By Phil Anastasia
Here's the final Top 10 of the season, with previous ranking in parentheses:
1. Williamstown (1) 12-0
Junior Marques Little's 88-yard touchdown run was the spark that sent the Braves to the first sectional title in school history with a 43-20 victory over Southern in South Jersey Group 5 championship game. Williamstown started slowly in the title game and could have been behind 12-0 or 14-0 if not for a great tackle by Arkeem Graves on a fourth-down screen pass. Two plays later, Little broke loose and the Braves were on their way to the 12th and final victory of a perfect season. Big tournament for Little, who made big play after big play in victories over AC and Southern. Little, John Chamberlin and Doug Banks all back for a team that will contend again next season.
2. Timber Creek (2) 10-2
The Chargers scored 126 points in three victories in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament, including a 57-27 triumph over Kingsway in the title game. The 57 points was the most by a South Jersey team in a sectional final. SJ football historian Chuck Langerman also notes that the 84 combined points is the second-highest total in a final, after the 89 put up last year by Pennsauken (55) and Millville (34) in the SJ 4 title game. That TC team in the final on Saturday night was the team many folks expected to see in September -- explosive, loaded with big-play athletes. It took a little while for the Chargers to get going. Coach Rob Hinson said his squad had a sense of "entitlement" early in the season. But the Chargers were there at the end. Junior QB Dan Williams was a revelation, firing 5 TD passes in the final. Watch out for these guys in 2013.
3. St. Joseph (3) 10-1
In winning four consecutive state titles, the Wildcats have gone 7-0 in tournament games and outscored opponents, 317-21. It's 127-0 in the last three championship games. SJ was an upset loss to rival Hammonton on Thanksgiving Eve away from a second straight perfect season and a 29-game winning streak. But the Wildcats bounced back from that setback by winning last two games by 108-0. Great finish for seniors such as Anthony Giagunto, Miles Pease, Charles Cade and the rest. SJ might be a little young next season, with strength in sophomore and junior classes. But there's a ton of talent in those classes, and next year's seniors will pay the price to uphold the tradition.
4. Delsea (4) 11-1
The Crusaders' defense allowed three rushing yards on 13 carries in the first half of a 41-12 victory over Northern Burlington in the South Jersey Group 3 title game. Like TC, Delsea seemed to need a little time to find its stride this season. But the Crusaders won their final two SJ 3 games by a combined 87-12. Huge play early by junior DB Rob Rolle, who returned INT 32 yards for a TD on the third play of the game on Saturday. Hard running by junior FB Rob Hooks (203 yards) behind a powerful OL. Great scene at the end, too, as the Crusaders got senior OL and captain Cody Mayo in the game for the last three snaps. The last two were kneel-downs. But Mayo, who broke his left ankle Sept. 21, was on the field for a 5-yard run by Hooks. Mayo said he went "200 percent" on the play. This is another team with a lot of young talent that will be right back in the Top 10 (or Top 5) mix in 2013.
5. West Deptford (6) 12-0
Junior running back Gerald Owens has scored eight touchdowns in his last two games on Rowan University's field -- three in a 22-14 win over Haddonfield in the South Jersey Group 2 final in 2011 and five in a 42-28 win over Cedar Creek in the South Jersey Group 2 final on Saturday. Junior Joe Diaco had three INTs in the title game. WD's big-game moxie showed through at Rowan as the Eagles limited their mistakes and took advantage of oppportunies. Big final game for senior Connor Smith, who ran for 150 yards and came up with a huge interception on a play that could have been called simultaneous possession in the end zone. Veteran coach Clyde Folsom said he's "never been prouder of a team" that this one. WD has won 21 in a row and six SJ 2 titles in the last 11 seasons. Great job by this year's senior class to lead the way to another crown. But this is still another team with a lot of seasoned players who will back for more in 2013.
6. Atlantic City (5) 8-3
The Vikings went 8-2 after opening night with losses to No. 1 Williamstown and No. 3 St. Joseph by a combined 48-37. And that Thanksgiving Day win over Holy Spirit looks even better after the Spartans won the NP 3 title by running roughshod over Immaculata.
7. Penns Grove (7) 12-0
The Red Devils set the state records for points scored in a season (621) and average points per game (51.7), breaking marks held by North Jersey non-public powers Bergen Catholic and Don Bosco Prep, respectively. Senior QB Nick Elmer ran for 308 yards in a 30-14 win over Woodbury in the title game, most by the SJ QB in any game -- regular season or playoffs, according to Langerman. I thought for sure that Kevin Harvey had run for 300 in a game but it never happened. PG also is the first South Jersey team with three players with more than 100 points -- Elmer (122), Anthony Robertson (236) and Jabrail Murray (132). And how about junior DEs Isaiah Coppage and RaeQuan Norman in the playoffs? Norman had 10 sacks in the last two games. Coppage changed the tone of the title game with a 60-yard fumble return for TD. Elmer is a huge loss, on the field and off. But these guys are thinking 12-0 again in 2013. That's how they think off Exit 4 of Rt. 295.
8. Holy Spirit (9) 8-4
The Spartans won their third consecutive state title with a 30-6 victory over Immaculata in the Non-Public 3 title game. In the last two seasons, they've gone 5-0 in tournament play, outscoring opponents by 222-32. Immaculata was ranked No. 18 in the state by the Star Ledger and HS just overwhelmed that team. It's funny, this season was a lot like last season, even though the Spartans changed coaches from Charlie Roman to John Iannucci. HS finished 8-3 with a state title after a slow start in 2011. They finished 8-4 with a state title after a slow start in 2012. Watch out for these guys in 2013, too. That whole defense is back as are QB TJ Anderson and RB Taalib Gerald.
9. Kingsway (8) 8-4
Junior running back Ray Lawry generated 245 yards from scrimmage (164 rushing, 81 receiving) and scored three touchdowns in a 57-27 loss to Timber Creek in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game. Lawry might be the most explosive player in SJ. Big-time burst and a lot of toughness in that compact frame. But the Dragons just couldn't keep pace with the Chargers on Saturday night. Still, a great season for Kingsway under veteran coach Tony Barchuk. Their three losses after opening night were to champions -- Delsea, Williamstown and TC. They won a share of the WJFL National title by beating rival Clearview on Thanksgiving. They beat Moorestown and undefeated Lacey Twp. in the tournament.
10. Cedar Creek (10) 10-2
Senior quarterback Damon Mitchell ran for 186 yards and four touchdowns and passed for 203 yards but threw four interceptions in a 42-28 loss to West Deptford in the South Jersey Group 2 final. Mitchell is a special athlete, a BCS-level quarterback. He clearly needs to protect the ball better but his wide receivers did him no favors in the title game. One of the INTs in the end zone looked like a TD until West Deptford's Smith ripped the ball away from the receiver as they tumbled to the ground. And the 4th pick, in desperation time, came one play after a wide-open receiver dropped a pass at the 5-yard line. Mitchell is just the second SJ player to run and pass for 20 or more TDs in a season. Mainland's Brent Caprio had 27 TD passes and 21 rushing TDS in 2008. Mitchell had 22 TD passes and 21 rushing TDs.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically):
Eastern (7-4): Terrific season for junior QB Tom Flacco, whose 2,957 passing yards is the fourth-highest total in SJ history. Three of the four have come in last two seasons: Flacco in 2012 and Pennsauken's Manny Cortez (3,108) and Pennsville's Dylan Cummings (3,048) in 2011.
St. Augustine Prep (8-2): Cedar Creek's ability to go toe-to-toe with West Deptford in the title game reflected well on the Hermits, who beat the Pirates 41-40 on Thanksgiving to capture the Cape National title.