It was always going to be hard to top the 2014 Shore Conference scholastic football season when a record six teams won sectional or state championships.
However, the 2015 season might well have topped last season.
Once again, the Shore Conference had six sectional championships.
Some of those sectional championships came in surprising circumstances.
One of those sectional titles was won by Raritan, which entered the Central Group II playoffs with a 3-5 record and on a five-game losing streak after a loss to non-playoff qualifier Monmouth Regional on the cutoff weekend for the playoffs.
The Rockets capped their miracle run with a dramatic 28-26 win over then 11-0 Lincoln on an 11-yard Marc Carnivale to Nick Pasquin touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining in the Central Group II championship game.
That TD came after the Rockets recovered a botched punt snap the Lincoln 41 with less than two minutes remaining.
During its post-season run, Raritan avenged a regular season loss to Point Pleasant Boro, routed 2014 Central II finalist Delaware Valley and defeated an unbeaten team that was in a sectional final for the second straight season.
Jackson Memorial was another sectional champion that recovered from an erratic regular season.
The Jaguars, who won the Central Group IV championship for the second straight season, overcame a host of injuries during the season and a three-game losing streak from Weeks 4-6.
Jackson Memorial’s coaching staff also made some key late-season decisions on offense that paid off big-time as they moved the team’s best receiver – Kyle Johnson – to quarterback – made junior Mike Gawlik the every down running back and moved one of the running backs – Vinny Lee to receiver.
The Jackson Memorial coaching staff also changed the offensive scheme to a spread with the read option while keeping some of the basic plays and philsophy from the I-formation that Jackson Memorial has run successfully for years.
During its playoff run, Jackson Memorial avenged regular season losses to Brick in the sectional quarterfinal and Brick Memorial with an impressive 42-14 win in the sectional final.
It was a season where Middletown South returned to the top of the Shore Conference mountain for the first time since 2005 – when it finished 12-0 for the third straight season and was led by current injured NFL running back Knowshon Moreno.
Middletown South went 12-0, outscored its opposition 492-89 and went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the Asbury Park Press Top 10.
The Eagles’ impressive 35-7 win over two-time defending North II, Group IV champion Phillipsburg in the North II, Group IV championship game was their first sectional title since 2006 and 10th overall.
Rumson-Fair Haven continued to establish itself as one of the Shore’s elite programs as it became the fifth team in Shore Conference history to win a sectional championship three straight seasons with a 21-0 win over then 11-0 Red Bank in the Central Group III championship game.
The Bulldogs join some of the big names in the history of Shore Conference football on the three-peat list. The other to accomplish that feat were Brick (1981-83), Manasquan (1998-2002), Middletown South (2003-2006) and Asbury Park (2007-2009).
Rumson-Fair Haven has won four sectional championships in the last six seasons and been in a sectional championship game five times during that span.
The Bulldogs have defeated three unbeaten teams in sectional championship games.
Shore has established itself as one of the best small school programs in the state after it won the Central Group I championship for the second straight with a resounding 56-28 win over Palmyra in a game in which the Blue Devils rushed for 535 yards.
The Blue Devils went 12-0, set a school-record for wins and finished unbeaten for the first time since 1981, when they went 11-0. They will take the Shore’s longest current winning streak at 20 into next season.
Toms River North, which went 1-9 two seasons ago in head coach Dave Oizerowitz’s first season as its head coach, returned to the upper echelon in the Shore in a big way by winning the NJSIAA South Group V championship with a 14-7 win over Williamstown.
The Mariners (11-1), who won their final 10 games, became the first Shore Conference team to win the South Group V championship and made it six-for-six in sectional championship games.
They won this one by beating three non-Shore Conference teams, including Williamstown in which was almost a home game for Williamstown at Rowan University. It was Toms River North’s first sectional title since 2007.
The Shore’s other sectional finalists were St. John Vianney, Red Bank and Brick Memorial. The nine sectional finalists was a Shore Conference-record.
Red Bank was one of the feel-good stories of the season as it tied the school-record for wins set in 1975 – when it won the Central Group II championship with the infamous 46-44 win over Hightstown.
The Bucs had not had a winning season since 2003, and won a playoff game or been in a sectional final since that same season.
St. John Vianney overcame the turmoil caused by a late July coaching change as Mark Ciccotelli left the program on July 25 and Derek Sininsky was named head coach on July 27.
The Lancers endured a rocky August as the players and coaching staff got to know each other, but they wound up pulling together to win their first 11 games by a combined score of 500-86 before losing to a very talented DePaul team in the Non-Public Group III championship game. The 11 wins was a school-record.
Brick Memorial was one of the Shore’s most physical teams and held Middletown South to its lowest point total of the season in a 21-3 Eagles’ win on Oct. 23.
Divisional champions were Middletown South (Class A North); St. John Vianney (Class A Central); Toms River North, Brick Memorial and Brick (Class A South); Red Bank (Class B North), Shore (Class B Central) and Point Pleasant Boro and Lakewood (Class B South).
It was Middletown South’s first divisional title since 2009; the second straight divisional championship for St. John Vianney; the first for Toms River North and Brick Memorial since 2008 and 2010 respectively; the second straight for Brick; the first for Red Bank since 1977; the third straight for Shore and the first for Point Boro and Lakewood since 2008 and 200 respectively.
It was also a season of two 2-0 games in a span of about 20 hours on Oct. 2 and 3 as a nor-easter hit New Jersey and caused havoc.
Brick defeated Jackson Memorial on Oct. 2 in a quagmire at Brick’s Keller Memorial Field when a bad punt snap sailed over the punter’s head midway in the first quarter.
Toms River South defeated Lacey on Oct. 3 when a ball-carrier was tackled in the end zone with less than six minutes remaining. .
It was also a great season on the individual level. St. John Vianney quarterback Anthony Brown established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in Shore Conference history; Middletown South’s linebacking corp of Dylan Rogers, James McCarthy and Kevin Higgins showed it was one of the best linebacking units in recent Shore Conference history and the conference was also deep in very good quarterbacks, running backs, defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; firstname.lastname@example.org|