It’s the debate that’s raging across Monmouth and Ocean counties right now. And if it’s not, well, I’m here to help fan the flames.
Is the Golden Era of Shore Conference football upon us?
The raw numbers indicate it’s the most productive period ever for Jersey Shore-based programs since the NJSIAA playoffs began in 1974. Highlighting that fact were the images of six area teams celebrating around sectional championship trophies last Saturday.
That impressive hardware haul comes a year after the Shore Conference set the record with six titles.
And it’s not just the powerhouse programs we’ve come to expect garnering all the accolades.
This year you had teams like Raritan, which had a 3-4 record at one point before rallying and stunning previously unbeaten Kennedy in the Central Group II final.
So with 12 Group crowns having been amassed over the past 12 months, what’s the debate?
Well, there have clearly been other times where a lot of quality football teams have bene playing big games over a period of several seasons.
It should also be mentioned that there are more teams involved than ever before. The sectional fields have been expanded to eight teams over the years, with sub-.500 teams thrown into the mix in 2012, and an extra Group added to each region.
So it’s either a watered down product, or it’s tougher than ever because you have to play more games and beat more teams on the way to the top.
And there are simply more Shore Conference high schools than there were 41 years ago, when Brick started it all by winning the South Group IV crown.
So let the debate begin.
There are historically good teams playing right now.
Rumson Fair-Haven, which denied a previously unbeaten Red Bank team its first state championship in 40 years with an impressive 21-0 win in the Central Group III final, has won three straight titles, becoming the fifth team ever from the area to accomplish that feat. It also has four crowns in six seasons, reaching five finals during that time.
And Middletown South is widely recognized as the No. 1 team in New Jersey after pummeling Phillipsburg in the North II Group IV championship game, joining Shore, which defended its Central Group I title, in the ranks of the unbeaten.
A year ago, Red Bank Catholic ended the domination by the North Jersey Non-Publics, winning the Non-Public Group III title.
What could possibly top all that?
The previous record for sectional titles in a single season was five, set in 2005, with the Shore Conference bringing home eight titles total in 2005 and 2006.
Among those you had the 2005 Middletown South team, which many feel was the greatest team ever from the area, as the Knowshon Moreno-led Eagles capped off a run of 36 straight wins over three seasons to capture their third straight title. They would make it four straight in 2006.
Also winning titles both seasons was Manasquan, as the Warriors won the last two of 10 championships under the late Vic Kubu.
Throw in Jackson Memorial finishing unbeaten for the third time in six seasons in 2005, and Point Boro’s first state title in 28 seasons, and it was a very nice run of success.
The early 1980s
Another period I’d point to were the 1982-83 seasons, when the Shore Conference won seven sectional titles. And they were impressive ones by some of the best coaches ever in the area.
You had Brick, under Warren Wolf, closing out an incredibly productive period by winning the South Group IV crown both years, giving them three straight titles. Coach John Amabile had turned Wall into a powerhouse, winning back-to-back Central III titles over those two seasons.
Kubu was winning his first championship, guiding Middletown North to a perfect season and the Central Group IV crown in 1983, while coach Bob Rolak led Shore to its second straight Central Group II title in 1982. And Toms River South won the South Group III title for coach Chip LaBarca Sr. in 1983.
The late 1980s
The Shore emerged with seven championship between the 1988 and 1989 seasons.
You had Kieth Elias-led Lacey winning back-to-back South Group III titles for coach Lou Vircillo, while coach Joe Martucci was getting Matawan cranked up, as the Huskies won the Central Group III championship in 1988, the first of three they would win over a five year period.
Keyport won its second straight Central Group II title in 1988, Middletown South won the first of what are now 12 championships in 1989, and Brick took home the South Group IV crown.
If you’re looking for extended periods that resonate historically, the Shore emerged with three championships for six straight seasons, winning 18 titles between 1997 and 2002. By comparison, area teams have now won 18 titles over the past five seasons.
Back then, you had Manasquan winning a record five straight between 1998 and 2002. Amabile guided Neptune to back-to-back state titles, beginning in 1997, and Jackson Memorial had two straight 12-0 seasons in 2000-01.
So what do you think?
Personally, I think 12 sectional championships over a two-year period, given the quality of the teams and the historical context that defines several of those programs, is a period that is unmatched in Shore Conference history.
By the same token, that’s a bold statement, when you consider some of the incredibly productive periods for Monmouth and Ocean county high school football from the past.
What’s clear is that there’s been an awful lot to cheer about in December over the past four-plus decades.
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: email@example.com
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