Pinelands QB Mike Keller
Pinelands Regional High School quarterback Mike Keller, practicing Thursday in Little Egg Harbor Township, has completed 7 of 11 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown this season. The Wildcats are 2-0 heading into Saturday afternoon's game at third-ranked Lacey Township. Bill Gross

The Pinelands Regional High School football team hears and reads often about its counterparts from Lacey Township.

With good reason.

Lacey, located 16 miles north of Pinelands on the Garden State Parkway, is a Shore Conference power. The Lions are No. 3 in The Press Elite 11 and have won three South Jersey titles, under longtime coach Lou Vircillo, who has more than 200 career wins.

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Even Pinelands coach Sean DeRosa couldn't stop talking Lacey this summer. With each weight the Pinelands players lifted and each sprint they ran, DeRosa motivated the Wildcats by reminding them of how good Lacey is.

"I told the kids," DeRosa said, "that (Shore Conference) B South goes through Forked River."

Pinelands (2-0) and Lacey (2-0) meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lacey. The winner gets a boost toward the Shore Conference B South division title and a spot in the South Jersey Group III playoffs.

While few local teams can match Lacey's tradition of success, Pinelands has mostly struggled. The Wildcats haven't had a winning season since 2004 and have qualified for the playoffs just twice.

But few Pinelands teams, if any, have had the talent of these Wildcats.

"This game means a lot to our program," DeRosa said. "We think we match up pretty well with Lacey. A lot of people see Lacey and automatically mark a win for them against Pinelands. Our kids want to make a statement that this isn't old Pinelands anymore."

Pinelands and Lacey have much in common. Seniors who have played together since they were 6- and 7-years-old dominate both teams.

"I think that's pretty cool," Pinelands quarterback Mike Keller said. "We have the same storylines. The same backgrounds."

Both have been impressive so far this season. Pinelands averages 49 points per game. Running back Matt McLain has rushed for more than 300 yards in both games.

"We're all good friends," Keller said of his teammates. "We have all each other's backs. I think that's why we're doing well. We're finally a team."

Meanwhile, the Lacey defense has allowed just seven points this season.

"They're like a clone army," DeRosa said. "They all do everything right. They don't make mistakes."

This is Lacey's home opener and there is a buzz about the game at both schools.

"There's going to be a lot of people there," Lacey quarterback Craig Cicardo said. "A lot of people want to watch this game. It's a (division) game. It's Pinelands. It's us. You know it's going to be big."

These are the type of contests the Shore Conference envisioned when it realigned in the off-season based primarily on geography.

Lacey and Pinelands haven't played since 2005 because there were in separate divisions. Pinelands' division opponents were mostly Monmouth County teams, like Matawan and Raritan.

"Our kids didn't know anything about Raritan," DeRosa said.

They do know Lacey.

Pinelands and Lacey players see each other on the Long Beach Island beaches in the summer. They chat on Facebook.

The coaches on both staffs know each other. Lacey offensive coordinator Craig Cicardo, the father of the Lions quarterback, was Pinelands' head coach from 2000-03.

DeRosa coached under Cicardo and played quarterback for him when Cicardo was the head coach at Mater Dei in Monmouth County.

Cicardo was the best man at DeRosa's wedding. The younger Cicardo can remember being a Pinelands ball boy when his father coached there.

"I watched little Craig grow up. I remember the day he was born," DeRosa said. "Craig Cicardo Sr. is the best man I know. That's why he was the best man at my wedding."

Those feelings will be set aside Saturday.

"It's a shame I'm going to have to dislike him for three hours," DeRosa said with a laugh.

Contact Michael McGarry:


Pinelands Regional (2-0) at No. 3 Lacey Township (2-0)

When/where: 1 p.m. Saturday at Lacey Township

Why this game is important: Winner gets a boost toward the Shore B South Division title and the South Jersey Group III playoffs.

Key players:

Lacey: Craig Cicardo, QB, thrown for 254 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns; Jake Dabal, RB, 25 carries for 169 yards; Jarrod Molzon, RB/DB, 16 tackles; Matt Uveges, LB, 15 tackles and an interception.

Pinelands: Mike Keller, QB, 7-of-11 for 164 yards and a touchdown; Matt McLain, RB, 54 carries for 659 yards; Bobby Schwarzenberger, RB/LB; Rob McCormack, TE/DL, 2½ sacks; Jake Hartman, WR/DB, 4 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown.

Did you know: Lacey won the last game on Nov. 5, 2005 57-7. … Lacey's Jarrod Molzon kicked a 49-yard field goal against Brick Township last Friday.

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