MIDDLETOWN – Entering week three of the high school football season it appears Red Bank Catholic (3-0) has a strangle hold on the top spot in the Shore Conference rankings. But if third-ranked Middletown South (2-0) has anything to say about it, that could all change Friday night when the Eagles host the Caseys at “The Swamp.”
The Caseys – ranked No.3 in the NJ.com Top 20- have outscored their three opponents by whopping margin of 121-10, including a thorough 25-3 white washing of perennial power Wall last week in new head coach Ed Gurrieri’s inaugural game.
Red Bank Catholic has dominated in all three phases of the game and after winning the 2021 NJSIAA Non-Public, Group B title the Caseys appear to be on track for another championship run. If they can pull off this feat, it would be the first football back-to-back championships in school history. However, that’s a long way off and they’ll have their hands full Friday night against a strong South team which is just as hungry after losing to Irvington in last season's NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 final.
In his first varsity career start against Saint John Vianney in the Battle of the Beach at Ocean City High School, unproven sophomore quarterback Frankie Williams completed 8-of-10 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. A week later in the Caseys 63-0 rout of Freehold, he was 4-of-4 for 73 yards and three touchdown then last week against Wall, he went 11-of-17 for 133 yards with two touchdowns passes. For the season, Williams has connected on 23-of-31 passes with eight touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception. He’s added 48 yards on the ground on nine attempts with three scores.
Realistically speaking, the Caseys coaching staff could not have envisioned a better scenario than the one Williams has created so far this season when they named him the starter. He’s taken the bull by the horns and hasn’t looked back.
Helping expedite Williams’ development is a veteran and ultra-talented receiving corps led by 2021 first team selection Najih Rahman (32-520-4), who is a Brown University commit and has hauled in nine passes for 75 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Junior wideout, Emanuel Ross, is in line for a breakout season and has already grabbed seven balls for 141 yards and three scores, including a 56-yard touchdown reception against SJV. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Ross has length and speed and has already received numerous FBS offers, including Penn State, Pitt, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Senior Robert Stolfa has four receptions for 136 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown reception and Stephen Myers’ one reception was a 32-yard touchdown.
Senior running back Torin Harmon has breakaway speed and leads the team in rushing with 125 yards on 12 attempts with 80 of those yards coming on one play for a touchdown versus Freehold. A year ago, Harmon rushed 53 times for 567 yards and three touchdowns averaging 10.7 yards per attempt. Backfield mate, Sabino Portella (19-96-2), gives the Caseys one of the top one-two punches in the Shore. Sabino rushed for 845 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago while averaging over six yards per carry. The hard-nosed Portella has given his verbal commitment to wrestle for the University of North Carolina.
The offensive line is led by three-year returning starter Lorenzo Portella at right guard and returning starter sophomore Tyler Burnham at right tackle. Portella is a Shore Conference Preseason All-Shore selection while Burnham was an honorable mention pick.
The Caseys defense is out to prove they’re the best in the Shore and so far this season there’s really no disputing that.
Sabino returns at strong safety where he was a first team All-Shore selection last season after recording 75 total tackles and two interceptions last season. He’s second on the team so far this season with 18 tackles. Harmon is back at free safety giving the Caseys one of the top safety combinations in the Shore. Harmon has chipped in with 12 total tackles.
Junior cornerback Isaiah Nash has stepped into a starting role and hasn’t flinched. He’s recorded 14 tackles with one TFL and has been solid in pass coverage as well.
Junior middle linebacker Davin Brewton had a breakout season for the Caseys in 2021 when led the team with a spectacular 119 tackles along with two sacks and 10 tackles for loss in helping the RBC defense to a No.3 ranking in scoring defense (11.4 points per game). His 24 tackles lead the Caseys this season along with two sacks, six TFL and a fumble return for a touchdown. He was a second team All-Shore pick a year ago.
Senior outside linebacker Michael Palmieri is also back and has taken another step forward after recording 70 tackles, one sack and four TFL last season. He’s definitely one of the leaders of the defense this season showcasing his skills with 16 tackles, TFL, two interceptions and a forced fumble and recovery.
Junior outside linebacker Luke Wassef has fit in nicely and has 15 tackles with a sack and a TFL
The defensive line is anchored by senior defensive end Aiden Donohue who is coming off a stellar 2021 campaign that saw him record 41 tackles 11 TFL and 2.5 sacks. So far this season the 6-foot-2, 240-pound lineman has 14 total tackles with three TFL. Opposite Donohue at the other end is junior Logan Graham who has asserted himself in his first year as a starter recording 11 tackles with three TFL.
Middletown South is coming off a 9-2 campaign which was its best record since the Eagles went 12-0 in 2015 and finished ranked No.1 in New Jersey.
After winning the Colonial Division crown last season, the Eagles were realigned into the American Division which is without a doubt the toughest division in the Shore Conference this season. The Eagles passed their first two test of the season beating Long Branch, 23-13, on opening night and division foe Manalapan, 17-14, last week to start the season at 2-0.
Friday night’s the big one though when they host the 3-0 Caseys at “The Swamp” with a chance to make a statement if they can pull off the upset of the top-ranked team in the Shore and the No.3 team in the state.
Dual-threat quarterback Jake Czwakeil leads a run-heavy offense that has grinded out 386 yards of offense on the ground and has accounted for four of the Eagles five touchdowns this season.
Middletown South is traditionally known for their stout defense's and its pound-and-ground running game and this year’s team fits the blueprint to a tea.
Czwakeil, a super talented all-around athlete, steps in at quarterback this season after a sophomore campaign at free safety when he tied for the Shore Conference lead in interceptions with five. He finished with 45 tackles, two tackles for loss and five pass breakups and helped the Eagles to a No.2 ranking in defensive points allowed (10.1 points per game) while being named second team All-Shore. Czwakiel has 13 tackles this season.
A jack of all trades, Czwakiel is also the teams place kicker and is 2-for-2 on field goal attempts and 2-for-5 on extra points this season.
In his first season as a starter, junior running back Donovan Summey leads the team in rushing with 145 yards on 35 carries while averaging 4.7 yards per attempt and has a 33-yard touchdown jaunt. Czwakiel is second on the team with 128 yards rushing on 21 carries and a touchdown while averaging over six yards per attempt. Czwakiel is an efficient 12-of-23 passing for 201 yards with a 61-yard scoring strike to Owen Richter in the Long Branch win and has yet to throw a pick.
In last weeks win over Manalapan Czwakiel hooked up with Summey on a 10-yard swing pass for the winning touchdown with 32 seconds remaining in the game.
All-Shore linebacker Colin Gallagher is in the backfield rotation and has a habit of running over defenders with his brute strength. On 11 touches, he’s rushed for 98 yards, including a 44-yard score against Long Branch.
Returning starters Tommy Whyte and Tyler Addonsio at right guard and right tackle respectively anchor the offensive line.
Gallagher is the heart and soul of the Eagles defense after a breakout sophomore campaign when he was a second team All-Shore selection after recording 83 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and pass breakup. This season he’s been an unstoppable force. He’s recorded 30 tackles in two games along with 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.
Next to Gallagher on the inside is returning senior starting linebacker Kyle Smith who is second on the team with 15 tackles. Sophomore outside linebacker Luke Wafle has stepped in and proven to be valuable asset to the Eagles defense and is second on the team in sacks (2) and TFL (6.5) along with 14 tackles.
Senior defensive end Will Christopher anchors the defensive line with five tackles, including 1.5 TFL and one sack. Addonisio, a returning starter, has added a sack from his end position while returning senior cornerback Logan Colleran has eight tackles. Junior cornerback Anthony Puccio (nine tackles) and strong safety Owen Richter (12 tackles) are new starters and have helped solidify the secondary.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m.
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