Football: Division races heat up, plus six picks

JCHER09-D
Sophomore running back Elijah Bard (No. 25) and Cherokee meet Hammonton in one of Week 5’s key games.

Like the makeup of the West Jersey Football League’s American Division?

Don’t get used to it.

Same goes for the National, Continental, Capitol, Constitution, Classic …  and so on.

The 95-team super-conference will realign before the 2018 season. It’s one of the best things about the league, the way officials step back every two years and adjust division alignments and crossover games to try to create as level a playing field as possible for as many teams as possible.

But it also makes for shifting rivalries in many cases. When the league unveils its new format around February, division alignments and crossover games for the 2018-19 schedule cycle will be drastically different, in some cases, than the current arrangement.

That’s noteworthy right now because division races are starting to take firm shape in Week 5 of the 2017 season. By midnight Friday, some races will be all but decided.

Top-ranked Timber Creek, which has won 20 in a row, has a chance to tighten its grip on the top spot in the WJFL National with a victory over No. 20 Eastern in a battle of 4-0 teams.

The highly-anticipated Rancocas Valley at Lenape game not only matches the No. 5 and No. 7 teams in the rankings but the last two unbeatens in the WJFL Capitol. Friday night’s winner likely will earn the division crown.

Holy Cross can all but lock up the Liberty title with a win over challenger Willingboro, since the Lancers already have wins over Bordentown and Cinnaminson.

And the clash of undefeated teams between visiting Woodrow Wilson and Moorestown should all but decide the Royal race, since both squads already have victories over 2016 champion and 2017 tri-favorite Highland.

Here’s a closer look at six Friday night games this weekend:

No. 20 Eastern (4-0) at No. 1 Timber Creek (4-0): The visiting Vikings have been one of the surprises of the first half of the season under new coach John Doherty.

But they will need to raise their game against the Chargers, who haven’t lost in 701 days. Timber Creek also is coming off a bye — and has another one in Week 6, courtesy of starting the season a week early in East St. Louis, Ill.

Pick: Timber Creek, 23-13.

No. 15 West Deptford (3-0) at Sterling (3-0): The visiting Eagles have won 15 in a row and 26 of their last 27. They have a top all-around player in senior quarterback/linebacker Pete Orio.

The Silver Knights have been a surprise after going 1-9 in 2016. Senior Damire Hutchinson leads the way for Sterling, which hasn’t beaten West Deptford since 2005.

Pick: West Deptford, 24-14.

No. 12 Woodrow Wilson (3-0) at No. 18 Moorestown (4-0): This game matches two of South Jersey’s top junior quarterbacks in the visiting Tigers’ Nick Kargman and the Quakers’ Brian McMonagle.

Kargman is battling a bruised shoulder, but the Tigers have several other weapons such as Rutgers-bound senior defensive end/wide receiver Travon King and his brother, junior wide receiver/defensive end Stanley King.

Moorestown junior Nick Cartwright-Atkins has been a big-play man.

Pick: Woodrow Wilson, 19-17.

Pennsauken (2-1) at No. 3 Camden Catholic (3-0): Junior running back Nahzir Russell leads the visiting Indians, who returned two interceptions for a total of 198 yards and two touchdowns in their last game, a Sept. 23 victory over Cherry Hill West.

Camden Catholic has not lost to a South Jersey team since Oct. 10, 2014. That’s 1091 days ago. Junior Divine Young is a top two-way lineman for the Irish.

Pick: Camden Catholic, 27-13.

No. 11 Shawnee (2-1) at Kingsway (0-3): The host Dragons have been competitive in narrow losses to No. 10 Cherokee and No. 17 Williamstown behind the senior pass-catch combination of quarterback Joel Scerbo and wide receiver Kevin Zehner.

The Renegades have won two in a row and are angling to strengthen their standing in the race for a high seed in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament. Senior running back/linebacker Ryan Parris is a player to watch for Shawnee.

Pick: Shawnee, 17-10.

Hammonton (2-2) at No. 10 Cherokee (2-1): The host Chiefs have played three tight games — overall, they’ve scored 87 and allowed 90 — and are coming off a bye.

Senior defensive linemen Andrew Cardinali and Ahmad Miller are players to watch for Cherokee.

Hammonton also is coming off a bye. The Blue Devils are facing a Top 25 team for the third game in a row.

Pick: Cherokee, 20-10.

Last week: 5-2.

Year to date: 25-10.