2023 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 Football Playoffs Preview
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 3
Last season’s champion: Camden
(8) Robbinsville at (1) Timber Creek
(5) Wall at (4) Cedar Creek
(6) Carteret at (3) Camden
(7) Matawan at (2) Holmdel
The favorite: Camden (7-1)
The defending champions are loaded up for another run and should be considered a strong contender to take the overall Group 3 title. They have not lost to a team from New Jersey this season and have not allowed more than 7 points in any game against in-state competition. Their schedule strength is not great, as only two of their victories are over teams with a winning record. Their best win is probably over Group 2 contender Haddonfield, but make no mistake, this team has a ton of talent and coaches who took them to the finish line last year.
Senior cornerback Braheem Long is a Syracuse recruit with a pair of interceptions, and senior defensive lineman Richard James Jr. has offers from Ole Miss, Penn State, Pittsburgh and others, and leads the team with 8 sacks. Junior defensive back Azir Lee also has multiple FBS offers.
Offensively, the running game averages 8 yards per carry, led by senior Judah Anthony (94-769-4). Malik Redd and D’hani Cobbs each have over 20 catches and average better than 15 yards per catch.
Contender: Timber Creek (8-0)
Another challenger for the overall Group 3 title, the Chargers have a win over Group 2 contender Willingboro and another playoff threat in Rancocas Valley. Their defense is their backbone, as they have not allowed more than 18 points in a game and only allow an average of 8 points per game.
The leader of that defense is 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior Brahim Wynn, an edge rusher who has 56 tackles and 12 sacks. He is an FBS talent who is committed to UMass. Offensively, they’re almost a perfectly balanced team with 1,206 yards passing and 1,397 yards rushing. They’re a low-percentage passing team but do have a pair of receivers with over 25 catches and a combined 10 touchdowns.
Dark horse: Holmdel (8-0)
It’s strange being undefeated and considered a dark horse, but when you’re in the same bracket with Camden and Timber Creek and your program has never won a sectional title, that’s going to happen.
The Hornets have been one of the Shore’s top defenses all season. They have posted a school-record six straight shutouts heading into the playoffs. They haven’t really been tested by any passing teams on their schedule, but they have been dominant in crushing opposing running games. Linebackers Brayden Savage and Connor Fields have been strong up the middle, with Nick Bachmann helping anchor the defensive line. Senior Jack Collyer has been a standout in run support at safety.
Offensively, the Hornets have added a new dimension this season to their split-back veer rushing attack in sophomore quarterback Jack Cannon. A true dual threat, he gives them the ability to convert on third-and-long and extend plays. They are a running back by committee team with Collyer, Cannon, seniors Anthony Setteducate and A.J. Todisco and junior fullback Matt Iulo all getting regular carries.
If the Hornets knock off Matawan in the first round, that almost certainly means a trip to Camden. That would be the ultimate test of the defense to see if the Hornets can win a low-scoring slugfest to surprise the state.
Shore Shots: Matawan (4-5) and Wall (2-6).
The Huskies rebounded from an 0-4 start to make a playoff run. They have basically been a team that’s beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat and lost to the teams they’re supposed to lose to. They will have to change that in order to get out of the first round by solving a Holmdel defense that has given up 20 total points the entire season.
They will need a defense led by linebacker Colin Palumbo and safety Cameron Cooper to hold Holmdel at bay because points will most likely be at a premium. Offensively, they will need to hit big plays with quarterback Am’ir Martinez, explosive wideout Welman Crooms and others because it’s hard to sustain long drives on Holmdel’s defense.
As for Wall, this is the ultimate test of strength of schedule. The Crimson Knights played the unforgiving American Division schedule, so they have seen it all by this point. The main question is whether they can muster enough offense to knock off Cedar Creek and take their shot at Timber Creek. (So many Creeks). They have been shut out four times and have endured the loss of starting quarterback Andrew Olsen to injury, so it’s been an uphill battle. Sophomore Justin Davis has been a bright spot on the defense with 5 interceptions.
Cedar Creek (6-3) wiped out Matawan 42-0 in the season opener, but they don’t have any real high-profile wins over ranked teams in their conference. Still, they are ranked No. 10 in the state among Group 3 teams by NJ.com. They are beatable, so we’ll see if the Crimson Knights being battle-tested by their schedule pays off.
Non-Shore Player to Watch: Sir Hezekiah Ragland, Sr., LB, Carteret
Beyond his incredible name, Ragland is also one of the state’s top linebackers. He has multiple FCS offers and this season has 79 tackles and 11 TFLs. He will try to keep the Ramblers in the game against Camden in the first round.
Badders' pick: Camden
Stump's pick: Timber Creek