The southern leg of the Group 4 triangle looks as strong and stable as ever this season.
That's one conclusion to draw from Friday night's speeding bullet of a showdown between Cape-Atlantic League American Division powers Atlantic City and Millville.
Before a large crowd on a cold, clear evening on Wheaton Field, host Millville clinched its first Cape American title since 1989 with a 27-19 victory in a wild game that wasn't decided until Atlantic City lost a fumble at Millville's 1-yard line with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Thunderbolts (8-0), the No. 5 team in The Inquirer Top 10, will enter the South Jersey Group 4 tournament as the lone unbeaten team. They are likely to land a top-three seed, depending on how the residual power points play out this weekend.
Atlantic City (6-2), the No. 8 team in the rankings, will be a tough out in the same tournament, assuming the Vikings get invited. Their postseason fate will be decided by a few games involving other Group 4 contenders on Saturday afternoon.
In any case, what was most clear during this game was that the Cape American once again will represent in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.
Just like the Shore Conference.
And the traditional Group 4 powers in the West Jersey Football League - teams that used to carry the Burlco Olympic banner.
"They battled and we battled," said Millville senior running back Alquann Jones, who gained 267 yards on 31 carries. "I knew they wanted it just as bad as we wanted it."
The 5-foot-8, 164-pound Jones broke loose for a 55-yard touchdown on his 31st carry, with a little more than two minutes to play.
"Icing on the cake," Jones said.
Atlantic City roared back behind senior quarterback Kabir McCoy, who was 17-for-31 passing for 319 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings reached the 5-yard line, and McCoy gained 4 on a keeper, but he lost the football trying to reach across the goal line.
Millville's Rashon Sorrell recovered the fumble in the end zone, the last big play in a game that was filled with them.
One of the best things about South Jersey Group 4 in football is the way the three regions always seem to play off each other come tournament time.
It happens in other groups, too, as Group 3 often has a Shore Conference power such as Lacey Township to battle with the Cape-Atlantic and WJFL teams.
Group 2 has seen Shore teams such as Point Pleasant Boro and Manasquan in the mix with the likes of West Deptford, Haddonfield, and Delsea. But there hasn't been a Cape-Atlantic team in the Group 2 final in nine years, and there hasn't been a team outside of the Colonial and old Tri-County in the Group 1 final since Florence in 2002 (although the Flashes' great teams in 2003-06 were classified in Central Jersey).
But Group 4 is tops when it comes to having three distinct regions battling against each other. The Cape-Atlantic has sent a team to the Group 4 final for six years in a row, and it wouldn't be a shock if Millville and/or Atlantic City make it seven.
The Shore Conference has three Group 4 champions since 2000, and Southern Regional is one of the favorites this season. And the West Jersey has two of the strongest contenders in Pennsauken and Williamstown, as well as the winner of the last two tournaments in Cherokee.
Millville looked every bit like a championship contender Friday night.
The thing is, so did Atlantic City.
Atlantic City 0 6 7 6 19
Millville 7 6 0 14 27
M: Boyer 12 pass from Lee (Price kick)
M: Sorrell 20 run (kick failed)
AC: McCoy 1 run (kick failed)
AC: Tolbert 9 pass from McCoy (McCoy kick)
M: Jones 4 run (Sorrell pass from Lee)
AC: Reynolds 62 pass from McCoy (run failed)
M: Jones 55 run (pass failed)
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports