Shore Regional has been so close, yet so far away from winning the NJSIAA Central Group I championship game the last two seasons.
“It’s always hard to lose the championship game, no doubt about it,” Shore coach Mark Costantino said.
Two years ago, Shore lost in double overtime to Florence.
Last year, the Blue Devils were upended by Point Pleasant Beach eight days after they had decisively defeated the Garnet Gulls for the Shore Conference Class B Central championship.
“Florence was the unknown thing. It was a great game. They made a few more plays than we did,” Costantino said. “Last year, i thought we’d win, but I knew Point Beach was good. I knew they could beat us. We didn’t play terribly well. The year before we played a good game.”
Costantino said the near misses of the last two seasons have resulted in him, his coaching staff and his players focusing even more on trying to get over the sectional championship hurdle.
Costantino, who said he likes to hunt, said he has hunted only once during the season. He said his players have pushed themselves in the weight room to do extra repetitions with the thought of the near misses the last two seasons in mind.
“So many teams and so many coaches never get there (to a sectional championship game). I understand the bottom line is winning. It’s hard, but that’s part of the whole package,” Costantino said. “This year’s team has taken it to the next level in a couple phases of our game. So, we’re back.”
Shore (10-1) is back again. The Blue Devils will try to win their first sectional title since 2010 and sixth overall at 10 a.m Saturday at Kean University when they take on South Hunterdon (9-2) in the Central Group I championship game.
If Shore does win Saturday, there’s a good chance it will be because of its defense.
The Blue Devils have recorded six shutouts, including one last week of defending Central Group II champion and Central Group II finalist Rumson-Fair Haven. Shore has recorded shutouts in five of its last six games and allowed just 49 points on the season.
“We’ve had some great defenses,” Costantino, who has been Shore’s head coach for 23 seasons and on the Blue Devils’ coaching staff for 28 seasons, said. “It’s hard to compare teams, but this one is right up there with any we’ve had.”
The heart-and-soul of Shore’s defense are the two inside linebackers — senior James Bedell and junior Doug Goldsmith.
Bedell, who had 15 tackles last week against Rumson-Fair Haven, has recorded 129 tackles.
Goldsmith, who missed the first four games with a knee injury and then missed another with an ankle injury, has recorded 28 tackles in limited action on defense.
When Bedell and Goldsmith are together, it enables the Blue Devils’ coaching staff to employ senior Mitchell Candito as an outside linebacker/defensive end.
The Shore defense has faced almost every challenge possible from Mater Dei’s high-powered spread to Point Beach’s Wing T, to the triple option Middlesex employed to the power running game out of the I-formation from Rumson-Fair Haven.
“We’re hard-nosed,” Costantino said. “Every kid on the defense hits. Our team pursuit is unbelievable and we have excellent team speed.”
South Hunterdon, which is appearing in a sectional final for the first time since 1994, will throw an interesting combination at the Shore defense. The Eagles will run some option out of the split back veer set and they will also line up some in the spread.
“They have an athletic quarterback (senior Tyler Frazee, who has run for 869 yards and eight touchdowns and thrown for 1,440 yards and 15 TDs) and 3-4 receivers where if you don’t cover them, they will score,” Costantino said. “They do both things (the veer and the spread well).”
Shore will not be nearly as complicated on offense as South Hunterdon. The Blue Devils will line up in the Delaware Wing-T and some in the I-formation and run the ball and run the ball again. When Goldsmith has been in the lineup, Shore has run much more I-formation than it has in years.
Goldsmith, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound physical runner, splashed his way for 143 yards on 34 carries and two TDs in the rain, the cold and the mud on Nov. 26 against Rumson.
Junior Tyreek McCain and senior Mike Moore are also capable runners. Shore has run for 2,600 yards and thrown for just 146 yards on the season. It will try to run the ball against a “Bear 46” defensive look.
“They’re’ going to come in and play us tough,” Costantino said.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; email@example.com