Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” is not a sports novel. It’s not even an American novel.
But its title has become a convenient and accurate way to describe games, seasons and even eras in sports.
Jackson Memorial High School’s 2018 football season was a great example of this cliched but true dynamic. It was quite literally a tale of two seasons.
Joking aside, Jackson Memorial started the season at 5-0 and ended the autumn campaign at 6-5. The Jaguars won the Shore Conference’s Constitution Division, but they also lost their first playoff game in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional bracket, 17-3 to Brick Township High School.
Jackson Memorial’s first [art of the 2018 season was good and successful. Its second one was disappointing.
In 2019, with nine starters back from a defense that allowed 32 total points during that 5-0 start, the Jaguars look primed for another strong campaign. They just have to finish strong to make it a great one, instead of, yes, another tale of two seasons, one good and one not so good.
“It was a learning experience,” said Jackson Memorial coach Vinny Mistretta of the team’s 1-5 finish to last fall. “We needed to realize the amount of preparation it took to be good week in and week out.”
“We got some guys coming back and we have to improve,” he added.
Mistretta’s team mainly needs to improve on offense. Even during the team’s 1-5 finish, Jackson Memorial’s defense kept scores low and games close.
The Jaguars’ offense just wasn’t able to move the ball and take control of games. Jackson Memorial scored single digit points four times over the season’s final month.
But Mistretta has reason to believe that his offense will be better in 2019. Running back Will Towns averaged more than six yards per carry last year as a sophomore. Receivers Jake McKown and Zach Novak both double as spring track and field athletes, and both ran fast enough to qualify for the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Meet in Greensboro, N.C., in June.
All three skill position players have the potential to be electric, and they want to change the perception of Jackson Memorial football this fall.
“They are sick of hearing how great the defense is and how Jackson can’t score and has no skill guys,” Mistretta said. “But until they do it, the talk will be the same.”
Towns, McKown, Novak and their teammates may need to score more, but it’s not like they need to become the Greatest Show on Turf. The Jackson Memorial players just need to score enough to support their lights-out defense.
Defensive end Collin McCarthy, a Division 1 recruit to the University of Connecticut, leads a stacked unit that also includes a two-year starter at middle linebacker in Nic Ford and a pair of sure tacklers in Christian Pellone and Wallace Doman.
“Defensively we’ll be very, very good,” Mistretta said.
Jackson Memorial may be “very, very good” overall, too. Its regular season begins on Sept. 6 at Brick Memorial High School. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“Our first goal is to make the playoffs,” Mistretta said. “It’s going to be a fun year.”