By Phil Anastasia
Here's an early look at this weekend's championship football games:
Salem (8-3) vs. Paulsboro (9-2) in SJ 1 title game, Saturday at noon at Rowan: Both of these teams caught fire midway in the season and enter the final on a winning streak. Salem finished third in the WJFL Classic Division with a 3-2 record. But the Rams have won six in a row, thanks in part to the return of standout senior RB Dione Alston, who missed the early segment of the season with injuries. Paulsboro has won four in a row. Senior RB/DB De'Shaun Burgess and junior QB Carlton Aiken have led the way. Burgess scored three TDs after halftime, including the game winner in OT, in a 36-33 victory over rival West Deptford on Friday night. The Red Raiders have won 16 sectional titles, the most among South Jersey public schools.
Delsea (7-4) vs. Allentown (9-2) in SJ 3 title game, Saturday at 3:30 at Rowan: The Crusaders have won 11 titles, including two in a row in SJ 3. They started slowly this season, losing their first three, including a 40-point setback against Camden. But behind senior TE/DE Phil Sampson and senior RB/DB Isaiah Spencer, Delsea has won six of seven. Allentown lost to Group 5 powers Lenape (18-14) and Rancocas Valley (34-14). The Redbirds have won four in a row, averaging 33 points.
Holy Spirit (5-6) vs. DePaul (7-4) in NP 2 title game, Saturday at 4 at Rutgers: Holy Spirit has a rich tradition with 10 state titles. The Spartans lost their first three and were 1-4 after five games. They've played better in the second half of the season, with good work from senior QB Andrew Light. Holy Spirit stunned top seeded and undefeated Holy Cross 54-36 in the semifinals. DePaul's four losses have been to North Jersey non-public powers: Bergen Catholic, Paramus Catholic, St. Joseph of Montvale and Don Bosco Prep. DePaul beat Holy Spirit 35-16 in last year's title game. DePaul features junior Kareem Walker, largely regarded as the nation's top running back in the class of 2016.
St. Joseph (10-0) vs. St. Anthony (8-3) in NP 1 title game, Saturday at 4 at Kean: The Wildcats are seeking their sixth straight state title and 24th overall. They've won their last 20 games in a row. Junior twins Salaam and A'Laam Horne lead an explosive offense while seniors Knikeem Lewis and Justin Kennedy anchor the lines. St. Anthony is a ball-control team that relies on a large offensive line and burly tight end and fullback.
Cherokee (8-3) vs. Rancocas Valley (9-2) in SJ 5 title game, Saturday at 7 at Rowan: Cherokee is seeking its 10th sectional title, its fourth since 2009 and its second in a row. The Chiefs were 3-3 after a loss to Shawnee in mid-October but they've won five in row. Senior RB/DB Marc Woodard, senior two-way lineman Dan Iannone and senior all-purpose Jesse Streb lead the way. Rancocas Valley is making its first appearance in a sectional title game since the 1987 team won the SJ 3 crown. Senior RB Shaun Bradley, senior LB Chris Bright and senior all-purpose players Stevie Stevenson and Collin Wilson spark the Red Devils.
Haddonfield (11-0) vs. West Deptford (9-2) in SJ 2 title game, Sunday at noon at Rowan: This will mark the 11th time these teams have played since 2009, including the fifth time in the SJ 2 tournament. The teams are 5-5 in the previous 10 meetings. Haddonfield won 28-25 in overtime in a regular-season game Oct. 2. Haddonfield, which is seeking its first 12-0 season, is led by seniors such as WR/DB Jake Robinson, two-way end Ty Klaus, QB Mike Alberto and RBs/DBs Jake Klaus and Mike DeFeo. Haddonfield is trying to finish a perfect season exactly 50 years after the program's last perfect season, a 9-0 mark in 1964. West Deptford has lost two games this season, both in overtime. The Eagles are led by versatile seniors Kevin DeCaesar and Luke Cornelius as well as top senior lineman Jake Kull and emerging junior star Nick Diaco. WD has won six SJ 2 titles since 2002 and been in finals three other times.
Timber Creek (11-0) vs. Shawnee (10-1) in SJ 4 title game, Sunday at 3:30 at Rowan: TC is trying to match the perfect 12-0 mark of the program's 2011 team. TC should get a boost from the return of senior QB Khalil Trotman, who sat out Thanksgiving Day with a sprained ankle. The Chargers have top receivers such as senior Alan Butler and junior Cam Chambers, among others, plus a top two-way back in senior Kareem Ali. Shawnee beat Timber Creek 31-22 in last year's title game. The Renegades had won 16 in a row before losing a 10-7 decision to school-district rival Lenape on Thanksgiving. Senior lineman Eric Hawkinson, senior all-purpose Jake Parola and junior QB Mike Welsh lead the Renegades.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com