After not being able to get to it because I was pressed for time last week, there will be a live chat on Thursday night (tomorrow) at 8 p.m. where we can talk about all things Shore Conference football, so just come to the blog to hop in and get your questions in.
I also have some extra notes for the weekend on Long Branch and Monmouth as we head into what looks like a kind of low-key Week 5 with the exception of Toms River North-Brick Memorial and the underrated rivalry between Shore and Rumson-FH on Friday and the usually rugged Brick-Lacey match-up in the Constitution Division on Saturday.
I caught up with Monmouth coach Sal Spampanato to talk about the Falcons’ 53-17 win over South Plainfield that put them into the win column. After rotating Justin Argylan and A.J. Visconti at quarterback in the preseason and early on, he decided to go with Visconti full time and he responded with 198 yards passing and 3 touchdowns on just six completions in the win over South Plainfield.
The reasoning was that Spampanato wanted Argylan to focus on playing cornerback full time and have less players playing both ways. Argylan did what was best for the team, and he rose to the occasion with two interceptions on defense in the win. The eight attempts for Visconti are about the average for Monmouth’s run-heavy offense, but he made them count with six long completions.
“We didn’t tinker with the offense or the play-calling too much, we just threw for a high percentage to complement the running game,” Spampanato said. “It was more just a matter of refining what we do well.”
Monmouth’s players also stuck with it despite an 0-3 start against three good teams – Matawan, Bishop Ahr and Long Branch.
“The kids never got down,” Spampanato said. “They never pointed fingers, they were all at practice every day and working hard, and they stayed with it. You could tell we were getting better every week.”
The bad news is that now the Falcons have to face Highland Park and senior running back Nate Smith, who already has 1,015 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, with two 300-yard rushing games to his credit.
“He shouldn’t be playing in high school, he should be playing for the Giants by now,” Spampanato cracked.
In other Liberty Division news, Long Branch‘s defense has improved markedly from last season and has fueled the Green Wave’s 4-0 start. The main improvement has been up front, where the defensive line has done a good job holding its ground and tying up blockers for linebackers like seniors Billy George and Julian Mayo to make tackles.
Tarik “Fridge” Cox and Mike Sirianni in the middle and Billy Ballie and Robert Brodie on the ends have helped the Green Wave become much better against the run this season, particularly in the red zone, as they showed in a bend-but-don’t-break performance in a 14-7 win over Red Bank Catholic. Brodie’s younger brother, 6-foot-5 sophomore and potential Division I-A recruit Ryan Brodie, is working in there as well.
“We have a bunch of role players who get it done up front because they are hard-working kids,” said George, who is a four-year starter at linebacker. “Experience has been a big factor, and really practicing hard. On every play in practice, whenever someone makes a tackle, all 11 guys run to the ball before we get to the next play. Kids are really concerned about us having good practices.”
George and Mayo, a transfer from St. John Vianney, have also developed instant chemistry in which they can make calls quickly on the fly to alert the other one about exactly where to be in Long Branch’s defense. Omar Elsherbeiny has also done a solid job at linebacker.
“He’s flying around and scraping off blockers, and it’s allowed us both to make a lot of plays close to the line of scrimmage,” George said about Mayo.
Also, last but certainly not least, is Long Branch’s stellar secondary, which includes Miles Shuler, Karon Hair, Kevin Morris, Ezra Kelly and Devron Clark. Clark has two interception returns for a touchdowns, both of which went for at least 89 yards, so when he gets his hands on it, he is liable to take it all the way back no matter where he is on the field. That makes teams think twice about putting the ball in the air, which only helps the improvement of the run defense.
The Green Wave are fortifying themselves for the gauntlet of Ocean-Matawan-Manasquan in the final three weeks before the state playoff cutoff. Matawan and Manasquan are two teams they could see again in the Central Jersey Group II playoffs, while the Ocean game could potentially decide the Liberty Division title.
“We feel like we still have something to prove,” George said. “Down the stretch we have three games against three outstanding teams, so it’s up to us to rise to the challenge.”
Finally, here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Lakewood junior wide receiver Anthony Carrington. He is out for the season with a broken leg that he suffered in a season-opening loss to Pinelands. The good news is that he is expected to be healed and ready to return by the winter, where the Toms River North transfer will be a guard on Lakewood’s loaded basketball team for what it hopes is a big season.