Twenty seven Shore Conference teams will begin their quest for an NJSIAA sectional championship this weekend.
Six Shore teams – Manalapan (Central Group V), Jackson Memorial (Central Group IV), Matawan (Central Group III), Rumson-Fair Haven (Central Group IIII, but Central Group II the last two seasons), Shore (Central Group I) and Red Bank Catholic (Non-Public Group III) – are defending champions.
Five teams from the Shore – Middletown South (North II, Group IV), Brick Memorial (Central Group IV), Rumson-Fair Haven, Shore and St. John Vianney (Non-Public Group III) – are No. 1 seeds.
The following is a brief outlook at each of the sections involving Shore Conference teams with our predicted champions.
Central Group V
It would appear South Brunswick (7-1), the No. 1 seed, is the favorite here. The Vikings, whose only loss is to Middletown South,. 41-21, in a game they led 21-3 in the second quarter, won the section in 2012 and were defeated by Manalapan last year in the final.
Manalapan (5-4), which has been in the championship game the last four seasons, is the No. 5 seed and on South Brunswick’s side of the bracket.
If both Manalapan, which plays at Trenton (5-4) Saturday, and South Brunswick, which plays Hunterdon Central (3-6) Friday night, win this weekend, they would meet in the semifinal.
New Brunswick (8-1), which hosts Freehold Township (4-5) Friday night, in a rematch of an Oct. 23 game, won by New Brunswick, 38-28, is the No. 2 seed. New Brunswick is coached by Don Sofilkanich, who coached Asbury Park to three straight Central Group I championships from 2007-2009.
Old Bridge (5-3), the No. 3 seed, has played a tough schedule. It lost 20-9 to South Brunswick on Sept. 25
The pick: South Brunswick.
Central Group IV
How this section will play out could be determined by the outcome of Friday night’s game at Brick’s fabled Keller Memorial Field between No. 2 seed (Brick (8-1) and No. 7 seed Jackson Memorial (5-4).
Brick defeated the Jaguars, 2-0, on Oct. 2 on a first quarter safety when a punt snapped sailed out of the end zone. That game was played in a nor’easter that turned Keller Memorial Field into a quagmire.
The setback started Jackson Memorial on a three-game losing streak that also included a 28-7 home loss to Brick Memorial (7-2) on Oct. 16.
Brick was unbeaten and had allowed just three touchdowns and 20 points all season until a 26-14 home loss to Toms River North on Oct. 30.
Both Jackson Memorial and Brick have had quarterback issues recently. Jackson Memorial QB Dan Barker has not played the last three games. Senior wide receiver Kyle Johnson was used at quarterback in a 21-10 loss at Red Bank Catholic last Friday night.
Brick QB Tom Zbranak did not play in the Green Dragons’ 17-7 win at Toms River South last Friday night.
Brick Memorial, whose losses are 36-6 to Brick on Sept. 12 and 21-3 to Middletown South on Oct. 23, hosts Jackson Liberty (4-5) Friday and could play Freehold (6-3) in the semifinal.
The pick: Brick Memorial.
Central Group III
This is a wide-open section.
All four of the Shore teams – Rumson-Fair Haven (7-1), Ocean (7-1), Red Bank (8-0) and Matawan (6-3) – are capable of winning it, as is Hopewell Valley (7-2), the 2013 champion.
Rumson-Fair Haven and Matawan, which is 6-0 since junior quarterback George Pearson returned to the lineup from an early-season hip injury, would meet in the semifinal should they defeat Rahway (3-5) and Hopewell Valley, respectively, Friday night. Rumson defeated Matawan 17-0, on Sept. 18.
Ocean, the No. 2 seed, and Red Bank, the No. 3 seed, would meet in the semifinal should they defeat Hamilton West (4-4) and South Plainfield (5-2), respectively, Friday night. Red Bank defeated Ocean, 16-5, on Sept. 25.
The pick: Rumson-Fair Haven
Central Group II
The Shore’s two teams in this section will meet Friday night at Point Pleasant Boro’s Al Saner Field when No. 3 seed Point Boro (8-1) hosts No. 6 seed Raritan (3-5).
Point Boro defeated Raritan, 33-27, at Al Saner Field on Oct. 23. Point Boro was unbeaten until an overtime loss at Jackson Liberty on Oct. 30. Raritan has lost five straight.
The winner could wind up playing at Delaware Valley (7-1), which was defeated, 21-0, by Rumson last year in the final.
Lincoln (9-0) is the No. 1 seed and favorite.
The pick: Lincoln.
Shore, which has won this section two of the last five seasons and been in the championship game four of the last five seasons, is the favorite here.Central Group I
The Blue Devils could have a difficult semifinal game against always tough Florence (5-3).
Asbury Park (6-2) is the No. 2 seed and hosts Keyport (5-4) Friday night. Asbury Park defeated Keyport, 28-21, on Oct. 16, but Keyport ran for over 300 yards in that game.
The Asbury Park-Keyport winner could get Palmyra (7-1), which hosts Point Pleasant Beach (5-4), Friday night, in the semifinal
The pick: Shore.
North II Group IV
Middletown South, looking for its first sectional title since 2006 and 10th overall, is the favorite, but does not have an easy road.
The Eagles, who host West Windfsor-Plainsboro North (5-4) Friday night, could face Middletown North (6-2) in a sectional semifinal six days before the two meet on Thanksgiving Day in a game with Shore Conference Class A North championship implications.
Phillipsburg (7-1), the champion in this section the last two seasons, will likely be the finalist from the bottom side of the bracket.
The pick: Middletown South.
South Group V
This is always one of the state’s toughest public school sections because the large schools from the Southwestern part of the state are always formidable.
Toms River North (8-1) is the No. 4 seed and will host Kingsway (4-4) Friday night. Should the Mariners win that game, No. 1 seed Lenape (7-1) will likely be their semifinal opponent. Toms River North defeated an 8-0 Lenape team last year in a sectional quarterfinal.
Cherokee (6-2), the two-time defending champion, and Williamstown (7-1) are formidable teams in the bottom bracket.
The pick: Cherokee.
South Group IV
Both of the Shore’s teams here are in deep water.
Toms River South (4-4), the No. 8 seed, has not defeated a team with a winning record all season, and will be a heavy underdog at No. 1 seed Hammonton (8-1) Friday night.
Central (6-3), the No. 6 seed, must make the long bus trip to Bridgeton (6-3) Friday night. Shawnee (6-2), the two-time defending champion, will likely be waiting for Central should it defeat Bridgeton.
The pick: Shawnee.
South Group III
Lakewood (6-2) could have been in a good spot here had it defeated Point Boro last Saturday. The Piners would have been the No. 2 seed, hosted two games and had a decent chance to get to the final.
Because of the Point Boro loss, Lakewood, which hosts Seneca (5-3) Saturday, is the No. 4 seed, and would have to travel to three-time defending champion and No. 1 seed Delsea (8-1) should it defeat Seneca.
The pick: Delsea.
Non-Public Group III
A highly-anticipated matchup could come about in the semifinal should both St. John Vianney (9-0) and Red Bank Catholic (7–2) win their first-round games.
St. John Vianney will be heavily favored to defeat Donovan Catholic. The Lancer defeated the Griffins, 63-21, on Oct. 23.
Red Bank Catholic plays at Pope John (7-2) Saturday. Pope John is led by quarterback Sonny Abramson, a University of Virginia recruit.
DePaul (3-6) is dangerous on the bottom side of the bracket because it has played a very difficult schedule.
The pick: St. John Vianney.
Non-Public Group II
Mater Dei (3-6), which got into the playoffs when Newark Academy opted not to enter, has lost four straight and six of seven. The Seraphs play at 9-0 Montclair Kimberly Academy in the first round.
Always powerful St. Joseph (Hammonton) (7-2) is the team to beat here.
The pick: St. Joseph (Hammonton).