By Phil Anastasia
The week before the playoff cutoff, games take on heightened importance.
Some teams are fighting for sports, others are angling for high seeds and home field.
Here’s a closer look, with predictions, at 12 games this weekend:
Friday at 5
Cinninaminson (4-2) at Willingboro (3-3).
The high-scoring Pirates can see their way to a 6-2 record and a home playoff game in SJ 2. Not bad for a reloading season in which 1,200-yard rusher Tom Donnelly has been hampered by an injury. But the Chimeras are gathering strength. Willingboro has won three of four and could be a factor in SJ 2 with wins over Cinnaminson and Lawrence. Senior QB Anthony Robbins has the Chimeras on the rise. Pick: Willingboro, 25-19.
Friday at 7
Hammonton (4-2) at Absegami (4-2): The Blue Devils likely would lock up a South Jersey Group 4 berth with a
victory over the Braves, who are angling for a home playoff game in South Jersey Group 5. This game has major implications for both teams. This could be the week that Notre Dame recruit Rashad Kinlaw takes the field for the Braves, who are coming off a bye and are gearing up for a stretch run. Pick: Absegami, 24-20.
Holy Spirit (3-3) at Egg Harbor Township (3-3): The host Eagles are riding high after a huge comeback victory over Millville. HS has been a little up and down (like EHT) but the Spartans defense has been open for business all season. Junior LB Jeff Steeb, who was invited to US Army All-American bowl combine, leads the way. Pick: Holy Spirit, 13-10.
Bishop Eustace (2-4) at Cherry Hill West (3-3): The Lions are in the hunt for the first playoff berth in the history of the program. Junior QB Rodney Williams is one of SJ's best playmakers. BE is coming off a tough loss at Delsea. The Crusaders could see their way to 4-4 at the cutoff if they can win this one. Pick: CH West, 19-14.
Glassboro (5-1) at Pennsville (4-2): Junior quarterback Dylan Cummings is a run-pass threat for the host Eagles. This game will offer the rare chance to see SJ's all-time leading rusher (Glassboro's Corey Clement) against player who likely will be SJ's all-time leading passer in Cummings. These teams split last season, with Glassboro winning in SJ 1 title game. Pick: Glassboro, 33-20.
Haddon Heights (4-2) at Sterling (3-3): Senior quarterback Dante Pinckney leads the visiting Garnets’ potent offense. This is another huge game with SJ 2 implications for both squads. Sterling is looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005. HH RB Brandon Joyner is battling a knee ailment and his status is questionable. Senior RB/LB Khalil Howard leads Sterling. Pick: Haddon Heights, 20-13.
Gloucester (5-1) at Woodstown (4-2): Senior running back Rashar Gray has 802 yards for the host Wolverines. Gloucester junior Ben Boyer is closing on 1,000 yards for the second straight season. Lions probably would get a home playoff game in SJ 1 if they win this one, and next week vs. Pennsville. Pick: Woodstown, 27-22.
Washington Township (5-1) at Seneca (3-3): The Golden Eagles probably would clinch a South Jersey Group 4 playoff berth with an upset, given all the power points on the table. Seneca is dangerous in this game, a veteran team coming off a big win over Camden Catholic and looking to fight its way into the post-season. WT has won 5 in a row behind senior QB Tom Hildebrand and an active set of LBs on defense. Pick: Washington Township, 27-20.
Triton (2-4) at Paul VI (4-2): In what has been a little bit of a letdown season, the Mustangs still could see their way into the South Jersey Group 4 tournament with all the power points they would earn by upsetting the Eagles. Triton has its way with PVI last season. The Eagles have lost two in a row after a 4-0 start and will be looking to regain some momentum. Pick: Paul VI, 21-13.
Saturday at 11
Woodbury (5-1) at Audubon (4-2): Junior running back Kahleil Chisolm has 1,072 yards for the Green Wave. Woodbury's overall team speed could be a big factor in this game. Senior QB/DB Anthony Averett will be tough for Audubon to contain. Pick: Woodbury: 33-20.
Saturday at noon
St. Augustine (6-0) at St. Joseph (6-0): The Hermits will try to control the pace with a no-huddle spread offense led by senior quarterback Alex Hughes (49-for-81 passing for 750 yards) and senior running back Calvin Cass (142 carries, 1,300 yards, 23 touchdowns). Junior linebacker Tim Kennelly (73 tackles) sparks the defense. The Wildcats, the No. 1 team in The Inquirer Top 10, should get a boost this week from the eligibility of two in-season transfers: sophomore safety/running back C.J. LaFragola (Holy Spirit) and junior wide receiver/defensive back Chris Gabor (Ocean City). Senior quarterback Anthony Giagunto (34-for-60 passing 454 yards) leads a balanced offense that features junior Cody Sampson (91 carries, 616 yards). Senior linemen Kevin Goldsmith (46 tackles) and Charles Cade (seven sacks) head the defense. These non-public schools are fierce rivals on the field and also in the on-going battle to attract middle-school athletes and their parents. Pick: St. Joseph, 27-7.
Saturday at 1
Burlington Twp. (5-1) at Hopewell Valley (3-3): The Falcons have a top playmaker in senior Mike Thomas (533 receiving yards). With rival NBC next on the schedule, BT needs to get this one and look at earning the No. 2 seed in the SJ 3 tournament. Pick: Burlington Twp., 30-19.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.