The regular season has receded. The consolation games are history.
Every game this weekend this stuffed with significance. I can see possible upsets in Group 4 (WT over Millville), Group 3 (Moorestown over Hammonton) and Group 1 (Penns Grove over Pennsville). But I can't quite pull the trigger on two of them.
Here's a closer look:
Washington Township (7-2) at Millville (9-0), Friday at 7: The upstart Minutemen rallied from a 17-0 deficit to stun Williamstown by a 42-23 score in the first round. The Thunderbolts pulled away late to beat Rancocas Valley, 19-0, in a game that was 6-0 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Washington Township is loose and confident. Junior quarterback Tom Hildebrand has dangerous receivers in Mike DeMarco and Julian Allen. John Montesjardi is a top back. The Minutemen are a No. 6 seed but they overwhelmed No. 3 Williamstown with big plays last Friday night. Can they keep this improbable season going all the way to the sectional title game?
Millville hopes to control the game with a rushing attack featuring senior Alquann Jones, who has 1,779 yards. The Thunderbolts have put together a great season, answering every challenge. They have a top OL led by Nick Tyndal. They're home in historic Wheaton Field, which is an advantage. But this WT team looks like it's been sprinkled with magic dust. The pick: Washington Township, 24-20.
Triton (8-1) at Pennsauken (8-1), Saturday at 1: This is a rematch of a Sept. 24 game won by Pennsauken by a 33-13 score. Triton put up a battle for a little while in that game, getting two big plays for touchdowns, but the Mustangs couldn't keep pace with the high-powered Indians.
Triton coach Pete Goetz said he will make a “game-time decision” on junior running back Josh Woods, who has been out for two weeks with a knee injury. Woods' return will help, and not just because he's a big-play man. Just his presence could open up some things for other players. The Mustangs have been led by senior quarterback and defensive end Brian Keller as well as senior linebacker Dan Bekier. The 225-pound Keller is a bruising runner out of the shotgun.
Pennsauken quarterback Manny Cortez has 31 touchdown passes and just three interceptiions. That's off the charts. If eh averages 3 TDs passes and the Indians play three more games -- both of which are very possible -- he will tie the SJ mark of 40 set to Holy Cross' Jason Amer in 1999. Cortez' top receiver is senior Amar Williams, who has scored 14 touchdowns. DE Korey Mitchell and LB Tyrik West lead the Pennsauken defense. The pick: Pennsauken, 30-17.
Woodrow Wilson (6-3) at Timber Creek (9-0), Friday at 7: This is another rematch. Timber Creek won the first meeting by a 34-13 score on Oct. 14, dominating the first half with an imposing defensive performance.
Woodrow Wilson has a dangerous running back in senior Anthony Haynes but the key for the Tigers' offense is the pass-catch combo of Aaron Spencer and TJ Chambliss. Those guys need to make a couple of plays to keep the visitors in the game.
Timber Creek’s defense features LB Quanzell Lambert, a defensive POY candidate, as well as linemen Greg Webb and Dajuan Drennon, Junior corner Eric Church played a strong game the last time these teams met. The Chargers' offense is led by QB Calvin Lowe and RB Khalil Pierce. These guys rose to every challenge this season. They are looking at three tough games in a row -- this one, Thanksgiving vs. Triton, and the Group 3 final, if they get there -- to finish strong and put a 12-0 number up on the board for future TC teams to try to emulate. The pick: Timber Creek, 20-13.
Moorestown (6-4) at Hammonton (8-1), Friday at 7: Moorestown is a dangerous underdog. The Quakers have been inconsistent this season but they are coming off their best game -- a 34-7 victory over Oakcrest in the opening round.
Hammonton is Hammonton, as Moorestown coach Russ Horton says. Solid. Reliable. Good line play, good run game, good defense. The Blue Devils are a little young but they've been so consistent this season that they are the known quantity in this game.
Moorestown is the wild card. They could explode with the spread, ho-huddle offense led by senioir QB Andrew Lisa, who just committed to the University of Pennsylvanis. I could see the Quakers springing the upset. I really could. But on a cold, windy night, I'm leaning slightly toward the team that's home with the bigger, stronger, more consistent lines. The pick: Hammonton, 24-21.
Cinnaminson (7-2) at Haddonfield (9-0), Friday at 7: The Pirates have a top two-way player in senior Chris Kirby, a wide receiver and safety. They've made a ton of big plays this season behind Kirby, QB Dom Elly, RB Tom Donnelly and TE Xavier Wilson.
Haddonfield’s defense has been stout. The Bulldogs have top linebackers in Matt Bhaya, Carson Stack and Rob Perkins. QB/DB Dan Ciemniecki and RB/DB Chris Dengler have been playmakers. This team, like Timber Creek, is looking at an unforgettable three-game stretch that could cement its legacy. Haddonfield has this game, the annual clash with Haddon Heights (which could be 9-1 at the time) and a possible rematch with West Deptford over the next 15 days. All season it seems like the Bulldogs have been waiting for this stretch to arrive. It's here. The pick: Haddonfield, 28-14.
Barnegat (6-3) at West Deptford (8-1), Friday at 7: The Bengals have a top quarterback in Mark McCoy, who has committed to pitch for Wake Forest. He'll be throwing a lot of fastballs on Friday night.
The Eagles got a big boost with the recent return from injury of senior two-way lineman Josh Roane. West Deptford has shut out its last five opponents, outscoring those teams by 231-0. Has the schedule been challenging? Not really. But the Eagles can only play the teams that line up against them. They really handled Pemberton last week so that's a good sign. Like TC and Haddonfield, WD could be looking at a special, three-game stretch: This game, Paulsboro on Thanksgiving weekend and a possible rematch with Haddonfield. The pick: West Deptford, 24-13.
Penns Grove (6-3) at Pennsville (9-0), Friday at 7: The Red Devils will be without coach Kemp Carr, who has been suspended with pay. Assistant John Emel will run the team.
Pennsville's no-huddle offense features sophomore quarterback Dylan Cummings (2,293 yards, 29 touchdowns) and senior wide receivers Ryan Hawthorne (44 catches, 885 yards) and Colton Newsome (42, 789). These guys have been racking up yards and points like pinball wizards. They play at the fastest tempo in SJ, maybe in the state.
Penns Grove has a playmaker in junior quarterback Nick Elmer. The unknown is how the Red Devils respond to Carr's suspension. Will it demoralize them? Motivate them? This team has talent and could be encouraged by the fact that they dominated Pennsville last season on Thanksgiving. These teams will meet again in six days. The pick: Pennsville, 33-27.
Haddon Heights (8-1) at Glasssboro (7-2), Friday at 7: This is a clash of top junior running backs Corey Clement of Glassboro and Brandon Joyner of Haddon Heights.
Clement has 1,780 yards and 23 touchdowns. Joyner has 1,062 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Garnets have much more balance, with a top passing attack led by QB Nick Lundholm and WRS Kashon Bounds and Dante Pinckney. I think that provides th edge to the Colonial Conference team. The pick: Haddon Heights, 27-22.
Holy Cross (6-3) at Camden Catholic (8-0), Friday at 7: The Lancers edged Bishop Eustace 14-13 in the first round thanks to strong work by its offensive line and running back Myles Pressey.
HC is a heavy underdog. They have fashioned a solid season with maybe a slip against Palmyra. They have a top QB in Conor Dempster and two good OL in Mike Kane and Aaron Scanlon. Those guys will have to be at the top of their game against CC's defense.
The Irish have been off since beating Bishop Eustace 21-7 on Nov. 4. Senior quarterback Pete Galiano has 734 passing yards and 427 rushing yards. This team can run the football with RBs Jarred Alwan and Mike Blandon. The only question is how the Irish respond to a bye week. I think it helps them. The pick: Camden Catholic, 20-7.
Montclair Kimberley (9-1) at Holy Spirit (5-3): The Cougars have a top passing attack led by senior quarterback Gabe DiMasi (2,186 yards, 31 touchdowns).
But power points tell the story. MK has that great record but is only the No. 3 seed because they've played a schedule that has been much less demanding than the one played by HS. The Spartans will seek to control the clock with a big, strong OL and a one-two punch at running back in seniors Donta Pollock (1,027 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Nigel Jones (952, 11). If Jones gets 64 yards, he will pass 4,000 for his career. Pollock already is past 4,000 career yards. They will become the first set of classmates in state history to both rush for 4,000 career yards. The pick: Holy Spirit, 27-14.
-- Phil Anastasia