Shore Conference Football Division Races Heating Up Heading Into Week 4
In recent years, the Shore Conference has dramatically changed the makeup of divisions for football, which of course spills down to each team's schedule. The idea is to make each division as competitive as possible based on recent success and try and avoid mismatches that were far too common. With seven divisions of six teams, everyone plays five division games as part of an eight-game regular-season schedule before the NJSIAA playoffs begin.
When the divisions and schedules are announced there is always controversy because you simply can’t make all 42 football-playing schools happy. While there is no doubt this new format has achieved a much better competitive balance, there will always be a few schools who scream “unfair”. As we approach the midway point of the season let’s take a look at how things are going.
The American Division is clearly the Shore’s toughest and home of No.1-ranked Red Bank Catholic. The Caseys (4-0) have rolled past division rivals Wall and Middletown South in the last two weeks by the combined score of 60-3 and their starting defense has yet to surrender a point this season. This Friday, they will host No.3 Donovan Catholic (3-0), which has also been dominant while allowing only nine points this season. The winner will likely claim the title while the other schools take turns beating one another. Rumson-Fair Haven is a team to watch out for down the road.
The Colonial Division finds Toms River North (4-0) as the overwhelming favorite having scored 174 points already (43.5 ppg). The Mariners figure to cruise in each of the remaining games on their schedule. Everyone else has already lost a division game except for Middletown North, which will visit TRN on October 21. Long Branch (1-2) is a bit of a disappointment but they are dangerous and you can’t overlook Southern.
I know it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback but it would have made more sense for Toms River North and Wall to switch divisions.
The very competitive Constitution Division finds both Marlboro and Colts Neck both sitting at 2-0 within the division and they won’t meet until the end of the regular season. This division is well-balanced with Jackson Memorial a dangerous opponent and Freehold Township as a sleeper.
The Freedom Division has Ocean as the team to beat following a wild 49-33 win over Brick Memorial as the Spartans improved to 3-0 and 2-0 in the division. After losing their opener Brick has won two straight and is probably the only team that can make things tough for Ocean.
The Independence Division is an interesting one, although Point Boro (3-0, 2-0) is without question the favorite and averaging 40 points per game. Raritan is also 3-0 and 2-0 in the division following a dramatic overtime win at Manasquan. The No. 10 Rockets host the No. 4 Panthers this Friday. Not to be overlooked is St. John Vianney, which lost its August opener to Red Bank Catholic but has come back to win three in a row. Despite their 0-2 record, Manasquan will be heard from before the season is over.
By virtue of its easy win over Manchester, it looks like Matawan (2-1, 2-0) takes the role of favorite in the Liberty Division. Barnegat is also 2-0 in the division and is clearly in the mix, and if both teams remain undefeated they will meet on October 21 at Matawan for the Liberty Division title.
The small-school Patriot Division appears to be a two-way race between Shore and Keyport, which are both 2-0 in the division and will face one another on Friday. Point Beach lost at the last minute to Keyport but still has a date with Shore in October.
The division setup and schedule are far from perfect and lost are some of the long-standing rivalry games from the days of Class A South, Class B North, etc. While you can’t come up with a system that will please all 42 schools the current one seems to be working…at least for the most part.