Four years removed from winning a sectional title and playing in the White Division, the Monroe High School football team finds itself atop the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division standings.
The Falcons (3-0), ranked No. 1 in the Home News Tribune Top 10, are the division’s lone undefeated team.
Monroe has sandwiched an impressive victory over defending Central Group V champion South Brunswick between lopsided wins over North Brunswick and East Brunswick, a couple of rebuilding programs which have been outscored 277-45 while going a combined 1-7.
“We’re going into a really exciting part of our schedule,” said Monroe coach Chris Beagan, whose team faces division powers and incumbent playoff qualifiers Edison (2-1), Old Bridge (3-1) and Piscataway (2-1) over the next three weeks.
“We’re excited about the challenges that lie in front of us. I don’t know that anyone feels real comfortable in our division.”
After winning the 2009 Central Group III championship with the best team in school history, Monroe moved up to the Red Division, where it compiled a 10-20 record over the past three years.
“Every kid in the program now has played nothing but Red Division football,” Beagan said. “I definitely think there is a little bit of a transition there. We lived in the White Division for quite a long time, so I’m not taking anything away from the football played there.”
Beagan said the “sheer numbers and size of the schools” in the Red Division make it more competitive.
Monroe features one of the most balanced offenses in the conference, led by running back Akeer Franklin (600 rushing yards) and quarterback Stephen Karoly (506 passing yards).
The Falcons began preparing for the upcoming stretch of their schedule in the preseason, scrimmaging the likes of defending sectional champion Roxbury and incumbent sectional finalists Long Branch and Manalapan.
Behind an offense that is averaging 40 points per game, South Plainfield is off to a 3-0 start for the first time in 31 years.
The Tigers have a balanced attack with running back Roemello Monroe (389 yards rushing and 5 TDs) and quarterback Kyle Moroney (561 yards passing and 4 TDs).
Junior Trey Martinez, filling in for the injured Jason Lee, caught three passes for a game-high 114 yards and a touchdown in his varsity debut as South Plainfield rallied for a 41-21 victory over Woodbridge last Friday night.
To put South Plainfield’s offense in perspective, the Tigers have scored more points in three games this season (120 points) than they did in seven games (108 points) a year ago.
“I don’t think our offense is clicking at all,” South Plainfield coach Gary Cassio said. “Don’t get me wrong, we have our moments, but we need to get over our mistakes.”
South Plainfield travels to Bishop Ahr (1-3) on Friday with the hopes of avenging last year’s 14-13 defeat.
“It was a bad loss last year,” Cassio said. “These boys on our team are hungry and they don’t feel like they’re getting any respect. I think they’re waking people up, but the target gets bigger on their backs and they know that.”
Revised power points
The new NJSIAA power point formula may help some teams qualify for the postseason.
Under the old formula, a team’s first eight games counted toward its power point rankings. Under the revised formula, a team’s best seven power point games count toward its total, meaning a school is allowed to drop the game in which it received the fewest power points.
For Red Division schools such as defending sectional champions Sayreville and South Brunswick, which both enter Week 5 with 2-2 records, the new formula could help their seed come playoff time.
The Bombers, who move up to Central Group V, where the Vikings are reigning champions, won the last three Central Group IV titles.
“Everyone is going to be scrambling,” Sayreville coach George Najjar said of teams in the Red Division, which many regard as the state’s toughest. “(The new formula) could impact the playoffs because teams keep knocking each other off.”
Week 4 proved to be relatively uneventful as 12 of the 14 games involving GMC schools were decided by an average margin of 34 points.
Those 12 losers were outscored 514-106 with eight of them being held to a touchdown or less.
Only two games – St. Joseph 20-10 over Bishop Ahr and Keyport 14-7 over Middlesex – were decided in the closing minutes.
The Week 5 schedule promises to be significantly more competitive with eight games being evenly matched – on paper, anyway.