This might be the best week of the season so far, with four Top 10 teams battling it out and a few other big games.
Here's an early look at 5 key games:
1. No. 2 Pennsauken (5-0) at No. 9 Camden Catholic (5-0), Friday at 7: What I love about this game is the connections between the programs, from the McDonald brothers, a pair of Pennsauken guys, coaching at CC to Anthony Sweet transferring from CC to Pennsauken last summer to all the Pennsauken kids -- like star RB Mike Blandon -- on the CC roster. That adds so much to the context of a game such as this. On the field, this game likely will turn on the matchup between Pennsauken's high-powered O and CC's sturdy D. Pennsauken QB Manny Cortez has 18 TD passes and just 2 INTs. Amar Williams is a big-time receiver and the Indians have lots of other weapons, plus an underrated OL. CC's defense has been terrific led by LBs Jarred Alwan and Sean Collins and NG Jarret Bragg. Plus, there top DBs in Darien Bouzakis and Pete Galiano and a top DE in Andrew Racobaldo. Don't forget CC's O and Pennsauken's D, either. Right now I'm leaning toward Pennsauken making one more play late in the game but I'm not sure about that.
2. No. 5 Holy Spirit (3-2) at No. 6 Hammonton (5-0), Friday at 7: The Spartans haven't looked right all season. They were making mistakes even before they lost to St Joe by a 34-7 score. And they were tied with Mainland 14-14 in the fourth quarter of their last game. Maybe they finally wake up this week. Maybe not. Sometimes, if a team is not right it never gets right. But the schedule offers an opportunity, because Hammonton is a big challenge and there will be a big crowd and maybe the Spartans will spring to life. They still have that great OL led by Villanova-bound Nico D'Angelo and those two RBs in Donta Pollock and Nigel Jones. SJ sports historian Chuck Langerman reports that Pollock and Jones are on pace to become the first two backs from the same team to pass 4,000 career rushing yards in the same season in state history-- and maybe in U.S. history, although that stuff is sometimes tough to verifiy. Hammonton has been getting better and better. The OL is young but potentially dominant. There's depth at RB led by Jordan Brown and David Williams. There's an emerging passing threat at QB in junior Christian Mortellite. I thought all along the Blue Devils were a year away from being a Top Three team. If they win this one, they will have arrived early.
3. Cherokee (3-2) at No. 7 Shawnee (4-1), Friday at 7: The Chiefs are the two-time defending SJ Group 4 champions. I'm not sure they make the tournament this year if they lose this game. There's a lot of teams that could be stacked up ahead of them. Cherokee is starting to get some good work from junior RB Zaire Williams, who has 12 TDs in just 67 carries. That's a pretty good percentage. But this is still a fairly young team and inexperience and physical immaturity could hurt against a big, strong team such as Shawnee. The Renegades will run and run behind that big OL with junior RB Robbie DiOrio. But the best sign for them was the way QB Jamie Jackopin played in the last drive in that last game, a rally for a victory over CH East. At some point, somebody is going to have to throw the football in this game, and Shawnee has to like its chances with Jackopin playing with increased confidence. Still, expect this game to be 14-14 (or maybe even 7-7) in the fourth quarter. It's just that kind of rivalry.
4. Triton (4-1) at Bishop Eustace (3-2), Friday at 7: The Mustangs rallied for a dramatic win over Delsea Oct. 7 and then had a bye. They are riding high after senior QB Brian Keller led that late drive. Junior RB Josh Woods, senior RB Jimmy Burns and senior WR Allen Richards are part of an explosive offense. BE has one of the best defenses in SJ led by LBs Nick Batistini and Vinny Paola, DB Anthony Marcozzi and a bunch of other guys who started last season. These guys don't budge an inch. If Triton turns it over, BE's offense might be able to take advantage of field position. This is a dangerous game for the Mustangs. But if they want to get in the SJ Group 4 playoffs, they have to win this game.
5. No. 8 Haddonfield (5-0) at Paulsboro (5-0), Saturday at 11: The Red Raiders have been a little under the radar, by their standards, but this is a great chance. That's a Group 2 power coming to town. Paulsboro can go a long way with a win. But it won't be easy. The Red Raiders are solid up front and have a top kicker in Mike Maccarone. That always helps in a close game. Haddonfield is loaded. The Bulldogs have a top back in Chris Dengler and a playmaker in QB Dan Ciemniecki. What makes this team so tough is that in addition to having tough, talented kids who know how to win, the Bulldogs are big by Group 2 standards -- just a big OL and rangy DEs and TEs and burly ILBs. They can pound on you. I'm not saying Paulsboro will get pushed around, because they rarely happens, especially on the Red Raiders' field. But Haddonfield is every bit the Group 2 power and that's tough for a Group 1 team. Of course, Paulsboro has experience in matching up with West Deptford every year.
-- Phil Anastasia