2023 South Jersey Group 5 Football Playoffs Preview
SOUTH JERSEY GROUP 5
Last year’s champion: Toms River North (in Central Jersey Group 5 this year)
(8) West Winsor-Plainsboro at (1) Cherokee
(5) Kingsway at (4) Hunterdon Central
(6) South Brunswick at (3) Marlboro
(7) Howell at (2) Hillsborough
The Favorite: Cherokee (6-2)
The Chiefs are a perennial contender and enter the South Jersey Group 5 playoffs as the No. 1 seed. They are coming off a lopsided 41-17 to a powerful Millville team that is ranked No. 4 in New Jersey but have several standout wins, including victories over Winslow Township, Hammonton, Shawnee, and Kingsway. Their two losses are to Millville and state-ranked St. Augustine (3-0 on Sept. 8). Cherokee has a run-heavy offense led by junior Murad Campfield (839 yards and 8 TDs) and senior quarterback Ryan Bender (538 yards rushing, 11 TDs; 479 yards passing, 5 TDs, 5 INTs). Senior Leo Bluestein has led the Chiefs’ defense with six sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Senior Austin Lenart is the team’s leading tackler with 75 tackles plus three sacks and seven tackles for loss. Seniors Tommy Pajic and Louis Rhodes have two interceptions each.
Contenders: Hillsborough (7-2); Marlboro (6-2)
Hillsborough owns quality wins over South Brunswick (29-8), Phillipsburg (14-13), Union (15-7), Hunterdon Central (19-13 in 2OT), and Somerville (14-7). The Raiders’ two losses are to Ridge (28-7) and Westfield (17-0). Junior quarterback Alex Reiling has thrown for 955 yards and seven touchdowns and junior running back Jackson Jankowicz leads the running game with 796 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior linebacker Jonathan Lobelo has been a force with 19 tackles for loss among his 91 total tackles and senior defensive linebacker Shayne Powell has four sacks and three interceptions.
Marlboro enters the playoffs having lost two straight games but the Mustangs have a strong senior class that boasts playoff experience from a season ago. Marlboro’s two losses are to Rumson-Fair Haven (24-3) and Middletown North (28-21). Rumson is seeded No. 1 in South Jersey Group 2 and Middletown North is the No. 5 seed in North 2, Group 4, Senior running back/linebacker Matt Cassidy leads the offense with 864 yards rushing and nine touchdowns and is also a leader on defense with 71 tackles, a sack, and an interception. Senior linebacker Mike Consolazio has been one of the Shore’s top pass rushers this season with 11.5 sacks. Senior Nick Scaff and junior Luke Houston each have three interceptions. Senior quarterback Brayden Klein was injured in the loss to Rumson and didn’t play against Middletown North, but sophomore Zach Caporale played well in the loss and provided another option in the run game.
Dark Horses: Hunterdon Central (6-3); Kingsway (5-4)
Hunterdon Central’s losses are to Ridge (41-13), Phillipsburg (21-7), and Hillsborough (19-13 in double overtime). Their only win against a team with a winning record was a 28-27 overtime win over Piscataway so they haven’t proven it against a top team this season outside of almost knocking off Hillsborough.
Kingsway is similar to Hunterdon Central in that it has beat the teams it should and lost to teams with better records (Washington Township, Delsea, Cherokee, Holy Spirit). The Dragons have had some playoff magic in recent seasons so they can’t be totally counted out. The road will be very difficult, however, for both Hunterdon Central and Kingsway with a tough opening game against one another and then a likely date with Cherokee in the semifinals.
Shore Shots: Marlboro (6-2); Howell (3-5)
Marlboro has a home playoff game for the second straight season and will host South Brunswick in the first round. A win there would likely send them to Hillsborough for the semifinals. The Mustangs are more than capable of reaching the sectional final but they’ll need an A-plus performance to do so.
Howell has played better than its 3-5 record would suggest and has hit the postseason playing its best football of the fall. The odds are stacked against the Rebels as the No. 7 seed on the road vs. Hillsborough to open the tournament, but if they can somehow shock the Raiders it could set up an all-Freehold Regional HS district game with a trip to a sectional final on the line.
Non-Shore Player to Watch: Benny Liles III, Sr., WR, Kingsway
Liles is closing in on the rare 1,000-yard receiving season and enters the playoffs with 49 receptions for 899 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Badders’ pick: Cherokee
Stump’s pick: Cherokee