Redbirds clinches division title, home field in state playoff opener

By Wayne Witkowski

It was the closest thing to a foregone conclusion and with it came a West Jersey Football League Patriot Division championship and a home-field seed in the sixth straight trip to the NJSIAA state football playoffs for Allentown High School’s team.

Joe Mannino rushed for three touchdowns and Sadiki Queen caught two of the three touchdown passes thrown by quarterback Jordan Winston in a half’s worth of action when the Redbirds completed a sweep of division foes, beating Princeton High School (1-8), 54-7, Nov. 5 for their sixth straight victory. Allentown scored all of its points by halftime, as its victory assured a home game for the opening round of the state playoffs Nov. 11.

“We wanted to show today that we are ready for the playoffs and show the teams that we can play all facets of the game,” Winston said after throwing 12-of-16 for 290 yards.

X’zavier Harris pulled in a 47-yard scoring strike from Winston along with Queen’s two touchdown receptions, which were both for 11 yards. Rahshaan Emory ran 17 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter when the reserves already were making their way into the game. Freshman kicker Chris McCrae converted six of eight extra points and has made 31 of 37 attempts on the season.

Armed with its fourth division title in seven years, Allentown (7-2) has won six straight games and figures to draw the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey, Group IV, with a first-round matchup against No. 7-seed Moorestown High school (5-4). Moorestown streaked into the playoffs, winning three straight at the state cutoff. It comes off a 27-20 loss to Triton Regional High School in its regular-season finale Nov. 5.

The winner will take on the victor of two-time state champion Jackson Memorial High School (5-4) β€” the No. 6 seed β€” at No. 3-seed Nottingham High School (7-2). If Allentown wins its game, it will have the home field for the semifinals as well.

“We’re just worried about this one,” coach Jay Graber said of the opener. “I’m just happy our guys have not looked past Princeton. They were locked in and focused. We were able to start fast and keep moving. And now we have to prepare for a team that is big up front and has some speed. They’ve won five games, so they expect to win.”

Graber said keeping things balanced and playing tough defense are vital.

“We’ve been playing well on defense the last couple of weeks, reading our keys,” Graber said. “I’m happy we were able to open up the passing game. We always try to take what the defense gives us.”

The opposite side of the Central Jersey, Group IV bracket has a combined 18-16 record. Brick Township High School draws the top seed based on power points despite a 6-3 record and plays at home against No. 8-seed Neptune High School (2-6). Freehold High School (5-4), which is seeded No. 5, travels to No. 4-seed Pennsauken High School (5-3).

It is the sixth straight trip to the state playoffs for Graber, who is 48-25 in his seven years as Allentown’s head coach. Graber has had no worse than a .500 season, which came once in his tenure, and has stressed the need for his team to be optimal in all three areas of the game β€” offense, defense and special teams β€” against Moorestown.

Allentown is seeking its first state championship this season in its second year in Central Jersey, Group IV. It lost last year in the semifinals and is looking to return to the championship game where it played and lost to Delsea Regional High School, 42-35, in overtime two seasons ago in South Jersey, Group III at Rowan University.

Allentown’s football team scored 50 or more points for the third time this season against Princeton, and it put up 49 points in another game. The Redbirds have a 331-138 scoring edge. Linebacker Rick Mottram leads the defense with 91 tackles, followed by Jha’Quel Brown’s 41.

Moorestown has a 184-158 scoring edge.

Despite sitting out one game, Winston is within striking range of 1,000 yards for rushing and for passing for the second straight season and has accounted for 17 touchdowns. If he reaches that, it would mark the third straight year that an Allentown quarterback has had four-digit yardage in both categories, with Michael Curry first accomplishing the feat in 2014. Winston, who is headed to Oklahoma State University next fall to pursue a college baseball career, has passed for 888 yards on 43 of 75 passing for nine touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has rushed for 879 yards on 113 carries (7.8 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns.

Mannino, who scored on all three carries he had in the game against Princeton on runs of 26, 80 and 18 yards, has 696 yards on 85 carries (8.2 yards per carry) and a dozen touchdowns. Aydon Chavis has rushed for 511 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

As a team, Allentown has rushed for 2,882 yards β€” an average of 320 yards per game β€” and scored 39 touchdowns.

Cross-country

Junior Devon Hoernlein crossed the finish line in the Central Jersey, Group III meet at Thompson Park in Jamesburg Nov. 5 with a winning time of 19:21.70, which was well ahead of the 19:55.10 by runner-up Abigail Silva of Neptune High School, to lead the Redbirds to the team title with 24 points. Moorestown was second with 57. Six Allentown runners finished among the top 12.

The team victory was the girls’ first Central Jersey, Group III championship.

Hoernlein, the third-place finisher last year, was the first section champion at Allentown since Caroline Ticse won in 2010. Hoernlein was a runner-up at the Mercer County meet on the same course in 18:59 in late October.

Senior Sara Gutter (19:57.50) and sophomore Val Kiel (20:03.10) finished in third and fourth place, respectively. Allentown senior Jesse Bragger was ninth in 20:39.0, while freshmen Jamie Crowe (21:06.60) and Isabella Walker (21:08.70) finished in 11th and 12th place, respectively.

Georgia Borkowski rounded out Allentown’s top seven finishers in 22nd place with a time of 22:05.10.

For the boys, Matt Gregor finished 13th in 17:20.0 and Nat Byrnes was right behind in 14th in 17:24.10, as Allentown placed third in the team standings in Central Jersey, Group III behind Ocean Township High School and Moorestown.

Charles Carey followed closely in 16th place at 17:28.70, and Thomas Bethea was 20th in 17:40.50. Also figuring in Allentown’s team scoring were Matt Kaminstein (32nd in 18:05.90), Zach Elwell (37th in 18:14.10) and Colin Harvey (43rd in 18:19.90).

Their sectional showings assured the boys’ and girls’ teams of an advance to the Group III championships Nov. 12 at Holmdel Park in Holmdel.

Boys’ soccer

Zach Kolbot scored off a pass from Max Allen and San Togna scored an insurance goal off a pass from Noah Duggan β€” both in the first half β€” when No. 8-seed Allentown (7-9-1) knocked off top-seeded Ocean Township (14-5), 2-0, Nov. 3 in the quarterfinals of the Central Jersey, Group III tournament.

Allentown played in the semifinals Nov. 7 at Burlington Township High School (8-10-1), which has won its last two games after losing five straight and seven of eight.

Girls’ soccer

Allentown (12-6) was scheduled to play in the Central Jersey, Group III tournament semifinals at Wall High School Nov. 8.

The Redbirds advanced with a 2-0 victory in the quarterfinals Nov. 4 over Burlington Township (10-8-2). Carly Roche and Alex Searing scored, with Searing’s ninth goal of the season moving her into a tie for the team lead with Vanesse Rodriguez. Emma Pascarella has eight goals.

Abby Howell stopped three Burlington Township shots in goal.

Field hockey

Valerie Kim scored on a penalty corner on the last play of the game in regulation when No. 3-seed Burlington Township beat No. 2-seed Allentown, 2-1, Nov. 2 in the Central Jersey, Group III semifinals. The Redbirds, who ended their season 14-5, were seeking a return to the sectional finals.

MacKenzie Hultberg finished a penalty corner seven minutes before halftime off a pass from Caitlin Noon, as Allentown struck first. Burlington Township’s Gracyn Banks tied it early in the second half β€” also scoring on a pass from Nicole DiIenno off a penalty corner for a goal from long distance.

“I think we had opportunities early on where we could have capitalized, but it came down to executing on corners,” coach Dana Wells said after the game.

MacKenzie Bell started in goal for the Redbirds in place of Katie White, who was recovering from appendix surgery.