By Phil Anastasia
This is it. The final weekend of the long season -- a week longer than expected, thanks to Hurricane Sandy -- is here.
Some things are no surprise -- St. Joe in the NP 1 final? Wow. Who would have thought?
Some things are a serious twist -- NBC in SJ 3 final.
Williamstown, Penns Grove and Cedar Creek all seek the first title in program history. Not a shocker for CC, since this is school's second varsity season.
But one of the big themes at Rowan this weekend will be the search for validation for Williamstown and Penns Grove -- dominant regular-season teams in recent years that will be looking to finally climb to the top of the tournament mountain.
Here's a closer look at all eight games, with predictions:
Sixth-seeded Southern (9-2) at No. 1 Williamstown (11-0) Friday at 7 at Rowan: The Rams, coached by former St. Joe, Haddon Heights and Buena coach Chuck Donohue, have a top receiver in junior Mike Gesicki, who has 842 yards and 8 TDs. They can run it a little with Abe Gonzales (1,264 yards). But their defense surrendered 32 to Washington Twp. and 27 to Eastern in two playoff games. Williamstown will look to control the clock with its Wing T offense featuring junior FB John Chamberlin (1,127 yards, 24 TDs), senior HB Kali Boyce (755 yards)and junior HB Marques Little (924 yards, 14 TDs, also 6 receiving TDs). Junior QB Doug Banks can make a play or three in the passing game, especially when he targets the explosive Little. LBs Derek Lauria (114 tackles) and Buddy Brown and E Julian Taylor (12 sacks) lead the defense. Forget the X and Os. This game is all about Williamstown finally breaking through and firmly establishing itself as one of the best programs in SJ. The Braves will not get a better chance. Pick: Williamstown, 27-14.
No. 6 Kingsway (8-3) at No. 1 Timber Creek (9-2) Saturday at 7 at Rowan: This is the last game of the long weekend (along with HS-Immaculata). It also could be the best. Kingsway is playing with a lot of confidence and with an edge. The Dragons have been running the ball like crazy behind a strong OL with junior Ray Lawry (2,057 yards) and senior Emilio Irving (1,292). Their 3,349 combined yards is more than Donta Pollack and Nigel Jones produced in 2011 for Holy Spirit's state title team. TC has won seven in a row since ending September with a 2-2 record. The Chargers are defending champions and will not give up the crown without a serious fight. One big question is the health of DT Greg Webb, who has an ankjle injury. TC's defense is rock solid led by ends Dajaun Drennon and Myles Nash, LB Taliq Chambers and DBs Bryce Shade, Eric Church and Bill Burton. Those guys will be open for business. Key could be TC's offense, which has been a little inconsistent. If the Chargers are able to control the clock, make first downs, and change field position -- and avoid the big mistake -- they should be able to bring home another title. But this looks like a serious battle. Could be a game that turns on a fourth-quarter play. Pick: Timber Creek, 21-20.
No. 4 Northern Burlington (7-4) vs. No. 2 Delsea (10-1) Saturday at 4 at Rowan: The Greyhounds were up and down for most of the season. They lost to rival Burl. Twp. by 39-13 on Nov. 3. But they've gotten hot at the right time, and beat top-seeded BT in the rematch in the semis by 14-12. This team has playmakers in QB Colin Fitzpatrick (1,570 yards), WR Andrew Cargill (537 yards) and RB Kenyatta Greene (1,179 yards). But NBC's leader is FB/LB L.J. Terry who gives this team a physical edge on both sides of the football. Delsea has won nine in a row and the Crusaders seem to be gaining steam, based on a 46-0 win over Bridgeton in the semis. They also are pretty rested and healthy since they've only played three games since Oct. 26. QB Josh Awotunde is a pass-run threat with 11 TD passes, just one INT and 744 rushing yards. Ty Saud makes plays on O and D. Senior DE Dylan Dobzanski has returned fumbles for TDs in each of the team's two playoff victories. NBC is dangerous because the Greyhounds are talented and loose, playing with house money. Nobody outside that locker room expected them to be playing in the sectional final. Pick: Delsea, 27-14.
No. 2 Cedar Creek (10-1) vs. No. 1 West Deptford (11-0) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Rowan: CC has burst on the SJ scene, making the sectional finals in just the second year of the program. QB Damon Mitchell (22 passing TDs, 17 rushing TDs), a Georgia Tech recruit as a quarterback, and RB Gary Melton Jr. (17 rushing TDs, 9 receiving TDs) are the real deal. The Pirates like to spread the field and let their athletes make plays in space. That's been a challenge in the past for WD's defense. WD will try to control the clock with a potent Wing T that could have three 1,000 yards rushers: Gerald Owens (1,485), Connor Smith (1,029) and Josh Cornelius (904). Has any team ever had three 1,000-yard rushers? This is a classic clash in a lot of ways -- new power against established power; spread, big-play team against a team that will control the clock and football with its methodical ground attack. WD is averaging 40.9 points. CC is averaging 40.2. Pick: West Deptford, 34-27.
No. 2 Woodbury (10-1) vs. No. 1 Penns Grove (11-0) Saturday at 10 a.m. at Rowan: PG on the verge of all kinds of history: First 12-0 team, first sectional champ, first team in the state to score 600 (Red Devils enter game with SJ record 591). Senior QB Nick Elmer (1,716 passing, 1,033 rushing) is a top dual-threat and the team's leader. WR Jabrail Murray (17 TD catches) and RB Anthony Robertson (27 rushing TDs) make play after play. Junior DEs Isaiah Coppage and RaeQuan Norman have combined for 28 sacks. PG has allowed 6 points in last eight games while scoring 445. Woodbury has a puncher's chance because the Herd will have the best athlete on the field: Alabama bound Anthony Averett. The QB has run for 1,238 and 14 Tds and passed for 739 and 13 TDs. Woodbury D has allowed just 13 points in last 5 games. Woodbury hopes its rebuilt front lines can stand up to PG's pressure. Like Williamstown, PG is on a mission for validation. That's major motivation. Pick: PG, 27-6.
No. 3 Florence (10-1) vs. No. 1 Shore Regional (9-2) Saturday at 10 a.m. at TCNJ: Flashes have a balanced running attack featuring Rick Myers (690 yards, 10 TDs), Curtis Thompson (584 yards, 8 TDs) and Jazmir Best (483 yards, 8 TDs). Key is the Florence D, led by LBs Zach Foga and DEs Thompson and Nnamdi Njoku. K Doug McArthur (33 PATs, 4 FGS) is a weapon. The Flashes have allowed just 10.5 points per game and those numbers are skewed a bit by late scores in lopsided wins. Their only loss was 7-0 to CJ 2 playoff semifinalist Delran. Shore is traditional a run-oriented team under coach Mark Costantino but the Blue Devils have thrown it a bit this season. Florence beat Shore 23-0 in the semifinals last year. Florence coach Joe Frappolli, SJ's all-time leader with 274 wins, goes for 5th sectional title in 39th season. Pick: Florence, 17-14.
No. 2 St. Mary (11-0) vs. No. 1 St. Joe (9-1) Saturday at 4 at TCNJ: The Wildcats are heavy favorites to win fourth straight state title and 15th since creation of state playoffs for non-publics in 1993. SJ played SM in last two finals. It was 41-0 in 2010 and 50-0 in 2011. Not a good trend for the Gaels. Think they wanted SJ bumped up to NP 2 or 3? SJ has a strong senior class that will look to finish careers with state titles in all four of their seasons: Anthony Giagunto, Miles Pease, Charles Cade, Kevin Goldsmith, Roy Lucas and several others. Giagunto can finish career with 27-1 record as a starter and three state titles. Not bad. Pick: St Joe, 48-6.
No. 2 Holy Spirit (7-4) vs. No. 1 Immaculata (10-1) Saturday at 7 at TCNJ: Spartans will rely on fierce defense led by LB Jeff Steeb, DT Ray Ellis and DB AJ Dawson, all juniors. In fact, HS doesn't have a senior starters on D. Watch out for these guys in 2013. But they are seeking a title in 2012, which would be program's third in a row. That would be something given 0-2 start and upheaval that has seemed to rock the program at times during this season. It's been an adjustment from old coach Charles Roman to new coach John Iannucci. But here the Spartans are: 48 minutes away from their fourth state title since 2007. Immaculata is a state power led by run-pass QB Antonio Natale, a top athlete. Immaculata coach Pierce Frauenheim is retiring after this game. He's 323-133-2 in 47 seasons. Pick: Immaculata, 17-13.
Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.