This is the week of the high school football season where hands get sweaty and coaching staffs have the calculators out as they try to figure out who their team will play in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs, or if their team will qualify for the playoffs.
Welcome to Week 9 – the storm before the storm.
It is cutoff weekend for qualification for the playoffs. It appears at least 24 Shore Conference teams will qualify for the playoffs, which begin next weekend.
There are several other Shore Conference teams on the bubble, either needing a win to qualify or needing results elsewhere to go their way.
It is also a big weekend on the Shore Conference divisional championship front, as 23 of the Shore Conference’s 43 teams conclude their regular season.
Shore (7-0), 4-0) and Asbury Park (6-1, 3-1) will meet Friday night at Shore’s Robert E. Feeney Field to decide not only the Class B Central championship but who will be the No. 1 seed in the Central Group I playoffs.
Shore, the two-time defending Class B Central champion and the defending Central Group I champion, will win the title outright with a win.
Asbury Park can earn a tie with Shore for its first divisional title since 2011 with a win.
Point Pleasant Boro (7-1, 5-1) will host Lakewood (6-1, 6-0) Saturday at Point Boro’s Al Saner Field to determine how Class B South will end up. Lakewood, which has already clinched a tie for the divisional title – its first divisional title since 2000 – will win the division outright with a win.
Point Boro can earn a tie for the divisional title – its first since 2008 – when it shared the now defunct Liberty Division title with Point Boro and Raritan – with a win.
Middletown South (7-0, 4-0) – ranked No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10 – can clinch a tie for the Class A North title with a win at Freehold (6-2, 4-1) on Saturday. It would be the Eagles’ first divisional title since 2009 – when they won the now defunct Federal Division championship.
Freehold can clinch a tie for the divisional championship – its first since 2010 – when it shared the Class B North title with Red Bank Catholic – with a win.
Middletown South still has a Thanksgiving Day home game with Middletown North (5-2, 3-1).
Also, both Brick (7-1, 5-1) and Brick Memorial (6-2, 5-1) can earn a piece of the Class A South championship with Toms River North (7-1, 6-1) with wins over Toms River South (4-3, 3-3) and Southern (3-5, 2-4), respectively, Friday night.
It would be the second straight divisional title for Brick, which won the division outright last year. It would be Brick Memorial’s first divisional title since 2010 – when it won Class A South.
Another intriguing game Friday night has Jackson Memorial (5-3) playing at Red Bank Catholic at Count Basie Field in a rematch of Jackson Memorial’s 33-27 overtime win over Red Bank Catholic last year at Jackson Memorial’s Jack Munley Field that ended the Caseys’ 40-game winning streak against Shore Conference opponents and enabled the Jaguars to finish ranked No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10.
The following are four things to look for in Week 9.
1. Who is favored in the Shore-Asbury Park game?
Shore is. The Blue Devils are home, have the Shore Conference’s longest current winning streak at 15 and have outscored their opposition 267-43.
The Blue Devils will utilize a stable of running backs out of the Delaware Wing-T alignment that they have used for years. Seniors Doug Goldsmith (437 yards and seven TDs and Jack Britton (589 yards and nine TDs) lead the running attack .
Goldsmith also is one of the Shore’s best linebackers.
The Blue Devils will want to control the ball and keep it away from Asbury Park’s big-play offense, led by senior quarterback Davon Thompson and senior wide receiver Jaedon Stephens.
These two teams could well meet in the Central Group I playoffs, too, where the other main contender appears to be Palmyra.
2. Can Lakewood’s big-play ability overcome the methodical approach of Point Boro?
Going into last week, it looked like this would be a winner-take-all game in Class B South.
However, Point Boro, which had recorded an impressive win over Raritan on Oct. 23, was upended 25-22, in overtime at Jackson Liberty. Lakewood, whose only loss is to Rumson-Fair Haven (6-1 – the No. 7 ranked team in the Asbury Park Press Top 10) – rolled to a 52-14 over Barnegat the next day.
Lakewood will rely on the big-play ability of senior running back Amir Tyler, who had five touchdowns last week. Tyler is also an outstanding safety.
Point Boro will test Lakewood’s defense with the triple offense out of the flexbone alignment, led by senior quarterback Nate Husak and senior running back Noah Husak.
Point Boro has defeated Lakewood the last two seasons, including two seasons ago when the Panthers went 1-9.
3. Can Freehold test Middletown South?
Middletown South has been like a machine since it was 18 points down in the second quarter of the season-opener at South Brunswick.
The Eagles have outscored their opposition 284-45 overall, 281-24 since that 21-3 deficit against South Brunswick.
Middletown South’s defense is outstanding and relentless in all areas, especially at linebacker, where senior Dylan Rogers and juniors Kevin Higgins and James McCarthy roam sideline to sideline to make plays.
Freehold, which has won four straight since a 34-0 loss at Raritan on Oct. 2 and does have a win over Middletown North, has two of the Shore’s best all-around players in sophomore running back Ashanti Worthy (1,074 yards and eight TDs) and senior quarterback/safety Jake Curry (534 yards rushing and seven TDs, 72 tackles and five interceptions.
4. Can Red Bank Catholic get some payback against Jackson Memorial from last year?
Both are solid teams, but not the powerhouse teams they were last year.
Jackson Memorial had a three-game losing streak in Weeks 4-6 to the three teams that are likely to share the Class A South title – Brick, Toms River North and Brick Memorial. Jackson Memorial has defeated only one team with a winning record – Toms River South.
Red Bank Catholic has lost to Red Bank and Ocean over the last three weeks by a combined 10 points. Those teams are a combined 13-1. The Caseys have not defeated a team with a winning record.
Jackson Memorial will have to find a way to contain Red Bank Catholic senior quarterback Eddie Hahn, who has been sensational the last two weeks.
Red Bank Catholic will have to find a way to slow down Jackson Memorial’s running attack, led by junior tailback Mike Gawlik.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; email@example.com