It is that time of year again when some schools, because of the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day game, are in the situation of having to play their final regular-season game before they attempt to win an NJSIAA sectional championship the following week.
Five Shore Conference schools are in that position Thursday.
Middletown South (10-0), which will meet Phillipsburg (9-1) Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at MetLife Stadium in the North 2 Group IV championship game, will host sister school Middletown North (7-3) Thursday at 10:30 a.m. It will be the second time in six days the two teams have met. Middletown South won 41-14 last Friday night in a North 2 Group IV semifinal. It willl be the 40th time the two have met on Thanksgiving and the 41st overall. Middletown South leads the series, 28-11-1 — 27-11-1 on Thanksgiving — and has won the last 15 meetings, 14 on Thanksgiving.
The game has Shore Conference Class A North championship implications. Middletown South can win the division outright with a win. Middletown North can tie Middletown South for the divisional title with the win. Middletown North has not won a divisional title since 1983.
Red Bank (10-0), which will meet Rumson-Fair Haven (9-1) Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in the Central Group III championship game, will host Long Branch (3-6) Thursday at 10 a.m. in the 93rd renewal of that series. Long Branch leads the series 60-29-3 and has won the last four meetings.
Red Bank can win the Class B North championship outright with a win. If Long Branch wins, Red Bank and Ocean will share the divisional title.
Rumson-Fair Haven and Shore (10-0) will meet on Thursday at 11 a.m. at Rumson-Fair Haven’s Borden Stadium. Shore, which has the Shore Conference’s longest current winning streak at 18, will meet Palmyra (9-1) on Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. at Kean University in the Central Group I championship game. It is the second straight season the two teams have closed the regular season against each other. Shore won 13-0 last year on Thanksgiving Eve in a driving rainstorm that turned Shore’s Robert E. Feeney Field into a sea of mud.
Raritan (5-5), which will meet Lincoln (11-0) Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at Kean University in the Central Group II championship game, will play at Holmdel (1-7) Thursday at 10 a.m. Raritan leads the Thanksgiving portion of the series, 5-2.
Five other games this weekend will involve teams who will conclude their regular seasons. Two of those games involve two of the Shore’s most storied series.
Toms River South (4-5) will play at Lakewood (6-3) at 11 a.m. Thursday in the 96th renewal of the Shore’s oldest continuous rivalry. Toms River South leads the series 54-37-4.
Neighbors Neptune (3-6) and Asbury Park (6-3) will meet Thursday at 10 a.m. at Asbury Park Stadium for the 88th time. Neptune leads the series 46-37-4 and has won the last five meetings.
One of the Shore’s most passionate rivalries will have its annual renewal on Thursday when Manasquan (3-6) plays at Wall (2-7). It is the 16th consecutive season the two neighboring schools have played on Thanksgiving. Manasquan leads the Thanksgiving portion of the series, 8-7.
Also, Ocean (8-2), coming off the 21-14 loss to Red Bank in a Central Group III semifinal, will play at Monmouth (5-4). It is the 20th straight season the two neighboring schools have met on Thanksgiving weekend. Ocean leads the Thanksgiving portion of the series, 17-2.
Pinelands (2-7) and Barnegat (1-7) will get the holiday weekend off to an early start Wednesday night at 6 p.m. when they meet at Barnegat. Barnegat leads the Thanksgiving portion of the series, 5-0 and 7-2 overall.
The following are some things to look for this weekend.
1. Will anything change from last week for Middletown South and Middletown North?
The game will likely be closer because it is hard to play the same team twice in less than a week, and Middletown North has nothing to lose.
The Lions did move the ball last Friday night. They had 395 yards of total offfense. Junior quarterback Donald Glenn threw for 281 yards, and junior wide receiver Brendan Kube had 13 receptions for 222 yards and a TD.
However, Middletown South has the motivation of trying to go 12-0 and likely has too much on both sides of the ball for Middletown North. Senior running back Cole Rogers ran for 210 yards and four TDs, and senior quarterback Matt Mosquera was 10-for-11 for 176 yards and two TDs last Friday night.
2. Will Red Bank have a letdown after advancing to a sectional championship game for the first time since 2003?
It is always possible. Long Branch, which has had two weeks to prepare for this game and is looking at this game as a springboard into next season with a team full of underclassmen, will give it everything it has.
However, like Middletown South, Red Bank is looking to go 12-0, which would include going unbeaten and winning its first sectional championship since 1975 and winning its first divisional title since 1977.
The Bucs have been too efficient in all phases this year and have one of the Shore’s best two-way players in receiver/running back/defensive back Sadiq Palmer.
Look for the magical ride to continue for Red Bank.
3. What can be expected from the Shore vs. Rumson-Fair Haven game?
An intense, low-scoring physical game between two proud programs that have been two of the Shore’s most consistent in recent seasons.
Shore wants to go unbeaten for the first time since 1981. Rumson-Fair Haven wants some payback for last year.
This is one of the Shore’s most underrated rivalries with two very good coaching staffs.
Neither of these teams will be looking ahead to next week.
4. Will Raritan be looking ahead to next week?
This is the one game this week where a sectional finalist is involved where not a lot is at stake on paper. There is no divisional championship, no potential unbeaten season or payback riding on the outcome here.
However, Raritan, which was 3-5 when the playoff began, will want to keep the momentum going. It should be able to do so against a Holmdel team that has depth issues and had to opt out of a regional crossover game two weeks ago against Barnegat because of a lack of numbers.
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