2023 South Jersey Group 4 Football Playoffs Preview
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP 4
Last year’s champion: Millville
(8) Northern Burlington at (1) Millville
(5) Shawnee at (4) Middletown South
(6) Toms River South at (3) Colts Neck
(7) Manalapan at (2) Mainland
The Favorite: Millville (7-1)
After suffering a 14-7 season-opening loss to Toms River North, Millville has plowed through its schedule to enter the postseason as the favorite to defend its overall Group 4 state championship. Millville is ranked No. 4 in the state and owns notable wins over St. Augustine (21-7) and Cherokee (41-17) along with victories over playoff teams Irvington (34-0), Lenape (26-3), Shawnee (38-14), and Ocean City (35-0). Mainland is certainly a worthy challenger as an undefeated No. 2 seed, a returning sectional champion, and a fellow top-10 team in the state, but this bracket runs through the Thunderbolts until proven otherwise. Senior quarterback Jacob Zamot is one of the best in New Jersey and has thrown for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has one of the most electric players in the state as his go-to target in junior Lotzeir Brooks, a major recruit who has 41 catches for 713 yards and 10 touchdowns. Additionally, Millville has standout senior wideout Ta’Ron Haile, who is committed to Syracuse. The Thunderbolts are also punishing on defense with 26.5 sacks, 14 interceptions, and six defensive touchdowns on the season.
Contender: Mainland (9-0)
The Mustangs are another juggernaut seeded high in the bracket following a season in which they won a sectional title and lost 18-14 to Millville in the Group 4 semifinals. Their perfect regular season included wins over playoff teams Washington Township (26-7), Ocean City (35-0), Oakcrest (32-0), Atlantic City (47-18), and Hammonton (14-7). They are ranked No. 8 in the state and have outscored opponents 366-52 this season. Mainland has rushed for over 2,100 yards and scored 37 times on the ground with a stable of backs led by senior Stephen Ordille (965 yards, 19 TDs). Sophomore quarterback John Franchini has thrown for 862 yards and 10 TDs with just two interceptions. Senior running back/linebacker Cohen Cook is a great two-way player with 408 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, 178 yards receiving and two touchdowns, 65 tackles, 5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, an interception, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Mainland’s last loss came to Millville in last season’s Group 4 semifinals and you know the team is itching for another crack at the Thunderbolts in a championship game.
Dark Horse: Middletown South (3-4)
The record and the teams they will have to go through make it seem unlikely to anyone on the outside looking in that Middletown South can make a run. But this is the Eagles we’re talking about, one of the state’s most championship-rich public-school programs led by one of the state’s best head coaches in Steve Antonucci. You can never count them out. They’ll obviously need to be firing on all cylinders and it would be an all-time run to a sectional title with Shawnee, Millville, and likely Mainland in that order standing in their way. But it’s not impossible. Remember, Middletown South has played the toughest schedule of anyone in the bracket with their four losses coming to Donovan Catholic, Red Bank Catholic, Toms River North, and Rumson-Fair Haven.
Shore Shots: Colts Neck (5-3); Middletown South (3-4); Toms River South (6-2); Manalapan (4-4).
Millville and Mainland are the heavy favorites to reach the final so all four of the Shore Conference teams face a steep uphill climb.
Colts Neck gets a home playoff game vs. a resurgent Toms River South team, so the Shore is guaranteed a semifinalist in the bottom half of the bracket. Senior running back Chris Scully leads the offense with 1,372 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. They’ll need him to continue to churn out big games on the ground, but the play of the passing game and senior quarterback Dom Beninato will be equally as important. Beninato has had a strong season with 739 yards passing and 10 touchdowns plus 293 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Toms River South has had a great season en route to the Liberty Division title and their only losses have come to undefeated Holmdel and state No. 7 Toms River North. This is another big step up in competition starting with a Colts Neck team that tied Point Boro for the Colonial Division crown. The running game has been on full tilt of late with junior running backs Jake Henehan and Damir Nelson and senior quarterback Jimmy Alexander powering the offense.
As mentioned above, Middletown South would have to run an unreal gauntlet to win the title. They do have several of the Shore’s top players with senior linebacker Colin Gallagher, senior quarterback/defensive back Jake Czwakiel, senior running back Donovan Summey, and senior receiver/defensive back Owen Richter leading the way.
Manalapan has been the most unpredictable team in the Shore this season and was fortunate to make the playoffs, which the Braves did thanks in large part to a stunning upset of Point Boro three weeks ago. Manalapan has played up or down to its competition this season so maybe facing an undefeated Mainland team in the first round will bring out the best in the Braves. If Manalapan can pull the upset, expect a big play on defense or special teams to make the difference.
Non-Shore Player to Watch: Lotzeir Brooks, Jr., WR/DB, Millville
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver is terrifying with the ball in his hands and has produced 41 receptions for 713 yards and 10 touchdowns plus three interceptions on defense – all of which he has returned for touchdowns. Brooks is one of the top overall recruits in New Jersey and holds offers from multiple Power Five programs including Georgia, Oregon, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Rutgers.
Badders’ pick: Millville
Stump’s pick: Millville