A big game with the eyes of the Shore Conference football community on you.
That is something the proud programs at Brick Township, Ocean and Toms River South were used to for many years.
However, in recent years, those three programs have not been in the spotlight nearly as much.
Tonight, the three will have the spotlight on them.
“We’re trying to get back to playing, big, exciting games every week, being in the hunt, whether it be the playoff race or the conference (divisional) race,” said Brick’s third-year head coach Rob Dahl. “There are some vibes we can get back to that now.”
The Green Dragons, who were the Shore Conference’s flagship program for most of legendary coach Warren Wolf’s 51-year tenure from 1958-2008, went 3-7 last season. It was the the most losses in a season in the program 55-year history
Brick opened its season with a dramatic, last-minute 21-14 win over crosstown rival and then ranked Brick Memorial. The win propelled it into the Asbury Park Press Top 10 Poll at No. 10.
The Green Dragons play at No. 4 Middletown South in “The Swamp” tonight in a nondivisional game. It is the season-opener for Middletown South.
Ocean, which from 1983-2009, had tremendous success under several coaches, including George Conti Jr. from 1983-93, had consecutive seasons of 3-7 in 2010 and 4-6 in 2011 before going 5-4-1 and qualifying for the NJSIAA playoffs last year. Many feel this is the year the Spartans return to the elite in the Shore.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to win football games,” said Ocean seventh-season head coach Don Klein. “When you win football games, you put yourselves in position to play big games.”
Ocean, ranked No. 9 in the APP Top 10, will play neighbor and No. 5 Neptune tonight at Memorial Field in Neptune in a key Class B North game.
Toms River South was one of the Shore’s premier programs under head coaches Ron Signorino Sr. from 1964-78 and Chip LaBarca Sr. from 1981-96. However, the Indians’ last winning season was in 2003 and their last divisional championship came in 2002.
“We’ve been down for too long of a period, to claw ourselves back and start playing some meaningful games, it’s real exciting for the players, the student body, the fans and everyone who represents us,” said Toms River South’s third-year head coach Ron Signorino Jr., the son of Ron Signorino Sr. “We’re delighted and grateful we have this opportunity.”
Toms River South, ranked No. 8 in the APP Top 10, hosts No. 7 Southern Regional tonight at venerable Detwiler Stadium in a key Class A South game.
Other key games this weekend have Shore Regional at Asbury Park tonight in Class B Central and the first night home football game in the long history of Asbury Park’s program; St. John Vianney at No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven tonight in Class A Central and No. 1 Red Bank Catholic at Manasquan tomorrow in Class A Central.
The Shore at Asbury Park game is the Game of the Week on APP.com with video highlights of that game available Saturday morning.
The Lakewood at Monsignor Donovan Class B South game will be broadcast live tonight on 105.7 FM.
Brick’s win over Brick Memorial was its first over the Mustangs since 2008, which was also the last game Wolf was the head coach at Brick. It was also Brick’s first win in an opener since 2009, when it beat Colts Neck in Pat Dowling’s first game as its head coach.
“It’s a relief getting off to a good start,” Dahl said. “To beat a quality opponent at the beginning of the year sets the stage for the rest of the year. The kids knew at the end of last year (when Brick won three of its last five games after an 0-5 start) knew we can play in (Class A South) and beat teams in this conference. They know if we execute and play good-old fashioned Brick football anything’s possible.”
Brick received a solid performance from junior quarterback Carmen Sclafani last week. Sclafani, a transfer from Toms River North, ran for 84 yards and a touchdown and threw for 103 yards and a touchdown.
“He definitely gives that experience and confidence at the quarter spot,” Dahl said.
Klein said the feeling amongst those in the Ocean program is similar to what it was in 2008 and 2009, his second and third seasons, when the Spartans went 8-3 both seasons and advanced to the NJSIAA Central Group III semifinals.
“You sense that no matter what the situation, we’re going to compete and sense we’re going to do good things,” Klein said.
Ocean opened its season with a resounding 51-21 win over Manchester. Junior Royal Moore, in his first game at quarterback, ran for 115 yards and a touchdown and threw for three touchdowns. Talented sophomore running back Tyler Thompson ran for 239 yards with a 72-yard TD run.
Neptune, which graduated all 11 of its starters on offense from last season, opened its season with a 24-0 win over Raritan.
“We told the kids, ‘Listen, this is why you lift the weights and why we work so hard in the offseason,’ ” said Klein, in his imitation of one of Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells’ most famous speeches.
The atmosphere for a big game in Toms River South is one of the best in the Shore, from the playing of the school’s fight song “Old Indian Tom” by the band, to legendary public address announcer Dave Correll’s pre-game analysis to his call of “First Down Indians” whenever Toms River South makes a first down.
“We just love our home field advantage,” said Signorino, who was an assistant coach at Brick and Toms River East, which are Class A South rivals of Toms River South. “I can tell you I did not like playing at South when I was an opposing coach. (The atmosphere at Toms River South is) unique. It’s awesome. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to go. The student body is excited.”
Toms River South opened its season with a 41-27 win at Central. It scored on five of its six first half possessions and had 525 yards of total offense in the game.
“I can honestly say that was the best half of football offense we’ve played in the 15 years we’ve been running that offense (the flexbone set, which emphasizes the triple-option).”
Southern, which won Class A South in 2011 and advanced to the NJSIAA South Group V championship game last season, has established itself as a program that plays solid, fundamental football week in and week out.
The Rams also have one of the state’s best players in highly-recruited senior receiver Mike Gesicki.
“We want to get where they are,” Signorino said. “To do that, we’ve got to go through them and beat them.”