By Phil Anastasia
The playoffs finally are here and so the Top 10 will become clearer and clearer over the next few weeks.
We hope, anyway.
A couple changes this week. AC moved up to No. 5 based on a big win over then-No. 5 Absegami, which dropped out.
WT jumped to No. 6 based on their huge win over a pretty solid Clearview team -- WT's seventh win in a row.
Holy Spirit entered the rankings at No. 9. The Spartans have their sights set on a third straight state title and will be favored to make the finals -- although Immaculata likely will present a stern challenge in the title game, if form holds in the earlier rounds.
Here's the new Top 10, as of Sunday, Nov. 11, with previous ranking in parentheses
1. St. Joseph (1) 8-0
The Wildcats have won three state titles in a row and 11 of 13 since 1999. This team has won 26 in a row and hopes to jack that mark to 30 by the end of the season. SJ still isn't sure if they will play a first-round game next Saturday in NP 1. Cardinal McCarrick apparently doesn't want to play and Newark Academy doesn't either. Immaculate Conception coach Omar Mitchell said Saturday he thought his team was out of the playoffs and would play a consolation game next weekend. But if CM and NA are out, IC might jump into the No. 8 spot. Next: Home vs. Immaculate Conception (1-7) Saturday in first-round of Non-Public 1 tournament or at Hammonton (4-4) on Nov. 21.
2. Williamstown (2) 8-0
The Braves have won 50 of their last 54 regular-season games but are still looking for success in the state tournament. Williamstown is 1-9 in the playoffs in its history. This is the next big test for a program that has risen to prominance in SJ, becoming one of the best teams in the WJFL in its three seasons. Millville is a dangerous No. 8 seed, having won three of four and with playmakers. But there are no easy games in big-group tournament play. If Williamstown can get the first one, the Braves could be tough to stop. Next: Home vs. Millville (5-3) in S.J. 5 tournament Friday at 7.
3. Timber Creek (3) 6-2
Last season's South Jersey Group 3 champions will seek their second straight sectional title in South Jersey Group 4. TC has played solid defense all season and the offense has been coming around in recent weeks. The return of DT Greg Webb, a North Carolina recruit, is a big boost. Interesting matchup with Hammonton in first round. These guys are familiar as they played in SJ 3 final in 2009 (won by Hammy) and in 2011 (won by TC). Tough first-round challenge for a No. 1 seed. Next: Home vs. Hammonton (4-4) Friday at in S.J. 4 tournament 7.
4. Delsea (4) 8-1
The Crusaders have won nine sectional titles, including crowns in South Jersey Group 3 in 2005 and 2000. Delsea is the No. 2 seed but favorite in SJ 3. The Crusaders have won seven in a row and can see their way to 11-1 and the program's 10th SJ title. But they have to play their best football in December. Next: Home vs. Highland (4-5) in S.J. 3 tournament Friday at 7.
5. Atlantic City (6) 6-2
The Vikings got some hard running from Dom Brown-Hurd in the fourth quarter of Friday's 33-25 win over then-No. 5 Absegami. AC is a dangerous team with a great pass-catch combo in QB Jarren McBryde and WR Dayshawn Reynolds. The defense and OL are pretty sturdy, too. But it's tough to beat a good team twice in two weeks. The rematch likely will be another hard-hitting battle and could come down to the fourth quarter. Those guys are real rivals. Next: Home vs. Absegami (5-3) in the S.J. 5 tournament Friday at 7.
6. Washington Twp. (8) 7-1
The Minutemen got a big game from junior Andrew O'Neill and scored their most points in a game since Sept. 9, 2005, in a 51-19 victory over Clearview on Friday. That was a span of 78 games. WT has won seven in a row. How does a team score 2 against Winslow and 51 against Clearview in the same season? Don't ask because there is no answer. The 3 seed is a pretty good spot for WT. They get Southern at home and, if form holds, will travel to Eastern for a rematch of the season opener. Next: Home vs. Southern (6-2) in S.J. 5 tournament Friday at 7.
7. West Deptford (7) 8-0
The Eagles have won five South Jersey Group 2 titles since 2002. Senior RB Connor Smith, who missed last year's SJ final with an injury, ran for 205 yards and two TDs in a 25-12 win over desperate Haddonfield on Friday night. Junior RB Gerald Owens broke a back-breaking, 54-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. Hard not to see this team at 11-0 and in the SJ 2 final. Clyde Folsom's teams tend to get better as the season goes along. But nothing's for sure in high school football. Next: Home vs. Sterling (4-4) in S.J. 2 tournament Friday at 7.
8. Camden Catholic (9) 6-2
The Irish's road to the Non-Public 3 state title is treacherous -- No. 3 seed Pope John XXII, No. 2 seed Delbarton and No. 1 seed St. Joseph of Montvale. CC has gotten a boost from freshman QB Tyree Rodgers, who has started the two games and played well, according to coach Gil Brooks. Rodgers was 4-for-5 passing in a 42-16 win over CH West in the Irish's last game, on Nov. 4. This team is rested and healthy. But that's a hard road in N.P. 3. Next: At Pope John XXIII (7-1) in N.P. 3 tournament Satursday at 1.
9. Holy Spirit (NR) 5-3
Led by juniors Jeff Steeb and A.J. Dawson, the Spartans' defense has fueled a 5-1 surge after an 0-2 start. These guys are angling for a third straight state title. They will be favored to make the final especially with that defense. And after that 0-2 start, look at all the big games for these guys over the next few weeks: Playoffs, the Thanksgiving rivalry game with AC, more playoffs. Next: Home vs. Bishop Eustace (2-6) in N.P. 2 tournament Friday at 7.
10. Penns Grove (NR) 8-0
The Red Devils seek the first sectional title in program history as the No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group 1. PG has a shot to set SJ records for total points and scoring average in a season. But wins are what these guys need most of all. Four more and Nick Emler, Jabrail Murray and Co. will have done something no PG team has ever done before. Next: Home vs. Audubon (4-4) in first round of S.J. Group 1 tournament.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically):
Absegami (5-3): RBs David Hood and Tyler Bing are big-time threats as receiver. Braves will get a big boost if Notre Dame recruit Rashd Kinlaw can get going these last few weeks. Next: At AC (6-2) in SJ 5 Friday at 7.
Eastern (6-3): Vikings need to bounce back from loss to Lenape and long layoff. This team will be a tough matchup because of the way they spread the field and attack on offense behind junior QB Tom Flacco. Next: Home vs. TR North (5-3) in SJ 5 Friday at 7.
Shawnee (5-3): Renegades wanted rematch with Clearview. They got it. Next: at Clearview (5-3) in SJ 4 Friday at 7.
In the mix:
Millville (5-3): Soph RB Rob Ennis and senior WR DaQuan Bowman are major playmakers for dangerous No. 8 seed. Run defense faces stern test against Williamstown's Wing T. Next: at Williamstown (8-0) in SJ 5 Friday at 7.
Delran (8-0): QB Justin McFadden has led the Bears to best season in 20 years. Next: Home vs. Bordentown (4-4) in CJ 4 Friday at 7.
Willingboro (5-3): Chimeras are dangerous darkhorse in SJ 2. They've won four in a row and five of six and should match up with Cedar Creek in second round, if form holds. RB Rob Cleveland is leading the way. Next: Home vs. Middle Township (5-3) in SJ 2 Friday ay 7.
Cedar Creek (8-0): The Pirates play their first playoff game in their second varsity season this Saturday. Next: Home vs. Cinnaminson (5-3) Saturday at 1.
St. Augustine Prep (7-1): The Hermits drew the shortest straw in the tournament when it came to matchups. Yikes. Next: At Don Bosco Prep (7-1) Saturday at 1.
Moorestown (6-3): The Quakers regained some of their mojo in a big win over Paul VI on Friday. This is a team to watch in SJ 4. Next: Home vs. Kingsway (5-3) in SJ 4 Friday at 7.
Burlington Twp. (7-1): Top seed in SJ 3 is looking at a rematch with rival NBC in second round if form holds. Next: Home vs. Deptford (4-4) in SJ 3 Saturday at 1.
Kingsway (5-3): Dragons' ground game will challenge Moorestown defense. Need to limit Quakers' big plays, especially on special teams. Next: At Moorestown (6-3) in SJ 4 Friday at 7.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnstasia on Twitter.