A record nine Shore Conference teams will try to win NJSIAA sectional championships on Dec. 5 at four neutral sites around the state.
The Shore is assured of at least two sectional champions because there are two all-Shore matchups.
In Central Group IV defending champion Jackson Memorial (7-4) will meet Brick Memorial (9-2) at Rutgers University in a matchup that will bring back memories of the memorable 2005 Central Group IV championship game between the two teams that Jackson Memorial won 30-28 on a TD pass on the last play of the game.
In Central Group III, Rumson-Fair Haven (9-1) will try to become the fifth team in Shore history to win sectional championships three consecutive seasons when it meets Red Bank Regional (10-0) at Rutgers in the biggest installment of the rivalry they call “The Battle of Ridge Road.” The two schools are located about two miles apart on Ridge Road in Little Silver and Rumson.
Other Shore teams that will seek sectional championships are Middletown South (North II, Group IV), Raritan (Central Group II), Shore (Central Group I), Toms River North (South Group V) and St. John Vianney (Non-Public Group III).
Middletown South (10-0), seeking its first sectional title since 2006 and 10th all-time, will play two-time defending North II champion Phillipsburg (9-1) at MetLife Stadium.
Raritan (5-5), in its first sectional final since 2006 and seeking its second sectional title, will meet Lincoln (11-0) at Kean University.
Shore (10-0) will try to make it back-to-back sectional titles when it meets Palmyra (9-1) at Kean University.
Toms River North (10-1) will be going for its sixth sectional championship but first since 2007 when it plays Wiilliamstown (9-1) at Rowan University. The Mariners are 5-0 in sectional championship games.
St. John Vianney (11-0) will try to win its first sectional championship since 1980 when it meets DePaul (5-6) at Rutgers University. DePaul’s record is deceiving. The team has three out-of-state losses and losses to Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic and St. Joseph (Montvale). The Spartans also have the state’s most highly recruited running back in Kareem Walker.
The following is a brief list of awards for the Shore’s sectional finalist.
1. The biggest surprise:
Raritan, without a doubt.
The Rockets entered the playoffs with a 3-5 record and on a five-game losing streak, They benefitted from the rule the NJSIAA implemented in 2012 that allowed the top eight teams in the power points in each section to qualify for the playoffs, regardless of record.
However, a closer look at Raritan’s schedule shows it has losses to Red Bank, St. John Vianney and a loss to Rumson-Fair Haven by a point.
Raritan played six playoff teams in its first eight games.
The Rockets also wound up on the right side of the Central II bracket and away from Lincoln.
2. Biggest surprise from the preseason.
Red Bank. The Bucs had not had a winning season since 2003.
However, a large group of seniors, led by Syracuse University-recruit Sadiq Palmer has made this “The Impossible Dream Season No. 2’’ for Red Bank on the 40th anniversary of the school’s “Impossible Season’’ when Red Bank won its only sectional title with the memorable 46-44 win over Hightstown in Central Group II.
The Bucs have done it with solid defense and special teams and efficiency on offense.
It is only fitting two of the Bucs’ biggest rivals — Long Branch on Thursday and Rumson-Fair Haven — stand in the way of a 12-0 season.
3. Most explosive offense
This has to be St. John Vianney.
The Lancers have playmakers all over the field in senior quarterback Anthony Brown; receivers Michael Stapert, Jeff Sheard, Khalil Haskins and Marcque Ellington; and running backs Chris Chukwuneke and Calvin Beaty. It is hard to remember a Shore team that had as many playmakers on offense as St. John Vianney has.
A lot of the same players play on defense and are relentless in the way they run to the ball.
4. Best defense
The Eagles have allowed 66 points and only 45 since the second quarter of the season-opener at Central Group V finalist South Brunswick.
The linebacking corps of Dylan Rogers, James McCarthy and Kevin Higgins could be the best Middletown South has ever had, which is saying a lot.
5. Most reliable programs.
Shore, Rumson-Fair Haven and Middletown South.
Shore is in the Central I championship game for the fourth straight season and fifth time in the last six. It has established itself as one of the best small school programs in the state. The Blue Devils also have allowed just 50 points with two straight shutouts. Shore has not allowed more than one touchdown in any game.
Rumson-Fair Haven also is in a sectional final for the fifth time in the last six seasons and trying to win its fourth sectional title during that span.
Middletown South is in a sectional final for the second straight season, 12th time in the 15 seasons and 13th time in 18 seasons under head coach Steve Antonucci.
6. Best 1-2 running punch.
Brick Memorial and Toms River North.
Brick Memorial, running the triple option out of the flexbone alignment, has quarterback Tim Santiago (1,566 yards and 15 TDs) and running back Tony Thorpe (1,205 yards and 17 TDs). The Mustangs have run for 3,506 yards and thrown for just 255 yards in 40 passing attempts.
Toms River North, running the read option out of the spread, has running back Asante Moorer (1,437 yards and 16 TDs) and quarterback Mike Husni (1,142 yards and 17 TDs). Husn also has thrown for 1,328 yards and 13 TDs.
7. Best late-season adjustment by a coaching staff.
Jackson Memorial. Head coach Walt Krystopik and his staff, whose team has been hit hard by injuries all season, especially at quarterback, made the move to put the team’s best receiver and perhaps best athlete — Kyle Johnson — at quarterback.
Krystopik and his coaches also made the decision to rely more on the read option and to make Mike Gawlik the full-time tailback.
The decisions have made Jackson Memorial tougher to defend in the running game and also put the ball in the hands of its two best offensive playmakers more often.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; email@example.com