Tigers and Panthers Trying to Round Out Seasons on Positive Notes
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – On Friday night, Big Central Gridiron will head over to Perth Amboy’s Waters Stadium to see the hometown Panthers take on South Plainfield in a Big Central Conference crossover. With South Plainfield ranked 25th in South Group 3 and Perth Amboy ranked 24th in South Group 5, it is unlikely that either will qualify for the playoffs. However, a win tonight could not only bolster faint playoff hopes but also help finish the season on positive notes.
After going undefeated during the regular season a year ago, the South Plainfield Tigers come into Friday night’s game at 3-4 overall including a 2-2 mark in the BCC’s United Silver Division. Meanwhile, the Perth Amboy Panthers enter this contest at 2-5 including a record of 1-3 in the BCC’s Liberty Gold Division. Both teams have played and lost to Carteret and defeated J.P. Stevens and J.F. Kennedy of Iselin this season.
South Plainfield has been outscored by a margin of 195-132, or an average of 28-19 per game this season. Perth Amboy has been outscored 182-112, or by an average of 26-16 per contest. Last week, the Tigers lost at home to Voorhees (41-14) while Perth Amboy lost to Colonia (35-23) at Waters Stadium. The Panthers have lost three straight while the Tigers have lost two in a row.
Perth Amboy last defeated South Plainfield on Halloween of 2014 (12-10). The Tigers have won each of the last four meetings including last season’s contest at Frank R. Jost Memorial Field (20-14). South Plainfield has won 10 of the last 15 meetings dating back to 2004 including 6 of the last 7 since 2012. The two teams began playing each other in 1994, and the Tigers lead the series 11-6.
Both teams were soundly defeated by Carteret earlier in the season. Perth Amboy lost to its long-time arch-rival in Week 1, 42-7 while South Plainfield lost to its United Silver foe in Week 2, 40-7. The Tigers and Panthers also rolled past Kennedy with SPHS defeating JFK in Week 1 (26-7) and Amboy downing the Mustangs in Week 3 (35-7). Perth Amboy also defeated J.P. Stevens (26-0) while South Plainfield defeated the Hawks 47-19.
Outside of division play, the Tigers have also played Group 2 powerhouse, Westwood and Voorhees while the Panthers have played Rahway, Carteret, and Stevens. Perth Amboy turned in its best performance in three weeks despite losing to Colonia. Prior to the loss to the Patriots, the Panthers hadn’t been able to score more than a touchdown in their other four defeats. Meanwhile, South Plainfield has managed to score two scores in two of its four losses.
The Tigers finished third in the United Silver while the Panthers ended up fourth in the Liberty Gold. Leading the Panthers is QB Lavion Balthazar. Balthazar, who is also a basketball standout at Perth Amboy, has completed 40 of 66 passes for 536 yards and 3 TDs this season. In addition, Balthazar has also rushed another 35 times for 257 yards and another three scores.
Also contributing to the Panthers’ ground game is the tandem of Jahmell Brown and Jerome Greene. Brown has rushed 39 times for 215 yards, or 5.5 yards per carry while Greene has rushed 20 times for 205 yards, or 10.3 yards per rush. Each has scored three touchdowns. Shakir Price is the team’s leading receiver with 23 catches for 372 yards and a TD.
Price has also rushed 6 times for another 46 yards and returned two kickoffs for another 60 yards. Price is averaging 15.4 yards per touch this season. On defense, Perth Amboy is led by Greene, who has 52 total tackles including 35 solos. Greene also has 3 fumble recoveries. Sophomore Jose Espinal leads Amboy with 3 sacks this season while Price, Balthazar, and Abel Lopez each have an interception.
Carlos Garcia performs the placekicking duties for Perth Amboy and he has connected on his only field goal attempt this season while converting 11 of 13 extra points. Brown has also completed both his passing attempts for 35 yards and a TD this year. The Panthers are averaging 198.4 yards of offense per game including 116.9 yards per contest on the ground.
Meanwhile, Ryan Balent leads South Plainfield’s offense at QB with 25 completions in 53 attempts for 398 yards and 7 TDs. Patrick Smith, the Tigers’ top returning player from a year ago, leads the rushing attack with 111 carries for 863 yards and 6 TDs. Talented sophomore Dominic Massaro has chipped in on the ground with 62 carries for 436 yards and 4 TDs. South Plainfield has rushed for 1,508 yards in 211 carries or an average of 7.1 yards per rush.
Massaro also leads the team in receiving with 8 catches for 151 yards, or 18.9 yards per reception. Add in his kickoff return yards, and Massaro is averaging 9.4 yards per touch. Smith, who also leads the team in return yards with 312, and has caught three passes for another 24 yards, is averaging about 9.7 yards per touch. Massaro also leads the team on defense with 56 total tackles and 2 interceptions.
A.J. Perales leads the Tigers with 4 sacks on the season while tying sophomore Dylan Oller for 2nd on the team in total tackles with 53. Oller and senior Justin Hannon share the placekicking duties for South Plainfield. Each has converted 2 of their 4 extra point attempts. This contest could be another competitive one despite both teams coming in with sub-.500 records.
Both teams are quite even in terms of the amount of points per game they score and allow while defeating and losing to the same common opponents. Each team has explosive players on offense that are capable of making big plays on the ground and in the air. The key will be which team’s defense does a better job of limiting the opposing offense’s top players.
Prediction: Perth Amboy wins, 24-23.