Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Football: Picks for top games this weekend

It’s one week before the playoff cutoff date. It’s now or never for a lot of teams.

Football: Picks for top games this weekend

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It’s one week before the playoff cutoff date. It’s now or never for a lot of teams.

Last week was a tough week for your feckless forecaster. Hammonton, Camden Catholic, Winslow Township and Delsea all burned me. Hat's off to them.

Another week, another round of predictions.

The envelope, please:

FRIDAY at 7

Sterling (3-3) at Haddon Heights (5-1): The Silver Knights still have a shot at qualifying for the SJ 2 tournament in their first season under new coach Clint Wiley. This team might still be a year or two away (there's a top junior class, and a loaded freshman class with four guys starting varsity) but this game is a big opportunity.

The Garnets are looking to improve their seed in SJ 1. Under first-year coach Ralph Schiavo, Haddon Heights has been one of the surprise teams of the season. They could make a major impact in SJ 1, which looks wide open (although I'd still make Penns Grove the favorite, even as the likely No. 3 or No. 4 seed). 

Sterling’s defense, which has been sturdy, will be tested by a Haddon Heights offense which features quarterback Nick Lundholm and running back Brandon Joyner. Joyner is a junior basketball star who didn't even play football last season. Now a Colonial coach says he's the best RB in the conference. The pick: Haddon Heights, 26-13.

No. 1 St. Joseph (6-0) at Bridgeton (4-2): The Wildcats need a challenge and the Bulldogs could provide one, for a couple of quarters, anyway. I mean, St Joe beat LCM by 70-0 and took a 44-0 lead on Pleasantville in the first quarter. That's not good for the Wildcats and not good for the other teams. I think the Cape needs to look at moving these guys up to the National Division, or at least re-working their cross-over games or something.

St. Joseph’s ground game features running backs Kaheem Reynolds and Eli Pogue. Plus, the defense seems to score a TD or two every game. If there was fantasy football in SJ, St. Joe's D would be a top pick.

Bridgeton has good size and strength, and this game could help prepare the Bulldogs for the Group 2 tournament. But they need to battle for 48 minutes to make it work. The pick: St. Joseph, 27-6.

No. 6 Hammonton (6-0) at Atlantic City (5-1): Lots of power points on the line in this Cape-Atlantic inter-division clash.

Hammonton, which is gaining confidence by the week, still has a shot at passing Timber Creek for the No. 1 spot in Group 3. That doesn't matter as much anymore, since there's not much difference between No. 1 and No. 2 as the title game is at Rowan. Still, it does mean playing the No. 8 and No. 4 instead of the No. 7 and No. 3. Ciould be significant.

Atlantic City is angling for a Group 4 berth. The Vikings have Hammonton this week and unbeaten Millville next week. That's tough. That's also a great opportunity. The pick: Hammonton, 22-13.

Cherry Hill East (3-3) at Lenape (2-4): The Cougars, who are coming off a bye week and have lost three in a row, still have an outside shot at the Group 4 tournament. They need to win out -- which means beating Cherokee next week -- and get some help. But it's possible for a team that's really had a good year.

The Indians have won two in a row after an 0-4 start. I was at their practice this week and they seem to have good jump, as hockey players say. One key for this game is CHE's mental state. The Cougars are coming off a bye after losing three in a row. That potentially could be a bad combination. But who knows? Maybe it recharged their batteries.

Good ground games on both sides led by Cherry Hill’s Brian Regan and Lenape’s Trevor Terrell. The pick: Lenape, 20-17.

Mainland (3-3) at Absegami (3-3): The Mustangs have recovered from a slow start to move into contention in Group 3. The Braves are still alive in Group 4 as somebody (maybe two somebodies) getting in at 5-3.

Mainland is everybody’s sentimental favorite after the Mustangs were devastated by the loss of four players in an auto accident in August. They've really battled back from that unfathomable situation and made this into a competitive season. They have a top QB in junior Tom Bradway, a terrific kicker in Jim Cooper and lots of good athletes on both sides.

Absegami might be a year away. The Braves top player is junior QB Rashad Kinlaw and there's talent in the junior and sophomore classes. The pick: Mainland, 24-21.

Pennsville (6-0) at Glassboro (5-1): This game likely will determine the top seed in Group 1. That's bordenline shocking if you recall that Glassboro started the season by losing 54-0 to Penns Grove.

Pennsville has a top passing attack led by sophomore quarterback Dylan Cummings and senior wide-outs Colton Newsome and Ryan Hawthorne. These guys run a no-huddle spread that creates a lot of problems. But Gloucester nearly upset Pennsville by controlling the game with a rushing attack.

Glassboro should be able to do the same behind junior RB Corey Clement, who has a chance to lead South Jersey in rushing and scoring. This could be a wild game on a cool, clear night. The pick: Glassboro, 27-23.

SATURDAY

Eastern (2-5) at Winslow Township (2-5), noon: The Vikings pushed No. 2 Timber Creek to the brink last weekend, while the Eagles scored a dramatic victory over Paul VI.

This is a big game for both programs. Neither is headed to the playoffs but this is one of those games that both teams know they can win if they play up to their potential. If the weather was good, it would be a shootout. The pick: Eastern, 20-13.

Washington Township (5-1) at No.  5 Pennsauken (5-1), noon: Major playoff implications in this Group 4 clash.

The surprising Minutemen are coming off a bye. They are riding pretty high, playing with a loose confidence. And they might be a year away from big thunder as many of their top players, such as QB Tom Hildebrand, are juniors. There's a little bit of house money involved here.  Still, the downside is that if WT loses this one, next week vs. Shawnee and Thanksgiving Day vs. Williamstown -- and on paper, they might be the underdog in all three -- then some of the luster gets lost from this breakthrough season. So there's urgency for the Minutemen, too.

The Indians need to bounce back from a tough loss to Camden Catholic. That's really the key to this game, along with the weather. Pennsauken coach Clint Tabb wants to see how his team handles this adversity. The SJ 4 title is still out there, within the Indians' reach. Cold rain probably favors the visitors as it could impact Pennsauken's passing game. The pick: Pennsauken, 19-14.

Burlington Township (5-2) at Pemberton (4-2), 1:30: The Hornets can jump into the thick of South Jersey Group 2 with a victory over the Central Jersey Group 3 Falcons. They are kind of a darkhorse but they'll move into primse position with win.

Burlington Township will rely on quarterback Brian Verbitski and an opportunistic defense. This team seems to score a lot of points in returns. The pick: Burlington Township, 19-13.

No.  4 Camden Catholic (6-0) at No.  9 Moorestown (4-2), 2:  The Irish are coming off one of the program’s best wins in recent seasons, a 42-35 thriller over Pennsauken. Can they avoid a letdown?

Moorestown has won three in a row. The Quakers have a chance to bury those losses to Timber Creek and Williamstown under a quality win, and stamp themselves as a serious contender in SJ 3, after all. Can their defense and front lines hold up against the physical Irish? That's the challenge for Moorestown.

Bad weather might help the Irish, who rely more on a defense built around three terrific junior LBs (Jarred Alwan, Sean Collins, Will Jackson; watch out for those guys next year) and a powerful ground game. The pick: Camden Catholic, 17-10.

Game of the Week: No. 3 Williamstown (6-0) at Shawnee (4-2), Friday at 7: Shawnee's two losses were last-minute deals against Pennsauken and Cherokee. So the Renegades are right there.

Shawnee is a big, strong team. The Renegades have survived season-ending injuries to senior standouts OL Tom Smith and RB/DB Kyle Wigley but maybe they are starting to feel the absence of those top guys. They need to slow this game down, work the clock and play field position. They also need to limit Williamstown's big plays, no easy task.

The Braves have a devastating injury of their own as senior RB/DB Chris Inge was lost for the season with a tore ACL last weekend against Kingsway. I like this team's offense, with QB Dan Collins and RBs Marques Little and John Chamberlin. I love this team's defense, with OLBs Rashon Pleasaents and Buddy Brown leading the way.

This could be a tough matchup for Shawnee on a dry night on that fast artificial turf. Williamstown is looking to go 3-0 against Lenape district programs. That's still a big deal down in Monroe Township.

The pick: Williamstown, 24-14.

-- Phil Anastasia

 

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About this blog
Born and raised in South Jersey, Phil Anastasia prefers standing on the sidelines at high school football games on Friday nights to sitting in the press box at Eagles games on Sunday afternoons. He’s a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in English. Reach Phil at panastasia@phillynews.com.

Phil Anastasia Inquirer Columnist
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