Three Football Teams Push into State Semifinals

November 16, 2017
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Mater Dei’s Malik Ingram had four first half rushing touchdowns against Holy Cross. The Seraphs travel to Holy Spirit on Friday in a rematch of last year’s state final. Photo by Rich Chrampanis

By Jay Cook |

When the state football playoffs opened last week, 26 Shore Conference teams – seven from the Two River Times area – began their postseason trips to play on championship weekend in December. And once Saturday evening rolled around, 16 punched their tickets into the semifinal round of their respective playoff tournaments.

Let’s take a quick lay-of-the-land after four of the seven Two River Times area teams were knocked out of the playoffs last weekend:

Red Bank Catholic took an hour-plus road trip north to Montvale to take on the streaking St. Joe’s-Regional Green Knights (7-3) –  by far one of New Jersey’s top teams. Plain and simple, RBC was outmatched and overpowered from the opening kickoff. The Caseys were down 28-0 at the half and ended up losing 49-13 after St. Joe’s quarterback Nick Patti threw for two TDs and ran for another two. RBC finished their 2017 season at an accomplished 8-2, serving as one of the Shore’s top teams. The outlook is promising for RBC next year as key pieces like Steve Lubischer, Billy Guidetti, Kevin Bauman and Charlie Gordinier will all be back.

Middletown South (4-5) faced Long Branch (7-2) on the road for the second time this season, and the outcome was almost exactly the same. It was tough sledding for the Eagles who couldn’t find running room against a suffocating Green Wave defense, and Middletown South fell 20-0, the second shutout suffered to Long Branch this season. The Eagles lost 21-0 in their Week Five game. South will have a chance to even their record on Thanksgiving when Middletown North (5-4) comes across Route 35 for their annual game. Middletown South lost that one last season for the first time in 16 years, so they’ll be looking for some redemption.
In what was a magical year for Holmdel (5-4), the Hornets couldn’t keep the season going after being taken down by A.L. Johnson on the road last Friday night to the tune of 34-6. Head coach Jeff Rainess worked wonders this season and should be proud of how his young team played above expectations all season long. Holmdel’s program is trending up compared to years past and should have about 15 returning starters back on the gridiron for the 2018 season.

Shore Regional (4-5) was also not able to continue its push further into the postseason. The Blue Devils ran into Middlesex (8-1) for the second time this year and were not able to snag a win after losing 28-6. Shore has one more game scheduled this season, a Thanksgiving matchup on the road against Rumson-Fair Haven. The Blue Devils have won three straight against RFH on Turkey Day, which should make for an interesting game this time around.

Pair of Undefeated Seasons Propel Red Bank Rockets To Second Straight Title

Now let’s look at the three remaining teams continuing to drive into the semifinals. We start with a rematch from last year’s thriller in the Non-Public Group 2 title game.

MUST WATCH GAME

Non-Public Group 2
(3) Mater Dei Prep @ (2) Holy Spirit
Friday, 7 p.m.

When the Seraphs and the Spartans met at Kean University last December it marked one of the year’s most nail-biting games as Mater Dei had been undefeated and Holy Spirit had only suffered two losses. As the game clock was down to its final seconds, junior quarterback George Pearson fired a slant to junior wideout Kyle Devaney who tossed it back to now-Rutgers University wideout Eddie Lewis, who ran it in for the game-winning score. If we’re lucky enough to have an equally thrilling finish this time around, then this could be one of the most interesting this games in New Jersey over the weekend. Mater Dei has really found a groove since falling to Delbarton in Week Eight, outscoring their opponents 70-28 in that span. While the Seraphs are averaging 31.6 points per game this season, it’s still a bit of a step down considering last year – those Seraphs were scoring an average of 38.3 points per game. In recent weeks, Mater Dei has shown an ability to run the ball at will, highlighted by Malik Ingram’s four-touchdown performance last week in their 42-22 win over Holy Cross. But let’s not pretend like Holy Spirit is a pushover here. Quarterback Josh Zamot, who committed to Stony Brook University, has been one of South Jersey’s top signal callers. The senior QB has 1,800 all-purpose yards on offense with 26 total touchdowns. E’lijah Gray has also been a menace running the ball, rushing for a 193-1,430-19 statline. Those are some impressive numbers for a sophomore tailback. While last year’s game closed at 26-20, there’s a good chance this one could turn into a shootout. Mater Dei has proven to be a tough out when they stay disciplined and focused. Let’s see if they can keep it going another week.

Rumson-Fair Haven’s Ian O’Connor hauls in a pass during the Bulldogs opening round playoff win against Lawrence. RFH hosts Wall on Friday night. Photo by Patrick Oliviero

Central Jersey Group 3
(5) Wall Township @ (1) Rumson-Fair Haven
Friday, 7 p.m.

This has turned into a much more interesting game than anticipated. With bone-chilling temperatures blanketing the Garden State last weekend, Lawrence had to have known Rumson-Fair Haven was going to focus on running the ball. It didn’t matter. Peter Lucas ran for three first half touchdowns and gave the Bulldogs a comfortable lead as they cruised to a 35-6 win. The bigger story here, though, is how the Wall Crimson Knights dismantled Steinert last weekend on the road. Senior tailback Brady McNally put on a clinic against the Spartans, carrying the ball for 342 yards and five, count ‘em, five touchdowns. It was absolutely a career day for McNally as Wall tallied a big playoff upset. So, when the Crimson Knights and Bulldogs meet in Rumson next weekend, it will be a true strength-against-strength matchup. RFH’s defense was stifling on Friday, as Lawrence’s offense didn’t gain a first down until about a minute left in the first quarter. And while we usually see names like Elijah McAllister and Christian Lanzalotto in this column, some other defensive players stepped up to the occasion. Juniors Joe Afflitto and Keegan Woods both had great games against Lawrence, and those two starters will need to continue the high level of play heading into the semifinals. The Crimson Knights – the lowest remaining seed in CJG3 – have been up and down this season. From Weeks Four through Six, they lost to Long Branch, Red Bank Catholic, and Middletown North, three teams RFH is arguably better than. McNally better have enough juice for another 300-yard, five TD performance if Wall wants to play in December.

Pair of Undefeated Seasons Propel Red Bank Rockets To Second Straight Title

Non-Public Group 3
(4) St. John Vianney @ (1) DePaul Catholic
Friday, 7 p.m.

SJV’s Zyaire Sterling had three TD’s on the ground in the Lancers 45-40 win over Camden Catholic. SJV travels to state power DePaul Catholic this Friday night. Photo by Jay Cook

It’s time for St. John Vianney to go out and prove it. After taking down Camden Catholic 45-40 at home on Friday, the Lancers are about to face their biggest test of the season: a dominant 6-3 DePaul Catholic team. The Spartans have one of the best rosters in New Jersey, and are led by quarterback Taquan Roberson, a Penn State University commit. Throughout this season, Roberson has proven to be one of the state’s best quarterbacks, leading DePaul to big wins over Paramus Catholic, Don Bosco Prep and Pope John – all staples to the North Jersey Super Football Conference. Roberson has a 66 percent completion percentage, with 2,112 yards passing and a 23-5 touchdown to interception statline; it’s hard to argue with that. DePaul’s roster, laden with DI-bound players, even forced a trio of teams to opt of out the playoffs. Pingry, Bishop Eustace and Bishop Ahr all declined invitations to play in the NPG3 playoffs. If that doesn’t say everything you need to know about DePaul and this bracket, I don’t know what does. St. John Vianney has been an unstoppable force in the Shore Conference this season, scoring 41.5 points per game, by far one of the best PPG clips in the state. What’s remarkable about the Lancers is how both their offense and defense run through the play of two-way star Johnny Buchanan. Against Camden Catholic last week, Buchanan carried the ball for 294 yards and two touchdowns, possibly his best game for the Gold and Black. And to stop Roberson and Co., he’ll need to be a playmaker on the defensive side as well. It won’t be easy to slow down this DePaul team, though. Outside of Roberson, the Spartans have two DI offensive linemen (Khris Banks, Boston College; Anthony Marinelli, Fordham University), a DI tight end (Liam Cabri, Elon University), and a DI linebacker (Vinnie DePalma, Boston College). This game will also be a rematch of the 2015 Non-Public Group 3 title game, where DePaul took down Anthony Brown’s Lancers by a score of 40-17. Get your popcorn ready for this one.


This article was first published in the Nov. 16-23, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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