Football: Who's up, who's down
Football: Who's up, who's down
Let's make a deal: I won't mention my preseason Top 10 if you don't.
What was I thinking? I swear I didn't use a dartboard. It just looks that way.
Anyway, here's a look at a few teams that are way up and way down, at least based on one person's flawed preseason prognostication:
Timber Creek. The Chargers are 6-0 and No. 2 in the rankings. They look like they will be 8-0 and the No. 1 seed in SJ 3 at the cutoff. I had this team at No. 12 in the preseason rankings, way too low. They've bounced back in a big way from a 5-5 season. That team lost one of the most explosive players in recent SJ history in Damiere Byrd, who is now at South Carolina, plus LB Quinton Alston, who is now at Iowa. Plus some tough program players. But this group has that look about them. That defense got a big boost from the addition of transfers Greg Webb and Eric Church. Plus, everybody else just seemed to get a little older, a little more experienced and a little better. I like the way Calvin Lowe has played in his third year as a starter at QB, and junior Khalil Pierce is a tough RB. And man is that defense something else. It's down the line, but that Thanksgiving Day clash with Triton is looking more and more like the game of the day.
Williamstown. The Braves are 6-0 and No. 3 in the rankings and have to be considered the favorites in SJ Group 4, although Pennsauken, Southern and Millville might get a nod from some folks. I figured Williamstown would be good -- I had them at No. 13 in the preseason rankings -- but I knew they had lost a a ton of talent over the last two seasons. I also knew they had a good but not great senior class, at least in terms of depth and star power. But this program is humming along at a high level. Lots of good young players, especially sophomores John Chamberlin and Marques Little. Plus, a savvy veteran QB in Dan Collins, and a force at DT in Fidel Okoye. I really like this team's outside LBs, junior Buddy Brown and senior Rashon Pleasents. Big test this week against a desperate Shawnee team.
Camden Catholic. The Irish are 6-0 and are coming off a signature win, 42-35 over Pennsauken in one of the best games I've seen in a while. I suspected that new coach Gil Brooks and his staff would turn this team into a SJ power. I just didn't think it would happen this year. I had them at No. 15 in the preseason. Now they are No. 4. I underrated that loaded senior class, with QB/DB Pete Galiano, RB/DB Mike Blandon, DT Marcus Coleman, TE/DE Andrew Racobaldo, DB Darien Bouzakis among others. I really was impressed with the way this team kept fighting against Pennsauken. They caught a couple of breaks but they took advantage of them and they made a few breaks of their own. This program isn't going anywhere but I didn't expect them to be this good, this fast. Like Williamstown, CC has a big challenge this week in a 2 p.m. Satursday game at Moorestown.
Triton. The Mustangs were riding high after a big win over Timber Creek last Thanksgiving. But they also finished with a 3-7 record. I figured they would be solid. I had them at No. 20. But they've gone 5-1, with a loss to Pennsauken. They've got a good shot at being 7-1 and right in the mix in SJ 4 at the cutoff. Brian Keller has been great at QB and Josh Woods is a true gamebreaker at RB. But this team is good because it has depth -- just a lot of solid, experienced players at a lot of positions. They took their lumps last season, and in 2009. They are determined to make the most of this season.
Haddon Heights. I didn't have the Garnets in the preseason Top 20 and I'm not sure they'd been there now if I ranked that many teams. But they are 5-1 and they will be a big factor in SJ 1. Nick Lundholm is a top QB, Brandon Joyner is a revelation at RB (he didn't play FB last year) and Kashon Bounds and Dante Pinckney are playmakers at WR. Group 2 Haddonfield might be too big and strong for these guys on Thanksgiving Day, but that game has a chance to be a lot more competitive than its been in some recent seasons. Plus, the Garnets' big opportunity is in SJ 1. I think they match up with everybody, including favorite Penns Grove as well as perenniel contenders Paulsboro and Glassboro.
Millville. I had the Thunderbolts at No. 16. Now they are 6-0 and No. 8. I knew they had a good line coming back and a top RB in Alquann Jones. But this team has met every challenge thus far. This team has a chance to be 8-0 at the cutoff. I wouldn't count them out of the mix in SJ Group 4.
Holy Spirit. My preseason No. 1 team is 3-3 and might never visit the fine town of Hammonton again -- the Spartans lost pretty big to both St. Joseph and Hammonton this season. Good thing they don't play the Hawks. Now senior RB Donta Pollock is hurt. I saw this team win a state title by beating North Jersey power St. Joe of Montvale in December. It was a big-time performance against a big-time opponent in a big-time setting. I knew Holy Spirit had a ton of players back from that team. But sports is funny, in case you haven't noticed. Especially team sports, where chemistry can be such a factor. This team just never seemed to find its stride, for whatever reason.
Cherokee. My preseason No. 2 stumbled a bit early, although the Chiefs are 4-2 after beating Shawnee on Friday night. They could be 6-2 and right in the mix in SJ Group 4 at the cutoff. This team probably was ranked too high at the start. But that ranking was based more on a tip of the hat to the last two seasons than to a projection of this team. Sometimes, you have to overrank the champion until somebody knocks them off. This team is young, with sophomores in key spots -- including QB Max Joseph. But they are getting better and better. And junior RB Zaire Williams might be running the football as well as anybody in SJ. I wrote after Williamstown handled Cherokee that "now it's a rivalry," meaning the Braves could look the Chiefs in the eye. But that cuts both ways. I'd like Williamstown in a rematch. But Cherokee will show up.
Delsea. The Crusaders were No. 4 in the preseason Top 10. They were 10-2 last season and returned a lot of players. But it's been one of those years, starting with the injury to C/DT Joe Moffa. That loss in the opener to Kingsway was a shocker and then the Crusaders dropped a couple other close games. Delsea went to 3-4 with an exciting 32-31 victory over Woodrow Wilson on Friday. They should get to 4-4 by beating Camden on Saturday but I'm not sure that will get them in the tournament. But with a loaded junior class that includes emerging star RB Tyrone Saud (4 TDs against WW), this team could bounce back in a big way in 2012.
Paul VI. I had the Eagles at No. 9 in the preseason. Now, they are 2-4. Like Delsea, Paul VI has had one of those years. Senior RB Johnel Anderson has been hurt, and they've lost a couple of close games and probably lost some confidence along the way. This has been one of SJ's best programs over the last three or four years, so I suspect the Eagles will bounce back in 2012.
-- Phil Anastasia