NJSIAA Football Playoff Preview: South Jersey
The road to a state championship begins this weekend in New Jersey and 26 Shore Conference teams will begin their quest to win three games and be crowned NJSIAA state sectional champions.
Postseason action gets underway with the state sectional quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 10 and Saturday, Nov. 11. The semifinals are Friday, Nov. 17 and Saturday, Nov. 18. The sectional championship games will be played the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at MetLife Stadium, Rutgers University, Kean University and Rowan University.
The defending champions from the Shore Conference are: Rumson-Fair Haven (CJ-III), Manasquan (CJ-II), Asbury Park (CJ-I), Wall (SJ-III, now in CJ-III) and Mater Dei Prep (NP-II).
Below we'll preview the three South Jersey sections involving Shore Conference teams.
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP V
8-Vineland (7-1) at 1-Lenape (7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Cherokee (6-2) at 4-Howell (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Williamstown (4-4) at 3-Millville (8-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Eastern (5-4) at 2-Rancocas Valley ( 7-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
The Thunderbolts are the defending champions and have won nine straight games since stunning Toms River North with a 22-16 win in last season’s sectional championship game. Speed is the name of the game for Millville, led by standout running back Clayton Scott, quarterback Elijah Nichols and wide receivers Carlton Lawrence and Marcial Ramos. The Thunderbolts already have a 28-17 win over their quarterfinal opponents, Williamstown, and also own a 25-23 win over St. Augustine.
Contenders: Lenape, Rancocas Valley, Howell, Cherokee, Williamstown, Vineland.
This is a big-boy bracket for sure, and there are not easy outs among the bracket. Eastern was the only team I didn’t include here because the Vikings have lost three straight games, including to sub-.500 Triton and 4-4 Paul VI. Lenape has never won a state title but has been banging on the door for several years. The Indians’ only defeat is 10-7 to Rancocas Valley. The Red Devils were unbeaten until a loss to Camden in Week 9 and have one of the nation’s best running backs in University of Florida recruit Iverson Clement.
Howell announced itself when it went on the road and beat Millville in the first round last season, and the Rebels will try to take another step this year. This bracket was hard enough before it added longtime Group IV power Cherokee this season. Cherokee’s 10 sectional titles are the most of any team in the section. Williamstown is always a tough out and although two of its three losses came to Millville and Cherokee, both games were close. Vineland was unbeaten until falling to St. Augustine last week is the best No. 8 seed in the entire playoffs. Rutgers recruit Isiah Pacheco, the Fighting Clan’s star quarterback, is capable of taking over a game.
Shore shot: Howell is the lone Shore Conference team in this bracket and will try to break through and win its first state title in 10 years. The Rebels played a solid schedule and their only loss came to undefeated Manalapan, which is the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference and the top seed in Central Jersey Group V.
Howell’s offense is its strength with senior quarterback Eddie Morales leading the way. Morales leads the Shore Conference in passing yards with 1,654 and 20 touchdowns and has also rushed for 651 yards and seven touchdowns. His best game of the season came against Manalapan when he threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 115 yards and also caught a touchdown pass. He’s at his best in Howell’s biggest games, which certainly bodes well for the Rebels’ playoff prospects.
Howell’s receiving corps features the Shore Conference’s top receiver, senior Naseim Brantley, who has 36 receptions for 624 yards and 11 touchdowns. Opposite him is senior Ryan Mazik, who will make opponents pay for paying too much attention to Brantley. Mazik has hauled in 24 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Nick Chambers is the Rebels featured running back and has 542 yards and nine touchdowns.
Howell gets 10-time state champion Cherokee right out of the gate, illustrating the difficulty of the bracket. A win there means either a date with Lenape or Vineland. Howell will have to play better and better each time out and its defense will need to raise its level in a major way, but the Rebels have the goods. to win it all.
Notes: Routinely considered the most difficult public bracket in the state, this year’s group features two 8-win teams and Millville is the defending champion and enters with a perfect 8-0 record…Both Vineland and Lenape are 7-1 and will meet in the 8 vs. 1 matchup. Both are seeking their first sectional championship…Howell has one sectional title in its history, which came in 2007 in Central Jersey Group IV…The Rebels reached the semifinals last season…Millville and Vineland are Thanksgiving Day rivals in one of the nation’s longest-running turkey day games, and could conceivably also meet in the championship game.
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP IV
8-Pennsauken (3-5) at 1-Moorestown (8-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Absegami (4-4) at 4-Shawnee (5-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Hammonton (3-6) at 3-Central (7-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
7-Highland (4-4) at 2-Burlington Township (6-2), Friday at 7 p.m.
The Renegades have a rich tradition with six sectional titles and 11 finals appearances. Don’t let their 5-3 record fool you. A closer look reveals a 42-21 overtime loss to Cherokee in Week 1, a 25-21 loss to Camden Catholic and a 27-22 loss to Williamstown. Senior quarterback Colin Wetterau steers the Renegades’ offense as both their leading passer and leading rusher. He’s thrown for 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 319 yards and four scores.
Contenders: Moorestown, Burlington Township, Central, Hammonton
This isn’t a particularly deep bracket with none of the teams seeded fifth through eighth entering with a winning record, so it doesn’t look like any team outside the top four can reach the final. Hammonton could be the one exception since the Blue Devils have played a brutal schedule. Moorestown has won four straight games and also has a 34-28 win over Highland to its credit. Burlington Township’s losses are to Lenape and Trenton and the Falcons don’t have a signature win this season.
Shore shot: Central is the only Shore Conference team in the bracket and will try to reach its first sectional final since 1994, which is the only time the Golden Eagles have played in a state championship game.
Central’s offense is led by its offensive line and sophomore running back Kavon Chambers. In his first year as the starter, Chambers has been tremendous with 1,397 yards and 11 touchdowns. If he is having a big game it usually means Central is A: controlling the clock and executing its offense how it wants, and B: likely winning the game. Chambers is going to have to come up big if Central is going to make a run. The Eagles will also need junior quarterback Joe Fowler to make plays with his arm and with his legs to keep teams from selling out against the run.
The Eagles have a very good secondary with Neil Harrington, Jonathan Banks, Jonathan Gonzalez and George Britting not only locking down in coverage but providing excellent run support. Harrington has a team-high 93 tackles while senior linebacker Ryan Emmetts is second with 81. Vince Pelino has been on fire with eight sacks in his last two games.
Central has played a ton of close games this season with their largest margin of victory coming in a 23-0 win over Colts Neck and their worst defeat being a 21-7 setback at the hands of Brick Memorial. If the Golden Eagles are locked in a tight game they certainly won’t lack experience in that scenario.
Notes: Timber Creek won this bracket the last two seasons but is now in South Jersey Group III…Shawnee is the team in the bracket with the most recent state title. The Renegades went 11-1 and won the bracket in 2014.
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP III
8-Seneca (3-5) at 1-Timber Creek (8-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
5-Ocean City (6-2) at 4-Delsea (6-3), Friday at 7 p.m.
6-Lakewood (4-4) at 3-Lacey (7-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
7-Deptford (3-5) at 2-Woodrow Wilson (6-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
Favorite: Timber Creek
Timber Creek was last season’s South Jersey Group IV champion and is on an incredible run that includes two straight state titles, four titles in six years, six straight finals appearances and a current 24-game winning streak. Chargers quarterback Devin Leary, a North Carolina State recruit, is New Jersey’s career passing yards (8,773) and touchdowns (97) leader entering the playoffs. Timber Creek also has an FBS recruit at running back with senior Kyle Dobbins, who is committed to Temple.
Delsea looks like the one team that can stop Timber Creek’s run to a third straight state title. The Crusaders pushed the Chargers to the limit in a 39-36 defeat in Week 1 and have a championship pedigree with 13 sectional titles in 17 trips to a championship game. Woodrow Wilson is the No. 2 seed, but lost to Delsea, 43-12, in Week 8.
Shore shots: The Shore Conference is guaranteed to have one semifinalist as sixth-seeded Lakewood will travel to face Class B South rival and third-seeded Lacey in the quarterfinals. This is a rematch of a Week 5 game won by Lacey in thrilling fashion, 34-33.
After starting the season 2-2, Lacey has won five straight games to enter the postseason with plenty of momentum. Senior quarterback Coleton Klaus has thrown for 1,319 yards and 10 touchdowns while senior running back Jason Giresi has 1,183 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. Senior Tanner Miick is the Lions’ top pass catcher with 37 receptions for 425 yards and three touchdowns, while senior Ryan Kilmurray has 23 catches for 298 yards and three scores.
Junior linebacker Greg Chadwick leads Lacey’s defense with 59 tackles, including 15 hits for a loss, plus a team-high three interceptions.
Lakewood struggled early in the season in the absence of senior quarterback Zyheir Jones, who was injured in the preseason and missed the first two weeks. Since Jones returned Lakewood is 4-3 with their only losses coming by one point to Lacey and by a touchdown to undefeated Point Boro. In six games Jones has thrown 869 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 843 yards and eight touchdowns. His twin brothers, Jyheir, is his top target and has caught 40 passes for 698 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Senior defensive lineman Josh Lezin can wreck any opponents offense with his penetrating ability and the need to at least be double-teamed. Lezin has 66 tackles, including over 30 for a loss, along with nine sacks, two blocked punts and two blocked extra points.
Whichever team emerges has a decent chance to reach the final but would certainly be an underdog on the road against Woodrow Wilson in the second round, assuming the Tigers take care of business against Deptford.
Notes: Seneca won the tiebreaker over Triton for the No. 8 seed based on strength of schedule…Wall was the 2016 sectional champion but is now in Central Jersey Group III……Lacey has won four sectional titles, its last championship coming in 2010…Lakewood has made six straight playoff appearances. The Piners’ only state title came in 1986…The bracket also features Delsea, which won this bracket four straight years from 2012 to 2015 and was in the finals last season. The Crusaders have 13 sectional titles all-time…Ocean City and Deptford each have won four sectional championships.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.