Real quick before I get to Thursday, just a reminder that tonight’s Point Boro-Manasquan game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1310 a.m. and 105.7 f.m. “The Hawk” or you can stream it by going to http://www.shoresportsnetwork.com. Pregame starts at 6:45 p.m.
Also, if you didn’t get a chance to check it out before Thursday’s games, the Surf Taco Fans’ Top 10 had Freehold as the No. 1 team, so there will certainly be a new one this week when we put up the poll after Saturday’s action. Every week, one of the participants from our poll will be selected to receiver a free $25 gift certificate to Surf Taco, so make sure to get your votes in.
It was a little bit of a wild Thursday as Neptune took down two-time defending Federal Division and defending CJ III champion Freehold in overtime and Holmdel nearly upended Barnegat in the National Division, plus Middletown North had a sensational comeback to beat Toms River South by a point.
I’ll start with Neptune-Freehold, which I was at. It was a festive night at Neptune as it was Pop Warner night, so the future Scarlet Fliers were all in attendance, and Neptune was also awarded the prestigious ShopRite Cup at halftime because of the success of its athletic programs across the board in 2008-09.
Both teams left their hearts on the field and the defenses made plenty of big plays while both offenses were a total mess at times. Clearly, sophomore Ike Calderon was the big story for Neptune with his fantastic finish, but there were a few more players who deserve mention.
I think several defensive players deserve a quick plug, including a player who I think should definitely be in early conversation for the Federal Division Defensive Player of the Year – senior defensive end Ryan Solley. He had a sack, two other hits for a loss and a fumble recovery in the 26-20 defeat and has been outstanding in Freehold’s first two games. He is always around the ball. Also, linebacker Richard Schwartz also had a strong game in defeat for the Colonials with a sack and two hits for a loss, and fellow linebacker Jazzmar Clax also was good and had a big fumble recovery at the end of regulation. As a reader added to this post, Brandon Weiss also had a strong game on the interior as well for Freehold.
For Neptune, a player who went a little underappreciated was sophomore linebacker David Gutzmore, who had two hits for a loss. He was part of an aggressive Neptune defense led by one of the young and up-and-coming coordinators in the Shore, defensive coordinator Jeremy Balina. With Jamaal Hubbard, David Newbey, Gutzmore and Jason Woods able to get into opposing backfields and Warren Mello able to blanket the other team’s top receiver, they are a tough unit.
Both offenses clearly have to clean it up before they face the likes of Middletown South, whose defense has been excellent as usual thus far, as the Eagles rolled to a 27-6 win over New Brunswick on Thursday night. Neptune also has to get its PAT unit on point because it didn’t even come close to converting any type of extra-point until Hubbard hit Phil Craddock with a game-tying two-point conversion pass in the final three minutes of regulation. Junior Charles Davis showed the burst that is a reason Rutgers has already offered him on a 55-yard TD run in the first half, so it’s just a question of getting him the ball in space perimeter where he can use his elite open-field speed. Just like Freehold used Derrick Bender, Neptune also had Davis, a former quarterback at St. John Vianney, taking the snap directly and running it, single-wing style.
Also, having Calderon as a weapon in addition to Davis and Newbey really adds to Neptune’s attack. The only problem may be keeping everyone happy with so many talented backs. Neptune’s passing game, just like Freehold’s, was shaky and usually only used when the offense was backed up because of penalties or fumbles.
There were a total of 10 fumbles in the game and Freehold has fumbled 14 times in two games, so while the score was close, it wasn’t exactly a classic. Freehold has had a major issue with fumbling the exchange and executing toss plays in its flexbone offense thus far. On Thursday it rotated regular quarterback Martin Corso with usual running back Derrick Bender at quarterback and the ball was hitting the turf repeatedly. The Colonials are just searching for consistent play at that spot right now, and it will be the key to their season. They also are veering back into the old Freehold territory, where they were a team that often killed itself with penalties, like the roughing the punter penalty that gave Neptune new life and led to a fourth-quarter touchdown and the illegal block that wiped out a touchdown run by Bender. I’m sure Mark Ciccotelli will be all over them in practice to get it right. It’s on Freehold’s seniors to pull this team together and get them refocused.
Neptune gutted out a huge win for its program after fighting to get respect by beating a fellow Group III power. I know another group that was smiling when it saw that result last night, and that was Ocean. That win over Neptune in the opener looks even better now and the power points that come with it should be nice as well. Neptune coach John Fiore even jokingly pantomimed taking the monkey off his back to a well-wisher after the game, and he had every right to feel that way. I’m sure there will still be people saying that Freehold couldn’t have played worse and put the game on a platter for them to take it, but Neptune was not at the top of its game either and still came out with the victory. Hopefully we can do it all again in late November.
As for the other games, Barnegat escaped Holmdel with a 14-13 win thanks to a missed PAT attempt with 39 seconds left. Either Barnegat’s vaunted offense is a little slow getting out of the gate, or Holmdel’s staunch defense is for real, and I am leaning toward the latter. The Hornets are going to be a tough out for anyone if they continue to play defense like that. Barnegat, meanwhile, picked up a big win on the road and can improve from here as it tries to slay one of the top three powers in the National Division. While Barnegat learned that junior quarterback Nick San Giacomo can make clutch plays late in the game, Holmdel also learned a lot about junior quarterback Mike Cantelli, who was outstanding throwing the ball on the last-minute drive that cut the lead to a point.
The most exciting game of them all was Middletown North’s 28-27 win over Toms River South after being down 27-7 in the third quarter. The two most important things I take away from this game are how much the attitude has changed at Middletown North in the past two years and how important senior running back Rob Whitfield is to Toms River South. Whitfield was going bananas on the Lions’ defense before he got hurt in the third quarter, and the Indians’ offense sputtered after that. Meanwhile, this is a game that Middletown North would never have won two years ago because they hadn’t attained that intangible belief that they can do something like mounting a 20-point comeback. That shows the dramatic shift in the attitude of that program.
Unfortunately there was some bad injury news coming out of Thursday as well as Colts Neck senior quarterback Chris Chiarelli suffered a potentially season-ending leg injury in a 7-0 win over Perth Ambody, and Middletown South junior slotback/defensive back Andrew Suarez suffered a knee injury in the first quarter against New Brunswick, did not return, and has his status for the rest of the season up in the air. The Chiarelli injury really is a crusher because he is one of the Shore’s top passers and he also was the most experienced returner on a young team that returned about four experienced players.
Ocean just keeps grinding them out with great defense and a few big plays from the explosive Brandon Robinson, which was the formula for a 17-7 win over Brick. Interesting sidenote to that – after Robinson’s first touchdown run gave Ocean the early lead, a segment of the Brick crowd was chanting “Doooooowling, Dooooooowling,” in reference to new Brick head coach Patrick Dowling. Guess that Week One honeymoon ended abruptly after beating Colts Neck in the opener.
Jackson Memorial’s huge front line on defense certainly looks for real, holding Manalapan to minus-37 yards rushing in a 13-6 win. That’s a pretty stern message to the rest of the running attacks in the American Division, and the tandom of Terrance Brown and Dimitrius Smith is going to be trouble for opponents all year.
The nondivisional Matawan-Raritan game next week looks like it should have plenty of firewords considering Matawan has scored 92 points in its first two games and the Rockets have scored 83. We’ll find out which offense is for real in that game, which also has big Central Jersey Group II power-point implications.
Shore really battled Asbury Park to the end in a 13-10 defeat against the Blue Bishops. That is a good wakeup call for Asbury Park that it is going to have to show up in every game or it might be walking out with a loss. The bad news for Asbury Park’s banged-up secondary is that starter Will Jones suffered a thumb injury early on that sidelined him for the rest of the game and leaves him questionable in the next few weeks, which is added to a knee injury that has sidelined three-year starter Wigens Ganthier.
As for the GMC-Shore crossover tally, the Shore now leads the series 13-7 through Thursday’s games. Jimmy Ryan and Co. were lights out (pun intended) against Woodbridge for Howell, and Keyport withstood a monster, 200 yard-plus game by Highland Park’s Nate Smith, a Temple recruit, to pull out a win. Also, great game for senior linebacker Sean Campbell on defense in Midd. South’s win, as he had 10 tackles and an interception against New Brunswick.