Twelve days before the start of the SJ football season, here are 21 games to watch:
Camden Catholic at Timber Creek: This is like Alabama and LSU playing on Week One. These teams were a combined 23-1 last season. Lots of big-time players in this game such as TC's Dajaun Drennon and Zaire Williams and CC's Jarred Alwan. But no Greg Webb for TC as he's rehabbing from knee surgery. This WJFL Constitution clash has major division and playoff implications and the result will loom over the Top 10 for the next three months.
Penns Grove at Glassboro: This opening-night battle could decide the WJFL Diamond Division title. Of course, it's important not to overreact to the result. Last year, PG beat Glassboro 54-0 on opening day. Thirteen weeks later, Glassboro was winning the SJ 1 title. PG has a potent O led by senior QB Nick Elmer and senior WR Jabrail Murray, while Gboro features Pitt commit RB Corey Clement.
Burlington Twp. at Willingboro: No division title at stake but these rivals both want to push into the Top 20 conversation and hope to contend for SJ 3 and SJ 2 titles, respectively. BT has an explosive offense led by Mike Thomas while LB Joe Machado leads the D. QB Anthony Robbins is a major playmaker for Wboro.
Delsea at Moorestown: This should be a classic clash of styles as the ground-oriented Crusaders, with a powerful offensive line led by Cody Mayo, try to control the football and the clock against the spread, no-huddle Quakers and quarterback Drew Pederson.
Cherokee at Triton: Interesting clash of teams on the fringe of the Top 10 conversation, at least in preseason. Triton returns RB Josh Woods and emerging star junior DE Isaiah Baylor from 8-3 team. Cherokee was 7-3 last season with a young team that gained some experience, but lost star RB Zaire Williams as a transfer to Timber Creek. Both teams should be in the SJ 5 playoff mix, but especially the winner of this game.
Oakcrest at Cedar Creek: It will be Penn State recruit Brandon Bell, a linebacker, vs. Georgia Tech recruit Damon Mitchell, an option quarterback, in the game within the game. Second-year program CC, which also features RB Gary Melton Jr., looms with St. Augustine as favorite in Cape National.
West Deptford at Haddon Heights: Led by Alex Thompson and Dante Pinckney, the Garnets are darkhorse contenders for the Colonial Liberty crown. They get their shot when Gerald Towns-Owens, Josh Cornelius and the rest of the preseason favorites come to town.
Williamstown at Timber Creek: This might be the heaviest hitting game of the regular season as these are two of South Jersey’s best defenses. No division-title implications, but this game will go a long way in playoff seeding and Top 10 rankings.
Mainland at Holy Spirit: These Route 9 rivals both have aspirations of being a surprise team in the newly realigned Cape-Atlantic American. Mainland has SJ's best kicker in Temple commit Jim Cooper and a veteran QB in Tom Bradway. HS's OL, which led the way to NP 2 state title last season, will be rebuilt although veteran Steve Domonoski is back.
Woodbury at Paulsboro: These old rivals could meet again in the South Jersey Group 1 playoffs. But this game, which could turn on the Red Raiders’ ability to contain Thundering Herd quarterback Anthony Averett, likely will decide the Colonial Patriot race.
Cinnaminson at Holy Cross: The WJFL Liberty race could turn on a battle of high-powered offenses as 1,200-yard rusher Tom Donnelly leads the Pirates against quarterback Logan Hill, running back Khalid Hendricks and the Lancers.
Cherokee at Washington Township: These perennial powers likely will be battling for prime position in the WJFL American race as well as the South Jersey Group 5 playoff field. WT has a run-pass threat in QB Tom Hildebrand and top LB corps led by DJ Brown and Joe Cotton.
Gloucester at Glasssboro: These teams’ returning running backs combined for more than 4,300 yards and 59 touchdowns last season as Lions’ junior Ben Boyer went for 1,865 and 23 and Bulldogs’ senior Corey Clement set the South Jersey record with 2,510 and scored 36.
Rancocas Valley at Lenape: The Red Devils step out of WJFL Colonial play and back into traditional South Jersey competition in a game that could have major SJ 5 playoff implications. Lenape has RBs to watch in Arkemus Baskerville and Abdul Crowder.
Pennsauken at Shawnee: This playoff-cutoff clash could decide the WJFL National race and determine both teams’ post-season seeding. In a twist, the Indians' strength is up front this season (DE's Korey Mitchell and Isaiah Ingram are one of the state's best combos) while the Renegades will flourish in space (Brothers Rob and Anthony DiOrio are jacked for what's likely their final season together).
Gloucester at Pennsville: The WJFL Classic could be decided by this game. It's a classic match of Gloucester's ground game, led by Ben Boyer, and Pennsville's air attack, led by junior QB Dylan Cummings, who passed for 3,000 yards and 35 TDs last season. Pennsville won last year 27-22 in a game in which Gloucester controlled much of the tempo. Lots of SJ 1 playoff implications in this one, too.
St. Joseph at Hammonton: This Thanksgiving Eve clash of cross-town rivals could decide the Cape-Atlantic American race. It definitely will command the attention of a football-crazy town. SJ will be challenged this season in revamped Cape American but with QB Anthony Giagunto (17-0 as a starter) a solid front line led by Charles Cade and Kevin Goldsmith and an on-a-mission RB in Miles Pease, the Wildcats will be tough to beat. Hammonton has as good young line, an accomplished QB in Christian Mortellite and top RBs in David Williams and Dylan Rosu and a playmaker in WR/DB/K Alex Padovani. This game could be a matchup of Top 5 teams.
Cherry Hill East vs. Cherry Hill West: East is coming off 7-3 season and returns strong front line led by Johnnie Cassano and Tyler Drob. West has a new coach in Brian Wright, former Rowan lineman and assistant, and one of SJ's most explosive players in junior QB/DB Rodney Williams
Williamstown at Washington Twp: These rivals split last season, with WT winning in playoffs -- thanks to a remarkable comeback -- and Williamstown rallying to capture WJFL American title with a big win in Thanksgiving Day. The division title could be in play again and one or both of these teams could still be alive in SJ 5 tournament.
Woodrow Wilson at Camden: Always a great battle, this year's game will mark a matchup between new coaching staffs as Camden is led by first-year coach Dwayne Savage and WW is led by first-year coach Thomas Tapeh, the former Eagles FB. There was hope this game at Farnham Park would be played on new turf field but seems unlikely that project will be finished in time.
Haddon Heights at Haddonfield: Bulldogs have won nine in a row to seize command of this 110-year-old series between neighborhood rivals. HH has a good shot this season, although Hadddonfield has a top QB in junior Mike McLaughlin.
* Phil Anastasia