Another in a series of early looks at South Jersey football teams.
Last year: 7-4
Coach: Kemp Carr (54-30 entering ninth season)
Conference outlook: One of the favorites (with Glassboro) in WJFL Diamond Division
Playoff outlook: One of the favorites (with Glassboro, Woodbury and Paulsboro) in SJ 1
Opener: Sept. 7 at Glassboro
Penns Grove was capable of great things last season -- a 54-0 victory over eventual SJ Group 1 champion Glassboro on opening day, a 36-8 victory over Paulsboro in the SJ Group 1 playoffs.
Penns Grove also was capable of not-so-great things last season -- a 14-12 loss to Woodstown, an 8-6 loss to Salem, a 21-14 loss to Pennsville in the second round of the SJ 1 tournament.
"Things got away from us at times last season," PG senior quarterback Nick Elmer said. "This year is going to be different."
Penns Grove is 47-17 in its last six seasons under coach Kemp Carr. The Red Devils have been banging at the door of true SJ 1 prominence -- which means the first sectional title in the history of the program.
This team is capable of breaking through. Of course, that's been true in the recent past for the Red Devils, but something has always gone wrong -- a playoff ban for the 8-1 team in 2010, those odd losses in 2011.
Elmer believes this team will be different.
"Every since we were young people have been saying, 'That's going to be the team, that's going to be the team,'" Elmer said. "We've been waiting for our senior year. Now it's here."
Elmer is the key to the Red Devils' succer. He's 5-8 and 190, a top runner and strong passer. He's an outstanding defensive back and the team leader.
"His leadership is phenomenal," Carr said of Elmer. "The way he goes about things, it's contagious."
Elmer is a 4.0 student who is second in his class. He passed for 22 TDs as a sophomore for that 8-1 team, but missed two full games and was hampered for several others last season with a badly sprained ankle.
"I felt like I let my team down," said Elmer, who still threw for 10 TDs.
PG has a top wide receiver in senior Jabrail Murray and a potentially dominant two-way lineman in senior Sam Harvey. Antoine Pierce is a veteran OL/LB and juniors Anthony Robertson and Richard Gray are playmakers.
PG also has an emerging talent at OT/DE in 6-7 junior Caine Bachman.
The Red Devils open at Glassboro, one of their fiercest rivals. That game likely will decide the Diamond Division title but it would be a mistake to put too much stock in the outcome.
Last year, Penns Grove dominated Glassboro on opening day but 12 weeks later the Bulldogs won the SJ 1 title while the Red Devils sat home, their season long over.
Penns Grove also looms as a serious contender in SJ 1, along with Glassboro, Woodbury and Paulsboro.
It's a long season. The key for the Red Devils is consistency, from the opener at Glassboro to those make-or-break tournament games in November and, perhaps, early December.
"This is going to be a special year," Elmer said.
-- Phil Anastasia