The 2015 scholastic football season did not begin quietly in the Shore Conference.
There were two Week 0 games last weekend and both were barnburners.
Central Regional outlasted Southern 27-20 in overtime as it overcame two seven-point fourth quarter deficits and then converted a fourth-and-20 in overtime to set up the game-winning TD.
Donovan Catholic defeated Pinelands, 39-33, on a late TD in a game in which the two teams combined for more than 700 yards rushing.
Forty other Shore Conference schools begin their seasons this season. Rumson-Fair Haven is the only school that will not have played its first game after Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs do not open until Sept. 18 when they host Matawan.
This is the time of season where everyone is optimistic. Except for Southern and Pinelands, nobody has lost a game yet.
Here are four intriguing questions as we begin the season.
The Jackson Liberty at Jackson Memorial game, to be played Friday night, is the Asbury Park Press Red Zone Game of the Week. Video highlights of that game will be up early Saturday morning.
Shore Regional will dedicate the new FieldTurf surface at Robert E. Feeney Field at halftime of its game Friday night against Keyport.
1. When will Eddie Hahn return to action and how effective will he when he does?
Hahn, Red Bank Catholic’s standout senior quarterback/defensive back who has made a non-binding verbal commitment to the University of Connecticut, has been sidelined since he tore the meniscus in his knee in a scrimmage on Aug. 18.
Hahn said on Aug. 22, which was two days after he had surgery, his goal was to be able to play in the opener Friday night at Long Branch. He said he would be back in action by next week’s game home game against St. Joseph (Metuchen).
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been since Aug. 18,” Red Bank Catholic coach Jim Portela said.
Hahn’s athleticism and ability to make a play when things break down are crucial to the Red Bank Catholic offense. Those abilities helped the Caseys win the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III championship last season, their first NJSIAA title since 1976.
Without Hahn, Red Bank Catholic struggled offensively in scrimmages against Matawan and non-public powerhouses Bergen Catholic and St. Joseph (Hammonton).
It remains to be seen how the injury has affected Hahn’s mobility when he returns.
2. How has a late-summer coaching change affected St. John Vianney?
The Lancers, are arguably, as talented as any team in the Shore. They have a standout quarterback in senior Anthony Brown, a Boston College recruit, and play-makers like slot receiver/defensive back/kick returner Khalil Haskins and linebacker/running back Calvin Beaty and junior running back Chris Chukwuneke, a transfer from J.P. Stevens. St. John Vianney also has an outstanding linemen in junior Micah Clark.
However, head coach Mark Ciccotelli, who coached the Lancers to a 10-1 record last season in his only season at the school and to their first divisional title since 1982, first playoff win since 1982 and most wins in school history, left the program in late July.
Derek Sininsky, the former head coach at Raritan, Monmouth Regional and Marlboro, was named head coach two days later.
How the players have responded to the coaching change and whether it has affected team chemistry remains to be seen. St. John Vianney was soundly beaten by a talented Toms River North team in its final scrimmage.
The Lancers will not be able to ease their way into the season. They play at talented Matawan on Saturday afternoon.
3. Is this the time for Toms River North to return to prominence?
The Mariners, who were 1-9 in 2013 when they played a lot of sophomores and several freshman, could reap the benefits of that this year.
They showed flashes of their immense potential last season when they went 6-5 last season and upended No. 1 seed and then unbeaten Lenape in a NJSIAA South Group IV first-round game.
Toms River North could be as explosive as any team in the Shore with junior quarterback Mike Husni, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and threw for more than 1,000 yards last year, senior running back Asante Moorer, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, and talented sophomore running back Daryn Blackwell.
Senior defensive end Da’Shon Copes can cause havoc for any offense.
Toms River North, which plays at Lacey on Saturday, was ultra-impressive in scrimmages against Allentown, Central and St. John Vianney.
4. Is this the time Middletown South is the best team in the Shore again?
The Eagles, who have been one of the Shore’s dominant programs since the late 1980’s, have not won a championship of any kind since 2009, an NJSIAA championship since 2006, when it concluded a run of four consecutive seasons with a sectional championship.
This team has the potential to be Middletown South’s best since that run. The Eagles have a veteran quarterback in senior Matt Mosquera, who is also an outstanding placekicker, two very good running backs in senior Cole Rogers, who rushed for almost 1,900 yards last year and junior James McCarthy, a veteran and very good offensive line and a very good defense, led by senior linebacker Dylan Rogers, Cole Rogers’ twin brother.
Middletown South’s seniors were unbeaten as freshman and several played varsity as freshman. The junior class was unbeaten and unscored upon as freshman.
The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10, will get a stern test Friday night when they play at South Brunswick, ranked No. 1 in the Home News Tribune Top 10.
South Brunswick, which was 11-0 last year before it lost to Manalapan in the Central Group V championship game, defeated Middletown South, 36-24 last year.