There has been talk since its 44-0 demolition of Brick in an NJSIAA Central Group IV semifinal that this Jackson Memorial team could be on the same level as its three unbeaten sectional championship teams.
However, for this Jaguars’ team to be compared with those teams, especially the 2001 one that was named the consensus No. 1 ranked team in the state, there is still one more game to win.
“We still have to be able to finish,” Jackson Memorial head coach Walt Krystopik said. “The bar is really high. We’re not too far off, but we haven’t finished. We have to able to finish to have those kind of discussions.”
The one obstacle Jackson Memorial (10-1) has left to finish the job and win its fourth sectional title is Middletown South (9-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship game.
The game is the Asbury Park Press Red Zone Game of the Week. Video highlights, with legendary former Asbury Park Press staff writer and WJLK announcer Tony Graham narrating will be available on APP.com early Sunday morning.
The game will also be broadcast live on 1160 and 1310 AM. It is the first meeting between these teams since 1993.
A Jackson Memorial win would give it the inside track to the No. 1 ranking in the final Asbury Park Press Top 10 for the first time since 2001. The Jaguars took over the No. 1 spot when they defeated Red Bank Catholic, 33-27, in overtime on Nov. 7.
A Middletown South win would open the door for No. 2 Red Bank Catholic (10-1), which will play Delbarton (9-1) Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, in the Non-Public Group III championship game, to be ranked No. 1 for the fourth straight year.
Middletown South, one of the most tradition-rich programs in the Shore, has won nine sectional championships, but none since 2006. The Eagles have been defeated in four sectional championship games since then.
“This is the ultimate game for every high school player,” Middletown South coach Steve Antonucci, who has compiled 158 wins and five sectional championships in his 17 years as the Eagles’ head coach, said. “You want the opportunity to be here, which we have.
“We haven’t had so much success in this game lately. We want to get back to the top. That’s our goal every year. This is a new opportunity for us and we want to take advantage of it.”
These two programs were the Shore’s dominant ones the first seven years of the new millenium
Jackson Memorial’s sectional championships came in 2000, 2001 and 2005. It was also in a sectional final in 2004. It went a combined 47-1 those four seasons.
Middletown South won five sectional championships from 2001-2006, including four straight from 2003-2006. It won a Shore Conference-record 43 straight games from the start of the 2003 season until the eighth game of the 2006 season.
Both of these programs are proud of where they have been and where they are headed.
“They (his players) are dialed in. They have put a lot of time in watching tape. They want the game to be here sooner, rather than later,” Krystopik said.
“We’re very fortunate to still be playing with relatively young players,” Antonucci, whose team has many juniors and sophomores seeing significant playing time, said. “We couldn’t be happier with how our kids have played. Win or lose on Saturday night, this has been a turning point for us.”
There is no secret where this game is likely to be won or lost. Both teams are physical on the offensive and defensive fronts and have excellent size on both lines.
Both teams also love to run downhill.
Jackson Memorial does it with two 1,000-yard runners in junior Vincent Lee and sophomore Mike Gawlik and behind an offensive line led by punishing blocking tight end Brody Graham and lineman Tyler Rauch.
However, senior quarterback Joe DeMaio has played his best football in the Jaguars’ two playoff games and the Jaguars have game-breaking receivers, led by senior Matt Castronouva, who lines up at slotback and also runs the ball some on the “Jet Sweep”.
“They are impressive, very impressive and a fast group, which is a deadly combination,” Antonucci said. “They are playing with a high level of confidence.”
Middletown South’s defense, led by junior linebacker Dylan Rogers, sophomore linebacker James McCarthy and senior defensive lineman Dan Servido has played at a high level all season.
The Eagles have recorded six shutouts, tying the school-record set in 2004. They have allowed 94 points on the season and just three points in their two playoff games.
Middletown South will test the Jackson Memorial defense with 1,700-yard-plus rusher Cole Rogers running behind an offensive line led by 6-foot-5, 290-pound James Wilson and 6-foot-4, 280-pound Brian Joyce.
Jackson Memorial’s defensive front is led by Graham at end, linebacker Zach Tetro and an athletic secondary, led by Castronouva, DeMaio and Gawlik.
“We’re going to be challenged on both sides of the ball,” Krystopik said. “They’re a very good, well-coached disciplined team. It will be a very good challenge.”
“We can at times be a physical group,” Antonucci said. “Hopefully, we can be physical long enough where maybe we can find a way to win.”
It could be a game where special teams come into play. Both teams have excellent placekickers in Jared Calhoun (6-for-7 field goals) for Jackson Memorial and Matt Mosquera for Middletown South. Mosquera, who is also the quarterback, is 13-for-14 in field goals.
But, one of these proud programs is going to return to glory.
Jackson Memorial will be compared with its great 2000, 2001 and 2005 teams if it wins.
Middletown South could set itself up for a run that is similar to its one from 2003-2006.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; email@example.com