It was a season that will be long remembered by those who follow Shore Conference scholastic football.
Shore Conference teams showed how strong the conference is in the NJSIAA playoffs with a Shore Conference-record six sectional or state championships.
One of those sectional championships was won by Jackson Memorial as it returned to the top of the mountain in the Shore Conference after it was annually there the first six seasons of the new millennium.
The Jaguars won the Central Group IV championship by hanging on for a 21-18 win over Middletown South in a game that had a crazy finish that will be talked about forever.
That win cemented Jackson Memorial as the No. 1 team in the final Asbury Park Press Top 10. The Jaguars had moved to the top spot with a dramatic 33-27 overtime win over then No. 1 Red Bank Catholic on Nov. 7 in one of the best games played in the Shore this season.
Jackson Memorial’s win also ended Red Bank Catholic’s 40-game winning streak against Shore Conference opposition. Before the loss to Jackson Memorial, Red Bank Catholic had been ranked No. 1 50 of the 51 previous polls since the start of the 2011 season and had finished No. 1 the previous three seasons.
Red Bank Catholic had solidified its status as the top team in the Shore two weeks before the Jackson Memorial game with a dominant 35-7 win over then No. 2 Manalapan in perhaps the most-hyped game in recent Shore Conference history. That loss snapped Manalapan’s 30-game winning streak against Shore Conference teams and 32-game winning streak in regular season games.
Two of the sectional championships were a long-time in coming as Red Bank Catholic won the Non-Public Group III state championship for its first state or sectional championship in 38 years.
Red Bank Catholic, which has qualified for the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons, showed how far its program has progressed as far as being able on the same level as the North Jersey non-public powers. The Caseys hammered St. Joseph (Montvale), one of the state’s long-time elite programs, in the semifinal and recorded an impressive win over perennial Non-Public Group III contender Delbarton in the championship game.
Both St. Joseph (Montvale) (2012 and 2013) and Delbarton (2011) had defeated Red Bank Catholic in the Non-Public Group III semifinals the last three seasons.
Manalapan, which since the start of the 2011 season, had been the Shore’s second best program behind Red Bank Catholic, won the Central V championship after losing in sectional championship games the previous three seasons. It was Manalapan’s first sectional title and cemented its place among the elite programs in the Shore.
Shore Regional (Central Group I), Rumson-Fair Haven (Central Group II) and Matawan (Central Group III) were the Shore’s other sectional champions as the Shore Conference swept the five Central Jersey sections for the first time since the NJSIAA went to five groups in each section before the 2012 season. It was the first time the Shore Conference had swept Central Jersey since 2008.
For Shore Regional, its championship solidified its place as one of the state’s best Group I programs. The Blue Devils have been in the Central Group I championship game the last three seasons and four of the last five with a Central I title in 2010.
Rumson, which repeated as Central II champion, cemented its status as the one of the state’s best Group II programs. The Bulldogs have won Central II three of the last five seasons and have been in the Central II final four of the last five seasons.
Matawan championship came after it started the season 0-2 with losses to St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven and also came after talented freshman George Pearson was inserted as the starting quarterback.
This past season saw St. John Vianney, in successful head coach Mark Ciccotelli’s first season at the school and bolstered by several talented transfers, emerge from the wilderness and become one of the Shore’s top teams.
The Lancers won their first 10 games, the Shore Conference Class A Central championship for their first divisional title since 1982, won a playoff game for the first time since 1982 and tied the school record for wins set in 1980.
Central, despite not playing a home game until Thanksgiving Day because its field was being renovated. also emerged from the wilderness.
The Golden Eagles shared the the Shore Conference Class B South championship with Barnegat and advanced to the South Group III semifinal. It was Central’s first divisional title since 1994 and it won a playoff game for the first time since 1994 and just the second time in its history. Central;s 8-3 season was its best since it went 9-2 in 1994.
Other divisional champions were Manalapan (Class A North); Brick (Class A South); Red Bank Catholic (Class B North) and Shore (Class B Central).
For Manalapan, it was its fifth consecutive outright Class A North title as it became the first Shore Conference team to win five consecutive outright divisional championships since Middletown South from 2001-2005.
Brick won its divisional title, its first outright divisional championship since 2003 and first divisional title since 2008, with an overtime win over Jackson Memorial on Oct. 4 in one of the season’s best games. However, Jackson Memorial avenged that loss in a big way with a 44-0 win in a Central Group IV semifinal.
It was also a fantastic season on the individual level. There were outstanding players everywhere, especially at quarterback, running back and linebacker.
Long Branch senior tailback Dahmiere Willis had the highlight individual performance as he set the Shore Conference single-season rushing record with a 2,589 yards.
Central sophomore Mike Bickford also surpassed the 2,000-yard mark with a school single-season record 2,052 yards. It was the third time in the last five seasons there were two 2,000-yard rushers in the Shore.
Staff writer Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; email@example.com