Group V schedule. It will have won playoff games over two traditional powers in Sayreville, which had won sectional championships the last three seasons and Hunterdon Central. It also has wins over two teams currently ranked in the top 10.
Manalapan was in this position a year ago. It was ranked No. 1 heading into the Central Group V championship game against South Brunswick. But a 33-22 loss enabled Red Bank Catholic to finish No. 1.
Hunterdon Central, despite its record, should not be underestimated. The Red Devils played five games from Oct. 11-Nov. 8 without quarterback Mike Knight, who sustained a broken leg. They went 1-3 in those games. They also played three games without standout tailback-linebacker Jason Cabinda because of an appendectomy. They went 0-3 in those games.
The games Hunterdon Central played without Cabinda and Knight included a 16-13 loss at Immaculata on Oct. 25. Red Bank Catholic soundly defeated Immaculata in the first round of the Non-Public Group III playoffs.
However, Knight and Cabinda, who has made a non-binding oral committment to Penn State, both returned once the playoffs began. The Red Devils have outscored their two playoff opponents 66-7.
Manalapan defeated Hunterdon Central 17-7 last year in a Central Group V semifinal.
The resume for Red Bank Catholic, which has been No. 1 all season, is completed. The Caseys will watch the sectional finals from the sidelines after their 28-7 loss to St. Joseph (Montvale) on Nov. 23 in a Non-Public Group III semifinal.
St. Joseph (Montvale) was ranked No. 1 in the nation by some polls at the time of its win over Red Bank Catholic. Its loss to a four-loss Don Bosco Prep team on Thanksgiving Day takes a bit of the luster away from Red Bank Catholic’s performance even though Don Bosco Prep would be favored against most teams in the Shore.
However, the Caseys made a statement with their 45-0 win over Central Group II finalist and then-unbeaten Rumson-Fair Haven on Friday night.
Red Bank Catholic also has two wins over teams currently ranked in the top 10.
There is one common opponent between Red Bank Catholic and Manalapan – Middletown South (5-5). The Caseys defeated the Eagles 41-13. The Braves defeated the Eagles 29-14.
A Manalapan win in the sectional final will make for an interesting debate with both sides having a legitimate argument. A Manalapan loss makes Red Bank Catholic a clear-cut No. 1.
These are the final regular-season rankings. The final rankings will appear with the All-Shore team on Dec. 15.
1. RED BANK CATHOLIC (10-1): Last week: No. 1. Larry Redaelli rushed for 160 yards and three TDs, sophomore quarterback-defensive back Eddie Hahn ran for a TD and returned an interception for another and the defense held 2,000-yard rusher Charlie Volker to 45 yards as the Caseys routed Rumson-Fair Haven 45-0 clinched the outright Shore Conference Class A Central championship and made it 33 straight wins over Shore Conference opponents. Next game: Season completed.
2. MANALAPAN (11-0): Last week: No. 2. Saeed Blacknall had TD receptions of 80 and 26 yards and senior tailback Tyler Leonetti ran for 144 yards and three TDs as the Braves rolled to a 42-0 win over Marlboro and clinched the outright Shore Conference Class A North championship for the fourth straight season. Manalapan is the first Shore Conference team since Middletown South from 2001-2005 to win four straight divisional titles. Manalapan has also won 25 straight over Shore Conference opposition and 26 straight regular season games. Next game: Sunday vs. Hunterdon Central (7-4) at Rutgers University in the NJSIAA Central Group V championship game.
3. COLTS NECK (10-1): Last week: No. 4. Quarterback Christian Sanchez ran for 142 yards and a TD and threw two TD passes and Annthony Gargiulo ran for two TDs as the Cougars defeated Howell, 40-13, to set a school-record for wins in a season. Colts Neck, whose only loss was 48-18 to Manalapan on Oct. 25, will try for its first sectional championship this week in its first appearance in a sectional final. Next game: Saturday vs. No. 8 Brick (8-3) at The College of New Jersey in the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship game.
4. RUMSON-FAIR HAVEN (10-1): Last week: No. 3. The Bulldogs were overwhelmed 45-0 by Red Bank Catholic in the game that decided the Class A Central championship. Junior tailback Charlie Volker did become the fourth Shore Conference running back to surpass the 2,000-yard mark in a season. He now has 2,012 yards. Rumson will now try to win its second sectional championship in four years as it makes its third appearance in a sectional final in four years and fourth in seven years. Next game: Saturday vs. Weequahic (11-0) at Kean University in the NJSIAA Central Group II championship game.
5. OCEAN (10-1): Last week: No. 5. Tyler Thompson ran for 145 yards and three TDs and junior outside linebacker Frank Henry returned an interception 65 yards for a TD as the Spartans rallied for a 26-19 win over Monmouth and finished with their most wins since they went 11-1 in 2000. Next game: Season completed.
6. MANASQUAN (8-3): Last week: No. 6. Senior tailback Joe Murphy ran for 130 yards and two TDs on 33 carries as the Warriors defeated Wall 17-7 to make it two wins in three weeks and three wins in the last two seasons over their rival. Next game: Season completed.
7. JACKSON MEMORIAL (8-3): Last week: No. 7. Senior tailback Khani Glover ran for 179 yards and two TDs on 12 carries, including a 64-yard TD run on the first play of the game, and senior fullback Ken Bradley ran for two TDs and had a TD on a 15-yard pass from quarterback Joe DeMaio as the Jaguars defeated Jackson Liberty 34-0 to make it six wins in as many meetings over their sister school. Next game: Season completed.
8. BRICK (8-3): Last week: No. 8. The Green Dragons did not play. They will try to win their first sectional championship in their first appearance in a sectional final since 1994 and their seventh sectional championship overall. Next game: Saturday at The College of New Jersey vs. No. 3 Colts Neck (10-1) in the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship game.
9. TOMS RIVER SOUTH (8-3): Last week: No. 9. Otis Kearney ran for 177 yards and two TDs, Khaleel Greene had two TD runs and Russell Messler had two TD receptions from backup quarterback Darrius Hart and kicked a field goal as the Indians defeated Lakewood 53-26 to finish with their most wins in a season since they went 8-2 in 2002. Toms River South is ranked ahead of Barnegat because it has a win over Lakewood while Barnegat lost to Lakewood. The Indians also have a win over a ranked team in Jackson Memorial. Next game: Season completed.
10. BARNEGAT (10-1): Last week: No. 10. Junior fullback Kevin Hoffman ran for two TDs and sophomore tailback Paul Wickfire ran for 138 yards and a TD as the Bengals clinched the outright Shore Conference Class B South championship for the second time in three seasons with a 35-14 win over Pinelands. Barnegat will now try to win its first sectional title in the eight-year history of its program in its first appearance in a sectional final. Next game: Saturday at Rowan University vs. Delsea (9-2) in the NJSIAA South Group III championship game.