The part of the scholastic football season everyone has waited for is here – the playoffs.
Twenty-seven Shore Conference teams begin their quest for an NJSIAA sectional championship this weekend.
At least five of them will be eliminated this weekend because there are five all-Shore Conference matchups.
Two of them will take place in Central Group IV as No. 1 seed Brick Memorial (7-2) will host No. 8 seed Jackson Liberty (4-5) and two of the Shore’s most storied programs will meet when No. 2 seed Brick (8-1) hosts No. 7 seed Jackson Memorial (5-4) at Keller Memorial Field.
Other all-Shore matchups will have No. 3 seed Point Boro (8-1) hosting No. 6 seed Raritan (3-5) in Central Group II, No. 7 seed Keyport (5-4) at No. 2 seed Asbury Park (6-2) in Central Group I and No. 8 seed Donovan Catholic (3-5) at No. 1 seed St. John Vianney (9-0) in Non-Public Group III.
The Jackson Memorial-Brick, Raritan-Point Boro, Keyport-Asbury Park and Donovan Catholic-St. John Vianney games are all rematches of regular season games, won by Brick, Point Boro, Asbury Park and St. John Vianney, respectively. Brick, Point Boro and Asbury Park won by two, six and seven points, respectively. St. John Vianney’s win was by a score of 63-21.
Six teams will begin their quest to repeat as sectional champions in Manalapan (Central Group V), Jackson Memorial (Central Group IV), Matawan (Central Group III), Rumson-Fair Haven (Central Group II, the last two seasons in Central Group II), Shore (Central Group I) and Red Bank Catholic (Non-Public Group III).
Middletown South (North II Group IV), Brick Memorial, Rumson-Fair Haven, Shore and St. John Vianney begin the playoffs as No. 1 seeds.
The following is an overview at what to look for this weekend:
1. What should be expected from the Jackson Memorial-Brick game?
Probably a low-scoring one, but there will be more points than the bizarre 2-0 Brick win on Oct. 2 in a game that was played in a Nor’easter that turned Keller Memorial Field into a quagmire.
The only points in that game came when a bad punt snap sailed over the Jackson Memorial punter’s head and out of the end zone in the first quarter.
The driving rain made footing impossible as that game went on and made even being able to handle the ball on snaps tough. The swirling winds made throwing difficult.
Brick, to its credit, was able to execute snaps and handle the ball better than Jackson Memorial that night.
However, even with better weather conditions, defenses should again dominate.
Jackson Memorial junior quarterback Dan Barker has not played the last three games and backup quarterback Al Tolmachewich did not play last week against Red Bank Catholic.
Senior wide receiver Kyle Johnson was moved to quarterback against Red Bank Catholic. He gives the Jaguars athleticism and running ability at the position, but having him at quarterback takes away a big-play receiving threat.
If Barker is able to play, Johnson can move back to receiver.
Brick senior quarterback Tom Zbranak did not play last week. Junior Anthony Costanza took his place.
In the end no matter who quarterbacks for either team, both will rely on their stars on offense to make game-deciding plays.
For Jackson Memorial, that will be junior tailback Mike Gawlik and Johnson. For Brick, that will be junior receiver/running back Ja’Sir Taylor.
The defenses are two of the Shore’s best. Brick has recorded five shutouts and allowed just 53 points all season. Jackson Memorial has allowed just 101 points on the season and recorded three shutouts.
2. Can either Raritan or Keyport reverse their earlier losses to Point Boro and Asbury Park, respectively?
Raritan, which has lost five straight after a 3-0 start, has shown it is capable of beating and playing with playoff teams. The Rockets routed Matawan, 40-3, in Week 3, although Matawan played without standout junior quarterback George Pearson and several other key starters in that game because of injuries.
Raritan also defeated Freehold, 34-0, on Oct. 2 and lost 21-20 to Rumson on Oct. 30 after its late-game attempt at a 2-point conversion was stopped. Three of Raritan’s other four losses are to playoff teams in 8-0 Red Bank, St. John Vianney and Point Boro.
Raritan running back Derek Ernst is capable of having a big-game against anybody.
Point Boro will try to control the game with its triple option offense, led by senior quarterback Noah Husak and senior running back Nate Husak.
Keyport ran for more than 300 yards in its 28-21 loss at Asbury Park on Oct. 16 and is capable of controlling the ball behind senior running backs Desmond Underwood and Ky’Sun Pryor.
Asbury Park will be relying on the big-play ability of senior quarterback and senior wide receiver Jaedon Stephens. Stephens did not have a reception in the Blue Bishops’ 20-7 loss at Shore last week.
3. Will Middletown South and Middletown North meet on consecutive weeks?
There is a good chance of that.
If it happens, the two would meet in an NJSIAA North II, Group IV semifinal game on Nov. 20 and then on Thanksgiving Day in a game that will determine whether Middletown South wins the Shore Conference Class A North championship outright or shares it with Middletown North.
Both games would be at Middletown South.
Middletown South, the No. 1 team ranked in the Asbury Park Press Top 10, is heavily favored to defeat 5-4 West Windsor-Plainsboro North on Friday night. Meanwhile, Middletown North (6-2) hosts Sayreville (5-4). The Bombers, who lost 21-20 to 3-5 Edison last week, are playing without senior quarterback Jayson DeMild. Even in DeMild’s absence, Sayreville is still dangerous.
Middletown North has a balanced offense that received a major boost last week with the return of senior running back Chad Freshnock from an injury that sidelined him for 5½ games. Both Freshnock and sophomore Connor Welsh rushed for more than 100 yards last week in a 27-14 win over Freehold Township.
The Lions also have the ability to throw the ball with junior quarterback Donald Glenn and junior wide receiver Brendan Kube.
4. Which Shore Conference low seeds have the best chance of recording an upset?
We have already talked about Raritan and Keyport. But, we’ll also throw Freehold Township and Central into the mix.
Freehold Township (4-5), making its first playoff appearance since 2001 and just the second in its history, will play at No. 2 seed New Brunswick on Friday night in a Central Group V quarterfinal. New Brunswick defeated Freehold Township, 38-28, on Oct. 23 behind the big-play ability of senior running back and University of Pittsburgh recruit Marcus Ffrench, who scored four TDs in the first game against Freehold Township.
If Freehold Township can contain Ffrench, a big if, and senior quarterback Jack O’Brien has another good night, it will have a chance.
Central (6-3), the No. 6 seed in South Group IV, will play at No. 3 seed Bridgeton (6-3) on Friday.
The Golden Eagles, with the big-play abilty of junior running back Mike Bickford and senior quarterback Mike Miserendino, have the ability to cause problems to beat Bridgeton, which has won six straight.