It is a unique situation the Point Pleasant Beach and Shore Regional high school football teams find themselves facing during the next two weeks.
They will play each other twice. The first will come at Shore’s Robert E. Feeney Field either Wednesday night or Friday night, depending on the weather, in the game that will decide the Shore Conference Class B Central championship. They then will meet at 10 a.m. on Dec. 7 at The College of New Jersey in the NJSIAA Central Group I championship game.
Some would say the second game is by far the more important game because it is for a sectional championship. However, do not try to tell either Shore coach Mark Costantino or Point Beach coach John Wagner that.
“We’re focused on just the first game right now because it’s for the division,” Costantino said. “Last year, we lost the game to win the division (to Point Beach on Thanksgiving Day) and then lost the state final (to Florence) and wound up with no championship to show for a heck of a season. I can’t ever see giving up on a game. You owe it to your seniors. Every time we walk on the field we expect to win the game.”
“I approach it as a conference championship game,” Wagner said. “We’re going to play next week, no matter what. If it we’re a regular season and didn’t mean anything it would be different, but this is for a championship in our backyard. It’s an honor to be a conference (divisional) champion.”
Six years ago, then Rumson-Fair Haven coach Shane Fallon made a controversial decision when he rested his starters against Red Bank Catholic in the regular season finale in order to make sure they were healthy for the Central Group II championship game the following week against Carteret. Red Bank Catholic routed Rumson-Fair Haven , 61-0. The Bulldogs then were defeated by Carteret.
Fallon received criticism from many around the Shore for his decision. The next two times he was in that situation, in both 2010 and 2011, he played his starters against Red Bank Catholic until well into the second half.
“If I had a dilemma at Point Beach, it would be if we were playing Point Boro on Thanksgiving (Point Beach and Point Boro played on Thanksgiving from 2000-2009. Those two schools are not in the same division),” said Wagner, who is in his third season at Point Beach. “That would be a dilemma because I know how the towns feel about the competition, but I don’t have a dilemma because we’re playing for a conference championship.”
Costantino, who is in his 22nd season as Shore’s successful head coach, said he’s been in the situation at least twice where his team had a game for a divisional championship the week before a sectional championship game.
In 1998, the Blue Devils defeated Point Beach, 21-14, to tie Keyport for the Class C North championship. They were then defeated, 6-3, by Keyport in the Central Group I championship game.
And of course there was last year, when Shore and Point Beach played for the Class B Central title on Thanksgiving Day. Point Beach won that game, 19-7 and then lost to Florence the following week in the Central I semifinals. Shore beat Asbury Park in the Central I semifinals and then lost to Florence, 23-17, in double overtime in the sectional final.
Both Costantino and Wagner, who was Roselle Park’s succesful head coach from 1981-2005 and then Roselle Park’s athletic director through 2010, said they have never been involved in a situation where their teams have played the same opponent two weeks in a row.
Wagner said Roselle Park was twice in situations where they played the same team twice in a three-week span. The Panthers defeated New Providence in both games in one of those situations and split with Brearley, with Brearley winning the playoff game, in the other.
During the years, Shore has played teams like Keyport and Asbury Park twice in the same season, including Asbury Park this season.
There was almost another situation in the state this year where teams would be playing each other on Thanksgiving and then next week in a sectional final.
However, Hopewell Valley and Lawrence, who were scheduled to play on Thursday in a regular season game with no divisional championship at stake, have agreed to cancel that game because they will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 7 at TCNJ in the Central Group III championship game and the first all-Mercer County sectional final.
There are at least two examples of Shore Conference teams playing each other on consecutive weeks.
One came in 1979 with Toms River North and Brick. They met on Thanksgiving Day, with Brick winning, 24-15, in the game that decided the Shore Conference Class A South championship.
This and that
Southern senior receiver and Penn State recruit Mike Gesicki will not play in the Rams’ season-finale at home at 10 a.m. on Thursday against Central (5-4) because of a wrist injury, Southern coach Chuck Donohue Sr. said. The Rams (4-5) will also bee without quarterback/defensive back Logan Sheehan (ankle), running back/defensive back/placekicker Rob Yaiser (concussion) and receiver/defensive back/kick returner Zac Halliday (arm) on Thursday. … Middletown North (3-6) will be trying for its first win over Middletown South (4-5) since a 12-7 victory in 2000 when the two meet on Thursday at Middletown South. … Lakewood (6-4) will be trying for consecutive wins over Toms River South (7-3) for the first time since 2000 and 2001 when the two meet Thursday in the 94th renewal of the Shore’s oldest, continuous rivalry…. Shawnee’s come-from-behind 28-24 win at Toms River South in a South Group IV semifinal on Saturday in which it wiped out a 24-0 halftime deficit and a 24-7 deficit after three quarters was not the first time it has defeated a Toms River Regional Schools team after trailing by three touchdowns. In a 2002 South IV semifinal at then unbeaten Toms River North, Shawnee recorded a 24-21 win in overtime after trailing 21-0 after three quarters.