South Group 5 Semifinal Preview: Edison vs. Toms River North

Edison head coach Matt Fulham hoists the Central Jersey Group 5 trophy with his team in the end zone at Lenape High School in Medford on November 11, 2022. (Photo credit: Ken Barnes)

A lot has changed since Edison last won a sectional title in 1991.

There were only four-team fields in each playoff section at the time – you know, in the days before everyone got a participation trophy – and you could fill up your gas tank at one of the discount stations along Route One between Old Post Road and Wick Plaza for just over a dollar a gallon.

Ah, good times.

Of course, that long stretch has gone by the boards, after the 6th-seeded Eagles won 28-14 at top-seed Lenape Friday night to claim the Central Jersey Group 5 championship. Now, it’s on the Group 5 semifinals at Cherokee High School in Medford this Saturday.

And we’ve got a complete preview of the game below, with stats, key players, title histories, notes and more:

Group 5 Semifinals
Edison (Central 5 Champion, 9-3) vs. Toms River North (South 5 Champion, 12-0)
When: Saturday, 5:30 pm
Where: Cherokee High School, Medford

Coverage: Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Chris Tsakonas will be covering the game, providing live updates during our broadcast of the North Group 4 Semifinal between North Hunterdon and Northern Highlands, which also begins at 5:30. Follow Chris here on Twitter for updates, and postgame reaction and a recap will be available on cjsportsradio.com after the game.

How they got here:

Edison defeated #3 Hillsborough 10-7 in the opening round, then rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat #2 North Brunswick 33-31 in the semifinals, by way of two touchdowns, two onside kicks, and a field goal with four seconds remaining. In the Central Jersey Group 5 title game last Friday night, the sixth-seeded Eagles doubled up top-seed Lenape 28-14, in a game played just 15 minutes away from where they’ll be Saturday, in Medford.

Click the play button above to hear Edison Councilman Richard Brescher congratulate the Eagles on their Central Jersey Group 5 championship, and wish them luck this week against Toms River North!

Toms River North – the top-seed in the section, and top overall seed in South 5 – has done what they’ve done pretty much the entire season, maul the competition. They beat 8th-seed Old Bridge 49-7 in the opening round, fourth-seed Marlboro 42-6 in the semifinals, and second-seed Kingsway – last year’s South 5 champion – 48-14 in the title game Friday night.

Who would be next?

The winner of this game advances to the state’s first-ever public school Group Finals in two weeks at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway. They would play the winner of the North semifinal, featuring North 1 winner Passaic Tech (10-2) and North 2 winner West Orange (8-3), which knocked off top-seed Phillipsburg 28-7 in the North 2, Group 5 title game. That North Semifinal will be played at 2:30 Sunday afternoon at Franklin.

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Series, League History

This will be just the second meeting between Edison and Toms River North. The Mariners won last year’s sectional semifinal playoff game at home over the Eagles, 48-7, after Edison pulled off an overtime road win at Manalapan in the first round, 23-20 in OT. Edison hung around in that game against the Mariners for three quarters, trailing just 21-7 entering the fourth until the wheels came off.

In 1991, the year of Edison’s most recent sectional title before this year, the Eagles actually beat two Shore Conference teams en route to the Central Jersey Group 4 championship: 4th-seed Manalapan 9-7 in the first round/semifinals, and third-seed Middletown South 20-16 in the finals.

Overall, Edison is 3-1 in the playoffs against the Shore Conference: 2-0 in 1991, and 1-1 last season.

The Greater Middlesex Conference used to have a scheduling arrangement with the Shore Conference, so the Eagles have played a good number of its teams over the years. They had home-and-homes with Jackson Memorial, Marlboro, Freehold Township and Freehold Boro in back to back years from 2010 thru 2017. That makes them 6-14-1 overall against the Shore, 3-13-1 in the regular season.

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Finals Histories:

Edison (3-0 in finals)  (13th appearance, 10-10 overall)

  • 2022:  Central 5:  #6 seed, beat #1 Lenape 28-14 (9-3 thru finals)
  • 1991:  Central 4:  #1 seed, beat #3 Middletown South 20-16 (11-0)
  • 1976:  Central 4:  #3 seed, beat #1 Woodbridge 19-0 (8-2-1)

Toms River North (7-2 in finals) (21st appearance, 24-14)

  • 2022:  South 5:  #1 seed, beat #2 Kingsway 48-14 (12-0 through finals)
  • 2021:  South 5:  #3 seed, lost to #4 Kingsway 21-14 (7-4)
  • 2016:  South 5:  #1 seed, lost to #3 Millville 22-15 at Rowan (11-1)
  • 2015:  South 5:  #4 seed, beat #3 Williamstown 14-7 at Rowan (11-1)
  • 2007:  South 4:  #2 seed, beat #3 Mainland 22-19 (12-0)
  • 1997:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #4 Millville 30-27 (9-2)
  • 1994:  South 4:  #2 seed, beat #1 Cherokee 28-16 (10-1)
  • 1991:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #1 Eastern 24-6 (10-1)
  • 1979:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #2 Brick Township 15-14 (9-2)

Beyond the “Finals”

In 2018, the NJSIAA added another round onto the playoffs following the sectional finals. “Bowl Championships” were held in 2018 with the North 1 and North 2 sectional winners playing in each group, and the South and Central winners doing the same. Those became known as “Regional Championships” in 2019, but they were still one game shy of crowning group champs, as New Jersey will do for the first time this year.

Edison has never taken part, their previous sectional title before this year being back in 1991, when the sectionals only had fields of four teams. Toms River North has never been there either, having not won a sectional title during that “expanded” period, though they had a chance to get there last year; however, they lost to Kingsway 21-14 to finish 7-4.

Key Players and Stats

Take into account anyone on offense or defense, there’s no more important player than senior quarterback Matt Yascko, who took over the reigns midway through his freshman year in 2019 when starter Lucas Loffredo went down to injury, then moved and transferred to Piscataway. He’s gutsy, and leads with words and by example. He’s the heart and soul of the team, whether it’s running for the game-winning two point conversion in a postseason “pod” game against Hillsborough in 2020 to win a 50-49 donnybrook, or taking advantage of open field and running 20 times against Cedar Creek in the Battle of the Beach in the 2022 season opener, scoring four times, and winning Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week honors for Week Zero. Or leading three scoring drives in the final four minutes as he did two weeks ago in a dramatic come-from-behind win over North Brunswick in the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals. But there’s a super supporting cast, and one that has played a lot. Other four-year starters include wide receiver/safety Malcolm Stansbury, offensive tackle/tight end Israel Rodriguez, and defensive end/H-back Adekunle Shittu. Right guard Matt Bueno has also been playing since his sophomore season in 2020. That continuity and experience not only makes those players better, but their teammates as well.

Yascko has thrown for 1,736 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, while only throwing two interceptions. He values the football. Nyekir Eato is the primary ball carrier with 1,224 yards on 171 carries and 15 touchdowns, but Yascko is No. 2 on the list, carrying 96 times for 553 yards and 10 TDs, four of them coming against Cedar Creek. And he spreads the love to his receivers, with at least five guys catching 10 or more passes this season, and three with 24 or more, led by Malcolm Stansbury’s 46 hauls for 579 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Ricky Harvey has 24 for 392 yards and 4 scores, while senior Michael Strachan has 38 grabs for 356 yards and a team-leading 5 TDs.

Defensively, Shittu is a top-notch defensive end with five sacks, 19 tackles for loss and a team-leading 26 quarterback hurries. But Selbin Sabio is the anchor. The senior linebacker is all over the place, with a team-leading 137 tackles, 97 solo, and 30 TFLs. No one else even comes close. Not to mention what he does on special teams as the squad’s kicker; he executed two onside kicks in the final four minutes of the sectional semifinals against North Brunswick, and booted the game-winning field goal. He had done the latter the previous week as well, kicking a field goal as time expipred in the CJ5 semis to give Edison a 10-7 lead at halftime. Those points would be huge, as neither team scored in the second half. Having a reliable kicker is an advantage many high school teams don’t have.

For Toms River North, it all begins with Micah Ford. The junior quarterback already has offers from Maryland and West Virginia, and interest from Rutgers, among other D1 schools. A dual threat, he has thrown for 1,061 yards this year, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions, while running 187 times for 1,951 yards and 28 scores. And that’s factoring in four blowout games where he never ran the ball more than seven times, hed still went over 100 yards rushing in two of them, and his team won by a combined 249-7.

And that’s the other thing: TR North can score. And play defense. That’s a deadly combo. To wit: they have not scored fewer than 42 points in a game since their Week Zero win over Washington Township in the Battle at the Beach, a 28-21 victory, and are the highest-scoring team in the state, with 590 points already. (They’re also the highest-ranked public school in New Jersey, at No. 3 according to NJ.com.) Since then, they have averaged 51 points a game, scoring over 50 or more points five times, hitting hitting 70 in a 70-6 win over Toms River East; they also beat South 60-0. They’ve pitched four shutouts this season, and held nine of their 12 opponents to single digits. Their average scoring margin this year is plus-41.3 points per game. Be scared.

On the other side of the ball, the same defensive line that held Yascko to 38 yards rushing last season, and 51 as a team, is back. That forced Edison to throw the ball more, and Yascko wouldn up throwing two interceptions, one a pick-six. Ty Kazanowsky leads the team with 5 1/2 sacks and 21 TFLs, while four others have at least ten each.

The bright side for Edison is that Toms River North has been a bit undisciplined, although they have been able to make up for it with superior talent all season long. Can they do that against Edison? We’ll see.

Notes and Nuggets

Edison head coach Matt Fulham, now in his 18th season leading the Eagles, earned his 80th win with the championship over Lenape. He’s now 80-98-1, that lone tie coming in 2016 against Old Bridge. He’s the longest-tenured coach in school history, and the winningest, having passed Mike Wojick’s school mark of 66 last September with a victory over St. Joseph-Metuchen.

With the Central Jersey Group 5 title win, Matt Yascko the quarterback and his father, Matt Yascko the offensive coordinator, both have earned championship rings at Edison. Yascko was a receiver on the 1991 title team, the last one to win a sectional crown before this year’s win. Obviously, neither played on Edison’s only other title team, in 1976, but Yasckos have bee involved in two of Edison’s three sectional title wins.

Also with that win, Edison is 3-0 all-time in sectional finals.

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