By Phil Anastasia
Here's a closer look at the football state playoffs, which begin this weekend:
South Jersey Group 5
-- Field: 1. Eastern. 2. Cherokee. 3. Jackson. 4. Millville. 5. Williamstown. 6. Rancocas Valley. 7. Washington Twp. 8. Atlantic City.
-- Defending champion: Williamstown.
-- Darkhorse: Millville. The Thunderbolts have explosive speed in juniors Ryquell Armstead and Rob Ennis, and a top lineman in Penn State recruit Antoine White. Their only two losses were to Holy Spirit and St. Joseph, the No. 1 and No.2 teams in The Inquirer Top 25.
-- Player to watch: Eastern senior quarterback Tom Flacco. He played the best football of his career last November. If he does that again this season, the Vikings will be tough to beat.
-- Final prediction: Cherokee over Eastern. The Chiefs beat the Vikings 28-21 on Oct. 25 and are playing with supreme confidence. Their defense have been terrific all season.
South Jersey Group 4
-- Field: 1. Timber Creek. 2. Toms River South. 3. Hammonton. 4. Kingsway. 5. Lacey. 6. Shawnee. 7. Moorestown. 8. Cherry Hill West.
-- Defending champion: Timber Creek.
-- Darkhorse: Kingsway. The Dragons hit their stride in a 41-22 win over Williamstown Friday and will enter the tournament with a ton of momentum. Senior running backs Ray Lawry and Justin Morrison form an explosive 1-2 punch.
-- Darkhorse II: Shawnee. The Renegades have won their last two games by a combined score of 70-0. They have a workhorse back in senior Anthony DiiOrio. If they can win at Hammonton on Friday -- a big-time challenge but they have a shot -- they could still be playing in December.
-- Player to watch: Timber Creek senior quarterback Dan Williams. He led the Chargers to the title last season. He's put together a strong season and has a pair of dangerous targets in senior WR Adonis Jennings and sophomore WR Cameron Chambers, who just picked up an offer from Iowa.
-- Final prediction: Timber Creek over Toms River South. The Chargers have a knack for playing their best football at this time of the season.
South Jersey Group 3
-- Field: 1. Manasquan. 2. Northern Burlington. 3. Barnegat. 4. Delsea. 5. Central. 6. Pemberton. 7. Highland. 8. Wall.
-- Defending champion: Delsea.
-- Darkhorse: Northern Burlington. The Greyhounds have wins over Burlington Township and Rancocas Valley and feature an explosive back in senior Kenyatta Greene.
-- Player to watch: Delsea senior running back Isaiah Spencer. He has 10 touchdowns in the last three games and 15 for the season.
-- Final prediction: Delsea over Northern Burlington. The Crusaders have won five in a row by a combined score of 202-14. They are a team that knows how to win in November and December.
South Jersey Group 2
-- Field: 1. Camden. 2. Woodstown. 3. Cinnaminson. 4. West Deptford. 5. Haddonfield. 6. Bridgeton. 7. Sterling. 8. Cedar Creek.
-- Defending champion: West Deptford.
-- Darkhorse: Haddonfield. The Bulldogs have a loaded junior class and senior quarterback Mike McLaughlin is playing the best football of his career. He has seven touchdown passes in the last two games, and has a pair of strong WRs in senior Teddy Stavetski and junior Jake Robinson.
-- Player to watch: Camden junior quarterback Khalil Williams. He has 22 touchdown passes and also is a dangerous runner. He has top receivers in senior Sean Chandler (6 TDs catches) and sophomore Brad Hawkins (10 TD catch) as well as a solid third receiver in junior Jamir Washington.
-- Final prediction: West Deptford over Woodstown. Senior fullback Gerald Owens has scored eight touchdowns in two championship games at Rowan. Owens was banged up a bit early in the season but could be finding his stride.
South Jersey Group 1
-- Field: 1. Pennsville. 2. Penns Grove. 3. Schalick. 4. Paulsboro. 5. Glassboro. 6. Salem. 7. Woodbury. 8. Gloucester.
-- Defending champion: Penns Grove.
-- Darkhorse: Paulsboro. The Red Raiders play solid defense and have a top running back in junior De'Shaun Burgess. "He's first-and-goal every play," Haddonfield coach Frank DeLano said of Burgess.
-- Player to watch: Pennsville senior quarterback Dylan Cummings. He is South Jersey's all-time leader in career passing yards and all-purpose yards. He's coming off a monster game at Gloucester, with four rushing TDs and three passing TDs.
-- Final prediction: Pennsville over Penns Grove. The Eagles and Red Devils will play Thanksgiving eve and could meet again 10 days later. Pennsville got a big boost from the return from injury of senior RB/WR Eric Bundy. He's a difference maker for the Eagles.
Central Jersey Group 2
-- Field: 1. Rumson. 2. Weequahic. 3. Delran. 4. Rahway. 5. Spotswood. 6. Lakewood. 7. Delaware Valley. 8. Bordentown.
-- Defending champion: Carteret.
-- Darkhorse: Delran. The Bears have won seven in a row since losing to cross-town rival Holy Cross on opening day.
-- Players to watch: Delran senior backs Mark Jukic and German Mendoza. They form an inside-outside combination.
-- Final prediction: Weequahic over Rumson.
Central Jersey Group 1
-- Field: 1. Shore. 2. South Hunterdon. 3. Pt. Pleasant Beach. 4. South River. 5. Asbury Park. 6. Florence. 7. Burlington City. 8. Palmyra.
-- Defending champion: Florence.
-- Darkhorse: Florence.
-- Player to watch: Burlington City junior quarterback Ryan Daniels. He's a run-pass threat (1,198 passing yards, 384 rushing yards).
-- Final prediction: Shore over South Hunterdon.
Non-Public Group 4
-- Field: 1. Paramus Catholic. 2. St. Peter's. 3. St. Joe Metuchen. 4. Don Bosco. 5. Seton Hall. 6. St. Augustine. 7. Paul VI. 8. Notre Dame.
-- Defending champion: Paramus Catholic.
-- Darkhorse: Don Bosco.
-- Player to watch: St. Augustine senior wide receiver Austin Francisco. He has 10 touchdown catches. The Hermits have a puncher's chance in the first round against St. Joseph of Metuchen. The Falcons are 9-0 but they are not Paramus Catholic. St. Joseph of Montvale or Don Dosco Prep.
-- Player to watch II: Paul VI quarterback Alec Vignola. He has 1,606 passing yards and 17 touchdowns passes. Vignola has quietly put together a great season. PVI has won six of seven since an opening-night loss to CH West, and the Eagles' only loss was 8-7 to Timber Creek.
-- Final prediction: Paramus Catholic over St. Peter's.
Non-Public Group 2
-- Field: 1. Holy Spirit. 2. DePaul. 3. Holy Cross. 4. Camden Catholic. 5. Bishop Eustace. 6. Hudson Catholic, 7. Gloucester Catholic. 8. Pingry.
-- Defending champion: Holy Spirit.
-- Darkhorse: None.
-- Player to watch: Holy Spirit senior defensive tackle Ray Ellis. He spends a lot of time in opposing backfields.
-- Great first round game: BE at CC on Friday night. BE won 10-6 on Oct. 18 in a hard-hitting clash of fierce rivals. They will be getting after each other again in the first round of the state tournament, looking to likely earn a trip to Holy Spirit for the second round.
-- Final prediction: Holy Spirit over DePaul. The Spartans have a history of upsetting highly touted North Jersey teams in December.
Non-Public Group 1
-- Field: 1. St. Joseph. 2-7: Everybody else.
-- Defending champion: St. Joseph.
-- Darkhorse: None.
-- Player to watch: St. Joseph sophomore all-purpose Salaam Horne. He has four punt returns for touchdowns.
-- Final prediction: St. Joseph over St. Mary. The Wildcats have outscored the Gaels, 127-0, in the last three title games.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org
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