By Phil Anastasia
Thanksgiving weekend can be a tricky time for some high school football teams, with traditional rivalry games interupting playoff runs.
This past weekend underscored the danger to playoff teams. Seven squads still alive in post-season tournaments were "upset" by opponents who were playing their final game.
On paper, each of the teams still in the playoffs would have been favored based on record, rankings or recent success. But that was no forecast for these results: Paul VI over Camden Catholic, Holy Cross over Willingboro, Cinnaminson over Delran, Rancocas Valley over Burlington Township, Lenape over Shawnee, St. Augustine over Cedar Creek and, most surprising of all, Hammonton over St. Joseph.
"I've been on the other side," Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta said. "It can be a tough weekend to figure out how to handle it."
Three undefeated teams went down. Delran, Cedar Creek and St. Joseph were a combined 26-0 and lost to teams that were a combined 16-11.
Hammonton was 4-5 and had lost three in a row. The Blue Devils were looking at their first losing season since 1989. They stunned an 8-0 St. Joseph team that was No. 1 in The Inquirer Top 10 and had won 26 games in a row.
Here's a look at the new Top 10, as of Sunday Nov. 25, with previous ranking in parentheses:
1. Williamstown (2) 10-0
The Braves' 42-0 victory over Washington Township marked their second consecutive undefeated season in the West Jersey Football League American Division. Impressive win over WT. Braves set tone with 19-play drive (FB John Chamberlin carried 10 times) on opening possession. This team is 51-4 in its last 55 regular-season games, dating back to its days in the Tri-County Royal. Big challenge for the pass rush and pass defense this week against explosive AC, which is among the hottest teams in SJ. Next: Home vs. No. 5 Atlantic City (8-2) in S.J. 5 semifinals Friday at 7.
2. Timber Creek (3) 8-2
The Chargers have won six in a row, allowing a total of just 45 points. Junior QB Dan Williams has played well and senior RB Zaire Williams is running hard. But the key for this team has been its defense. Dajaun Drennon, Greg Webb, Eric Church, Myles Nash, Bryce Shade and Co. can sense another sectional title. Shawnee could have big trouble moving the football and changing field position. Next: Home vs. Shawnee (6-4) in S.J. Group 4 semifinals Friday at 7.
3. St. Joseph (1) 8-1
The Wildcats have their sights set on a fourth straight state title. Thanksgiving Eve loss to rival Hammonton no doubt was crushing to SJ. Man, you just never know in high school sports. But this program is one of the best in the state because of the ability to handle adversity and bounce back. A 10-1 season and another state title -- both of which are within the Wildcats' grasp -- is nothing to downplay. Next: Home vs. Hudson Catholic (5-4-1) in the N.P. 1 state semifinals Saturday at 1.
4. Delsea (4) 9-1
The Crusaders' defense has been led by end Dylan Dobzanski, who has 70 tackles and eight sacks. These guys enjoyed a bye week while so many other teams still alive in playoffs took it on the chin on Thanksgiving weekend. Bridgeton will be a challenge. The Bulldogs are hot. Next: Home vs. Bridgeton (6-4) in S.J. Group 3 semifinals Friday at 7.
5. Atlantic City (5) 8-2
The Vikings' defense rose to the occasion in a 13-7 win over rival Holy Spirit on Thanksgiving. That's the thing about this team. It's not just the explosive offense led by QB Jarren McBryde and WR Dayshawn Reynolds. This is a tough team that plays physical football. Still, they'll need a big play or four to win at Williamstown. Next: At No. 1 Williamstown (10-0) in the S.J. Group 5 semifinals Friday at 7.
6. West Deptford (6) 10-0
The Eagles have won 19 in a row, the longest streak in South Jersey. Methodical win over Paulsboro was typical for WD, which has been wearing down sturdy opponents. WD is 28-5 in SJ 2 play since 2002. The Eagles have sights set on sixth sectional title. Next: Home vs. Woodstown (7-3) in the S.J. 2 semifinals Friday at 7.
7. Eastern (9) 7-3
Junior Tom Flacco needs 391 yards to become just the fourth quarterback in South Jersey history to pass for 3,000 yards in a season. Flacco has deep, versatile receiving corps led by Eli Woodard and Keyshawn Seegers. Five guys have between 39 and 27 catches. Could be a shootout with Southern, which is scoring at a fast clip, too. Next: Home vs. Southern (8-2) in S.J. Group 5 semifinals Friday at 7.
8. Penns Grove (10) 10-0
Senior Jabrail Murray has 13 touchdown catches and five interceptions. These guys have seven shutouts in a row. They've outscored those opponents by 392-0. For the season, it's 538-26. The numbers are astounding. But PG knows it must win next two and finish 12-0 and capture first SJ title in program history to validate those ridiculous stats. Next: Home vs. Paulsboro (7-3) in S.J. Group 1 semifinals Saturday at 1.
9. Kingsway (NR) 7-3
The Dragons are 7-2 since opening night and the two losses were to No. 1 Williamstown and No. 4 Delsea by a combined total of six points. Junior RB Ray Lawry has 10 TDs in last two games. He needs 172 yards to reach 2,000 on the season. He would be 4th SJ back to get there this season, after Clement (2,166, and counting), Hills (2,106) and Cass (2,001). Next: At Lacey Township (10-0) in S.J. Group 4 semifinals Saturday at 1.
10. Holy Spirit (8) 6-4
The Spartans have allowed just 36 points in their last five games. Can't drop HS too far after they took No. 5 AC to the wire in rivalry game. This team looks like it will play for third straight state title. Next: Home vs. Pingry (4-6) in N.P. 2 state semifinals Friday at 7.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically):
St. Augustine Prep (8-2): Hermits captured Cape National title with 41-40 OT win over previously undefeated Cedar Creek. Senior RB Calvin Cass carried 53 times, scored winning TD and jacked season rushing total to 2,001. Not a bad day. Season over.
In the mix:
Absegami (6-4): Senior OL Collin Lynch has been a rock for the Braves. Season over.
Cedar Creek (9-1): Pirates must bounce back from first loss Next: Home vs. Willingboro (6-4) in SJ 2 semis Saturday at 1.
Burlington Twp. (8-2): Coach Tom Maderia rested starters in loss to RV. He knows NBC will be tough to beat the second time. Next: Home vs. NBC (6-4) in SJ 3 semis Saturday at 1.
Paul VI (6-4): Eagles made a statement with Thanksiving Eve win over CC. Nice bounce back season from 2-8. Season over.
Camden Catholic (7-3): Irish face tough duty in long trip to Delbarton. Next: At Delbarton (9-1) in NP 3 state semifinals.
Shawnee (6-4): Renegades must control tempo against Timber Creek. That's easier said than done. Next: At TC (8-2) in SJ 4 semifinals Friday at 7.
Millville (6-4): Soph RB Rob Ennis is this program's next star. Season over.
Delran (9-1): Bears must bounce back from first loss. Next: Home vs. Weequahic (8-2) in CJ 2 semis Friday at 7.
Florence (9-1): Tough duty for Flashes this weekend. Next: At PP Beach (10-0) Friday at 7.
Woodbury (9-1): Thundering Herd run defense will be put to the test by Corey Clement. Next: Home vs. Glassboro (9-1) in SJ 1 semis Saturday at 1.
Glassboro (9-1): Clement faces best friend in Woodbury star Anthony Averett. Next: at Woodbury (9-1) in SJ 1 semis.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.