It’s been 42 years since the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association first introduced the concept of football playoffs. And during that time the format has evolved to include a power points system to identify and seed teams, while expanding to the current eight team bracket for each section.
It’s not perfect, playing out to sectional Group champions instead of an overall Group winner. But the postseason added a layer of drama that’s difficult match during the regular season.
Through it all, Shore area teams have been involved in some epic playoff games on their way to sectional glory.
So with the 43nd edition set to kickoff next weekend, here’s a look at some of the most memorable games involving Shore teams:
Brick 21, Camden 20 (Dec. 6, 1974): The game that started it all. In the first year of the NJSIAA playoffs, the Green Dragons survived punt returns of 64 and 60 yards by the Panthers’ Anthony Brown (who had two other TDs called back) at Convention Hall in Atlantic City.
To win the first South Jersey Group IV crown, the Green Dragons had to stop a two-point conversion with 2:58 to play, as coach Warren Wolf’s team became the first team in state history to go 10-0.
Brick quarterback Paul Durkin threw a long TD pass to Dale Koch with 6:55 to play to give them a 21-14 lead. They also got a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Don Gethard and a 44-yard fumble return for a score by Kerry Mattson in the first half.
Red Bank 46, Hightstown 44 (Dec. 6, 1975): In a game many still feel was the most dramatic NJSIAA playoff game ever, the Bucs emerged with the Central Jersey Group II crown in a battle of unbeaten in front of an estimated crowd of 8,000 in Little Silver.
In all, the teams combined for 12 touchdowns, with eight lead changes. Red Bank took the lead, 46-38, on a 52-yard fourth quarter run by quarterback Cookie Lewis, who also ran for the two-point conversion. But Hightstown quarterback Mike Radics responded with a 24-yard TD pass to Brian Ishman with 2:16 to play.
On the two-point conversion, linebacker Jim Semliatschenko came up and drove Radics out of bounds at the one to preserve the win.
It was the 28th straight win for Red Bank, with coach Bob Strangia retiring after his third unbeaten season in five years.
Toms River North 15, Brick 14 (Dec. 5, 1979): On a bitterly cold evening at Giants Stadium, the Mariners scored in the final minute of the fourth quarter, and appeared headed for overtime in their quest for the school’s first state sectional title.
But after consulting with his coaching staff, which unanimously wanted to kick the extra point to tie the game at 14-14, head coach Bob Fiocco went into the huddle and told his team they were going for the two-point conversion.
Fiocco called an option right, and quarterback Bob Mangold rolled out and pitched the ball to Cal Cassidy, who raced into the end zone to give the Mariners the victory in regulation.
Brick 7, Cherokee 6 (Nov. 19, 1983): There are no shortage of great games from the Green Dragons’ storied past, but few can compare with this South Jersey Group IV semifinal in Evesham Township. Cherokee hadn’t lost since 1980 and were the two-time defending SJ Group III champions, while Brick was the two-time defending SJ Group IV champions.
Cherokee roll up 20 first downs to just seven for Brick in the game, but it was scoreless at halftime. Then Joe Altobello, who ran for 151 yards, broke free for a 59-yard touchdown run, with Tom Iannarone’s extra point making it 7-0 with 7:10 left in the third quarter.
After a Brick fumble, Cherokee drove 49 yards to score, but Randy Brown’s extra point hit the right upright and bounced back. With Cherokee in Brick territory in the final seconds, Roy Williams made his second interception of the day to preserve the win.
Brick went on to defeat Willingboro in the final for their third straight state championship.
HS FOOTBALL: At Point Boro, a playbook based on compassion
Toms River South 17, Eastern 14: (Dec. 3, 1983): It was former soccer player Carmen Sclafani, who went on to kick at Rutgers, booting a 32-yard field goal as time expired in overtime to lift the Indians to the South Jersey Group III championship in front of a frenzied crowd in Toms River.
Toms River South held a 14-0 lead in the third quarter thanks to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sheldon Harvey to Bob Babiak, and a 48-yard touchdown burst by Dan McHarris.
But Eastern came storming back, eventually tying the score on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 left in regulation.
Matawan 20, Wall 14 (Dec. 1, 1984): In a clash of 10-0 teams at Matawan, it was the Huskies ending the Crimson Knights’ 33-game winning streak, one shy of the Shore record at the time, in the Central Jersey Group III final.
Wall drove into Matawan territory with just over a minute to play, but Terry Underwood intercepted a Rich Ekonian pass to seal the victory. Underwood finished with 202 yards on 29 carries, with 126 coming in the first quarter, including a 29-yard TD run that made it 7-7.
Ricky Shimko rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns for the visitors, but Matawan got a pair of Jun Pak field goals in the first half and a Geoff Sasso 30-yard interception return in the third quarter.
It was the last game at Wall for coach John Amabile, who moved to Neptune the next season.
Matawan 29, Neptune 28 OT (Dec. 5, 1992): In one of the gutsiest moves an area coach has ever made, Matawan’s Joe Martucci decided to go for the win in overtime in the Central Jersey Group III final.
So he sent in a play called “448,” and Tasheen Rivera followed his blockers around the corner and into the end zone, setting off a joyous celebration on the Huskies’ home field.
It enabled the Huskies to turn back a frenetic comeback by the Scarlet Fliers, who scored 14 points in the final 6:53 of regulation, and then scored on the first play of overtime.
And after the Huskies scored on their overtime possession, Martucci sent his kicking team out to tie the game. But when Neptune coach John Amabile called timeout, he changed his mind and went for it.
Shore 19, Bernards 18 OT (Dec. 6, 1997): It appeared the Blue Devils’ dreams of their first state section title in nearly a decade ended when Pete Vincelli was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Mountaineers’ 18-yard-line with 1:27 to play. But Bernards mismanaged the clock, and when they knelt down on fourth down the clock stopped with a few seconds left.
Quarterback Pat O’Neill made them pay, finding Vincelli in the back of the end zone on a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the game as time expired. They had a chance to win it in regulation, but Chris Ryerson’s point after was nullified by an illegal procedure penalty, with his second kick sailing wide.
Shore scored on its first possession in overtime to go up 19-12. And after Bernards scored on the ensuing possession, they opted to go for the win at home, but the pass on the two-point conversion fell incomplete.
Jackson Memorial 21, Shawnee 14 OT (Dec. 3, 2000): The Jaguars first state sectional championship set the stage for back-to-back unbeaten seasons, and laid the foundation for the program over the years.
But it wasn’t easy, as Nick Castellano scored on a one-yard run in overtime, before defensive back Mark Rodriguez batted down a fourth-down pass in the end zone to complete the 12-0 campaign.
For the game, Castellano ran for 121 yards, while fellow running back and linebacker Joe Serratelli produced 115 yards on the ground.
Manasquan 14, New Brunswick 13 (Dec. 7, 2002): In a battle of unbeatens in front of an overflow crowd at Memorial Stadium in New Brunswick, Manasquan won its fifth straight sectional title in dramatic fashion, capturing the Central Jersey Group II title thanks to a fourth-quarter goal-line stand.
The win improved Manasquan’s record to 58-2 for coach Vic Kubu over that five-year period.
Stephen McGrath threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Joe Mele and Kaysonne Anderson, who ran for 228 yards, broke a 68-yard touchdown run to put Manasquan up 14-0.
New Brunswick came back with a pair of long touchdown passes by Marvin Taylor in the second quarter. But on the second one, receiver Dwayne Jarrett was assessed a 15-yard penalty for taunting, which was applied on the extra point. Taylor’s pass on the long two-point conversion was incomplete.
Jackson Memorial 30, Brick Memorial 28 (Dec. 5, 2005): As time expired it was fullback Joe Reggio making an acrobatic catch of quarterback Corey Lavin’s desperation toss, with the 4-yard touchdown pass lifting the Jaguars to a dramatic victory in the Central Jersey Group IV final at Rutgers Stadium.
The winning points came on a fourth-and-one play that began with three seconds on the clock, capping a 14-play, 71-yard march as the Jaguars completed a 12-0 season. Brick Memorial had taken the lead on an 18-yard run by Vinnie Falkiewicz with 5:13 to play.
Jackson’s Mark Schiavone ran for 147 yards, including touchdown runs of 29 and 35 yards, as they won their third sectional crown in six years. Falkiewicz finished with a game-high 159 yards on the ground, as the Mustangs finished the season 10-2.
Rumson-Fair Haven 13, Matawan 7 (Dec. 4, 2010): In one of the biggest upsets in Shore area football history, the Bulldogs beat the previously undefeated, defending state champion Huskies in the Central Jersey Group II final at Kean University, reversing a 48-21 loss during the regular-season.
The Bulldogs appeared to have the game well in hand when Jared Allison fielded a punt for the Huskies and raced 93 yards for a touchdown with 2:12 to play. But the Bulldogs was able to recover the ensuing onsides kick and run out the clock, ending the Huskies’ 19-game winning streak.
Leading 7-0 in the third quarter, the Bulldogs stopped the Huskies on a fourth-and-goal at the two-yard-line. Bulldogs quarterback Michael Villapiano scored on an 18-yard run with 5:42 to play to give them a 13-0 lead.
Jackson Memorial 21, Middletown South 18 (Dec. 6, 2014): In a wild finish to the Central Jersey Group IV championship game, the Jaguars successfully defended a fake field goal with nine seconds to play to win their fourth sectional title.
It was a chaotic endgame at Rutgers, with Eagles kicker Matt Mosquera, 14-of-15 on the season, lining up for a 38-yard attempt that would have sent the game to overtime. The Jaguars blocked the kick, but the play was inadvertently whistled dead by the officiating crew. On the next play, the Jaguars were penalized for having 12 men on the field.
Finally, in windy, rainy conditions, Eagles coach Steve Antonucci opted to for a fake instead of attempting what would have been a 33-yard try, but the pass fell incomplete.
Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t miss a thing
Download our apps and get alerts for local news, weather, traffic and more. Search “Asbury Park Press” in your app store or use these links from your device: iPhone app | Android app for phone and tablet | iPad app >>>Subscribe (at a great sale price!) for full access. And, ‘like’ us on Facebook!