Central Group III First Round
No. 6 South Plainfield (6-2) at No. 3 Red Bank (8-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
After finishing 1-9 two years ago and .500 last season, the Bucs claimed the Shore Conference Class B North Division title, their first division championship since 1977. The team cemented itself as a sectional title contender with a 24-21 win over perennial power Red Bank Catholic, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Caseys in which it was outscored 386-33.
“We’ve had our defeats,” Red Bank coach Nick Giglio said following the win over the Caseys. “At the end of the day, it did not stop us from believing that this was going to happen eventually. I’m very proud of our guys.”
Red Bank runs a spread offense similar to that which South Plainfield has seen from incumbent North 2 Group IV finalist Colonia, which is the No. 3 seed in that section this year. Red Bank’s team speed is tantamount to that of Colonia and New Brunswick, the only teams to defeat South Plainfield this season. The Patriots and Zebras, who are the No. 2 seed in Central Group V, prepared the Tigers well for this opening-round game.
Red Bank quarterback Jack Navitsky is strong-armed and mobile with an ability to scramble to keep a play alive before finding an open receiver. He will face pressure from South Plainfield, which has registered 28 sacks, eight from Justin Counts, one of the Greater Middlesex Conference’s best defensive ends, and seven from Kevin Adams. Navitsky’s favorite target is Sadiq Palmer, one of the state’s best wideouts who has accepted a scholarship offer from Syracuse University.
The Tigers counter with a secondary that has registered eight interceptions, two apiece from Raeon Cohen and Allen Uzoma. South Plainfield has relied heavily upon senior running back Jason Lee. He has accounted for 930 of the team’s 1,355 yards on the ground and amassed 1,380 all-purpose yards. South Plainfield, which has thrown for 568 yards and just two touchdowns, must be more balanced offensively. Jean Sapini is the team’s leading pass catcher with 174 receiving yards.
The Bucs run a 4-3 defense but expect them to load the box as everyone else has done against South Plainfield. The Bucs must respect South Plainfield’s ability on special teams. Lee and Ruben Torres have combined for 586 yards and three touchdowns on kickoff returns. Dillon Harris (65), Mark Robertson (54), Josh Siegenthaler (52) and Counts (52) are South Plainfield’s leading tacklers. Senior running back Alim Godey rushed for 104 yards and two scores in Red Bank’s 31-14 win over Manchester last weekend.
The Bucs are looking to win their second sectional title and first since 1975. South Plainfield has never won a sectional crown.
Prediction: Red Bank 27-23.