Standouts from a great year in South Jersey football

LAST WEEKEND six sectional finals were played involving high schools from the traditional seven-county region known as South Jersey. In those six games, five South Jersey schools left with a championship.

That's the upside. As for the downside, we now have to wait until September for football to resume.

With the 2010 season complete, here is a quick look back on what was really a great year for football in South Jersey:

TEAM OF THE YEAR

Holy Spirit began the year as the Daily News' No. 1 team in South Jersey and did nothing to change that, going 12-0 and winning by an average score of 35.5 to 7.1. The Spartans did everything well and beat state powerhouse St. Joseph Montvale, 14-13, to win the Non-Public Group 3 title.

Some will contend that Cherokee should be the No. 1 team in South Jersey, but those who saw both teams know the Spartans were clearly better. In fact, Cherokee - clearly the second-best team in South Jersey after Holy Spirit, and it's not even close - might have been hurt by its schedule. The Chiefs played in the West Jersey American Division, which was supposed to be the toughest in the region. That said, it didn't match up to the teams in the Cape-Atlantic American, and that was evident in the Group 4 playoffs.

CINDERELLA STORY

One can't heap enough praise on what Oakcrest accomplished this year.

After years as an assistant at Mainland, head coach Chuck Smith brought life to a sleeping giant. The Falcons had made the playoffs only once before this year, and were still able to reach the final, where they met Cherokee. A 33-6 loss did nothing to diminish the best season in Falcons history.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Winslow Township's Bill Belton might not have done everything for his team, but he did more than any other player did for his respective team.

Belton, playing quarterback and running back, led the Eagles to a 7-4 record, as he carried the offense. Before the season, the Eagles were better on paper than their final record showed, but erratic play hurt them in the end. That said, Belton's mastery of the offense made the Eagles a threat every time they went on the field, and wins over Shawnee and Williamstown - the latter one of the greatest comebacks in South Jersey history - showed just how special a talent Belton is, and what he can mean to a team.

MOST OVERRATED STORY OF THE YEAR

Before the season, everyone couldn't help but talk about the newly formed West Jersey Football League, and for good reason. While there remain certain kinks to work out, the 65-team league was a success.

That said, the focus was always on the American Division featuring Cherokee, Eastern, Lenape, Washington Township and Williamstown. And except for Cherokee, the rest of the division and Group 4 as whole were down this year.

Don't expect that to be a recurring theme.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Three candidates stand out above the rest.

Sal Marchese led Delsea to a 10-2 record, despite the graduation of 22 starters from consecutive Group 2 titles. It's amazing how consistent Marchese's team has been under his guidance, and how it has operated the Wing-T offense almost to perfection for so long. That said, the veteran coach did adjust this year to sophomore quarterback Josh Awotunde's strengths and occasionally even threw the ball.

Haddonfield's Frank DeLano has now split his last four games with West Deptford's Clyde Folsom. That's an achievement unto itself, but Haddonfield's two wins have both come at West Deptford and in the playoffs. Haddonfield's first title since the NJSIAA began its tournament in 1974 also deserves mentioning.

Still, what Chuck Smith has accomplished at Oakcrest is impossible to ignore, and there is no better choice for this honor than the man in charge of the Falcons. *

Send e-mail to mradano@phillynews.com.