Neptune, Steinert benefit from playoff parity
As frustrating as it may be when it comes to forming predictions and treating the state football playoffs like the NCAA basketball tournament, upsets remind us why we watch these games in the first place.
They are a staple in this culture of postseason fever, an oddity that refreshingly tempers the swagger of the elite and enhances the confidence of the Davids in a pool of Goliaths.
So that’s how Neptune and Steinert, two very fine teams who caught fire at the right time and took advantage of parity that ripped through Central Group 3, stole the spotlight.
Several weeks ago, the two programs were happy to be in playoff contention. Now, amazingly enough, the two underdogs are preparing to face off in the sectional championship on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. at Rutgers University.
Looking back, the Central Group 3 bracket’s anatomy is astounding.
Neptune, the fifth-seeded team, began its run by edging No. 4 Allentown by a 40-33 margin in overtime in the opening round. Then the Scarlet Fliers exploded for 60 points to knock off No. 1 North Burlington.
Under the direction of head coach Mark Ciccotelli, they have rattled off 10 wins this season and are poised to erase the bitter memory of being thumped in the first round last year.
Meanwhile, Steinert -- arguably the biggest surprise of all during these late days of autumn – entered the Big Dance with no track record to lean on.
The Spartans had previously made the playoff six times in program history, but had never won a single contest. That all changed when they did just enough on defense to move past No. 2 Wall, 19-7, in the first round.
The magic continued as quarterback Adam Riese shined again in 32-27 thriller over Woodbridge in the semifinals, helping Steinert become just one of two seventh-seeded squads to reach a title game this year.
For a team that finished 4-6 in 2010, 6-4 in 2009, 3-7 in 2008, 2-8 in 2007, and 4-6 in 2006, invading the campaign’s most magnified weekend with nine wins in 11 chances says a lot. The Spartans’ journey has been downright special.
Midnight never struck for these Cinderella teams, ultimately setting up what should be a championship to remember.
THE PICK: Neptune 28, Steinert 21
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter