In a fittingly furious finish, a lot happened in the last weekend of the season to change the Top 10.
Raise your hand if you saw Holy Spirit beating Camden Catholic by 44. Not even Chalie Roman predicted that. He had the Spartans by 21 in the NP 2 final.
West Deptford shocked Haddonfield in SJ 2, Pennsauken and Millville staged a great battle in SJ 4, Timber Creek handled Hammonton pretty good in SJ 3 and St. Joe did what St. Joe does -- win by 51-0 in the state final.
The Holy Spirit-Camden Catholic result is the one that most upset the Top 10. Obviously, the Spartans had to move up from No. 8 and ahead of the No. 3 Irish. But the No. 5 (Millville), No. 6 (Haddonfield) and No. 7 (Hammonton) teams lost, too.
How far to drop the Irish? How high to raise the Spartans? What to do with Hammonton, which lost its last two but beat Holy Spirit by 37-14 on Oct. 21?
I thought about moving Hammonton out and Cherokee in. I thought the Chiefs played pretty well down the stretch and they were a 7-3, Group 4 team. But they missed the tournament with that cut-off day loss to CH East, and that Holy Spirit win by Hammonton gained more weight with every touchdown the Spartans scored on Friday night at TCNJ.
Here's the last ranking of the season. The previous ranking in parentheses:
1. St. Joseph (1) 10-0
The Wildcats outscored opponents by 474-19. Their defense allowed one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and one field goal. Their scoring average of 47.4 is second in South Jersey history to the 48.3 set by Salem in 1996. This team deserved to play 12 games and participate in a real tournament. But the Wildcats made the most of the hand they were dealt. Senior FB Eli Pogue battled injuries all season but showed a real knack for getting in the end zone. He's one of those guys that this program always seems to develop -- hard-working, talented kids who get better every season and are so invested by their senior year.
2. Timber Creek (2) 12-0
The Chargers return a lot of talent next season. But it's tough to overstate the physical and pyschological impact of senior linebacker Quanzell Lambert as well as the value of the dual-threat versatility of senior quarterback Calvin Lowe. Those guys were great in South Jersey final against Hammonton. Lambert was all over the field and Lowe made three or four big plays, like he seems to do every time I watch this team. Coach Rob Hinson was overwhelmed at the end, talking about what this season and the way it ended meant to him and his family. It's tough, tough, tough to go 12-0 (just ask Haddonfield). This was a remarkable season for TC, their coaching staff and those players. The best thing was the way they finished, seizing the big stage and unfurling perhaps their finest performance of the season with 33 unanswered points against Hammonton.
3. Pennsauken (4) 11-1
It was only fitting that senior quarterback Manny Cortez and senior wide receiver Amar Williams put on a bravo performance in the sectional title game against Millville Friday night at Rowan University. Those two playmakers were a highlight show all season. There was a guy in the press box on Saturday who said that Cortez' TD run on Friday night reminded him of Kevin Harvey's best moments. I loved watching Harvey. Cortez is 6 inches taller and worked his magic against Group 4 opponents. Like TC, Pennsauken rose to the occasion in the biggest game of the season. Huge crowd, huge stakes and Cortez, Williams and Co. played a fantastic game in a 55-34 victory over a talented and determined Millville team.
4. Holy Spirit (8) 8-3
It's not quite full circle but the Spartans return to where they started -- the upper echelon of the rankings -- after a dominating, 51-7 victory over Camden Catholic in the Non-Public 2 state final. Thanks to those offensive linemen and tight ends, Donta Pollock and Nigel Jones were running downhill all night. That was the team that I had at No. 1 in the preseason rankings. Don't ask me where they were all season. Sports is funny. Especially team sports. Especially high school team sports. Rather than focus on the Spartans' struggles, it's more appropriate to appreciate how this team got its mojo back in time to win its final five games and play a near perfect game in the state final. Notice a pattern here? TC, Pennsauken and HS all played their best when it mattered most.
5. Millville (5) 11-1
The Thunderbolts tied a program record for victories in a season and helped create a wildly entertaining South Jersey Group 4 final against Pennsauken. Seniors Alquann Jones and Shad Lee made plays. They didn't shrink on the big stage. I give Millville a ton of credit for that. They were like a great boxer who forced Pennsauken to be great to beat them.
6. Camden Catholic (3) 10-1
Things snowballed on the Irish in the Non-Public 2 finals, which happens sometimes in big games. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Camden Catholic and Holy Spirit start to meet regularly in the football tournament, just like in boys' basketball. This team had a terrific season. That Pennsauken wins looks better and better. Coach Gil Brooks laid the foundation for what will be a state power in no time. But that's not to minimize just how good and committed this senior class was for the Irish. It's easy for seniors to struggle after a coaching change. These guys bought right into what Brooks was selling, and seized ownership of the demanding coach's first team. If he builds Don Bosco Prep South in Cherry Hill -- hey, the guy doesn't dream small -- he'll remember it all started with those seniors and the foundation they laid in 2011.
7. West Deptford (9) 11-1
The Eagles defense pitched six shutouts but rose to greater heights in the sectional final, generating four takeaways against Haddonfield. Junior linebacker Josh Cornelius and senior defensive back Tom Jakubowski were all over the field. What a great job by coach Clyude Folsom and his coaches this season. They did what great staffs do -- they got their team to improve from September to December, not just from December to September. Watch out for sophomore FB Gerald Towns. This kid might only be scratching the surface. And I was so impressed with how hard Cornelius played on Saturday, especially on defense. He's a kid who had a tough time with turnovers in the regular-season loss to Haddonfield and bounced back in a big way. That's a great sign for this program moving forward.
8. Haddonfield (6) 11-1
The Bulldogs' loss to West Deptford underlines the difficulty in going wire-to-wire and finishing 12-0. Big picture: This program was 40-7 and won seven tournament games during the seniors' four seasons. These guys had a great year. It's just tough that the last game kind of forms the framework to viewing the whole season. In time, the Bulldogs will look back and appreciate how good they were for months. It didn't help Saturday that star RB Chris Dengler went out with an apparent concussion. But sports, like life, isn't always fair.
9. Williamstown (10) 8-2
The Braves went 15-5, including a 7-1 mark in the West Jersey American, in their first two seasons in the new league. It's easy to criticize this program because the Braves still need to get some tournament wins under their belt. But I think that's going to happen. This is a deep, established program that came into a new league dominated with old Olympic Conference powers and didn't take a backseat to anyone. Remember, too, this was supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year. I'm not sure anyone but some rapid fans had Williamstown in the preason Top 10 and they finish No. 9. Not bad for a transition season.
10. Hammonton (7) 9-3
The Blue Devils stumbled at the end of the season, losing to SJ and TC. Hey, those teams finished a combined 22-0. This was basically a young team that probably played as well as possible. And that 37-14 victory over Holy Spirit on Oct. 21 looks more and more impressive. I mean, the Holy Spirit team I saw Friday night could have gone toe-to-toe with anybody, including St. Joe in a rematch. Watch out for this Hammonton team in 2012. These guys will be in the weight room before long and they will come back strong.
-- Phil Anastasia