Just two teams finished unbeaten in South Jersey this season, and both of them had dominating defenses.
One was St. Joseph, which went 10-0 and won the NP 1 state title behind a defense led by DE Max Valles and LB Kaiwan Lewis, a pair of Division I recruits.
The other was Timber Creek, which went 12-0 and won the South Jersey Group 3 title behind a defense that was led by senior linebacker Quanzell Lambert, one of the state's most highly recruited players, and junior tackle Greg Webb.
Lambert and Webb, who led a Timber Creek defense that generated five takeaways in the sectional title game against Hammonton, headline the All-South Jersey first team on defense.
Or maybe Valles and Lewis headline the team. Actually, all four headline this team based on their dominating play this season.
Here's a look at the All-South Jersey first team on defense that will be announced in Sunday's Inquirer and honored Monday night at the Brooks-Irvine Memorial Football Club banquet at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill:
DL -- Webb, junior, Timber Creek. The disruptive tackle had 80 tackles, including 18 tackles for loss. He had 10 sacks, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He plays like Jerome Brown. (Google him, youngsters). Webb has 10 D-1 offers, including Tennessee and Penn State.
DL -- Max Valles, senior, St. Joseph. Opposing coaches raved about Valles, a rangy, pass-rushing forice who also was strong against the run. Chalie Roman of Holy Spirit said it's "impossible to run at him, and he catches you when you run away." Valles has committed to Virginia, where he's projected as a tight end.
DL -- Austin Johnson, senior, Penn State. He's committed to Penn State, and is sticking with the Nittany Lions for now. But other schools are trying to get back involved and it wouldn't be a shock if he re-opened the recruiting. Johnson is a sturdy, thick-legged kid but he's got surprising quickness. Good basketball player for the defending NP A state champions.
DL -- Brian Keller, senior, Triton. Keller had 54 tackles and nine sacks. I gave him the edge over Kingsway's Chris Lail, who posted sensational numbers, because of his overall value to the team and Triton's success. The Mustangs lost just three games, all to sectional champions (Pennsauken twice and Timber Creek). Triton also won a Group 4 playoff game, which is huge. The Mustangs went to Southern and shut down the Rams' high-powered attack. Keller was a big part of that defensive effort. Keller also was a Tebow-like quarterback.
LB -- Lambert, senior, Timber Creek. He's narrowed his college choices to Alabama, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. He led Timber Creek with 94 tackles despite missing nearly three full games. He had four sacks and four forced fumbles.
LB -- Kaiwan Lewis, senior, St. Joseph. Moved to LB full time this season. He'll play that position at South Carolina. Major force for a defense that allowed one rushing TD, one passing TD and on field. Here's a stat that underscores how ridiculous that SJ defense was this season: The Wildcats defense scored five times as many TDs (10) as they allowed (two).
LB -- Jarred Alwan, junior, Camden Catholic. Along with Webb, he likely will be one of the state's most highly recruited players in 2012. He had 86 tackles and two INTs for the 10-1 Irish. Also a top RB.
LB -- Dan Mastromatteo, senior, Holy Spirit. This North Carolina commit was all over the field in the state title game against Camden Catholic. Also excelled at TE that night. Had 99 tackles and six sacks despite missing time early in the year with a hamstring injury.
DB -- Chris Kirby, senior, Cinnaminson. Big-play man had seven interceptions for 8-3 team that shared WJFL Patriot title. Returned fumble for TD. Top receiver with 46 catches and 9 TDs.
DB -- Bobby Barbieri, senior, Hammonton. Top all around player for Cape National champions and SJ 3 runnersup. Barbieri had five interceptions and also was the Blue Devils' leading receiver with six touchown catches. A good punter, too
DB -- Zaire Williams, junior, Cherokee. Led Cherokee (7-3) in interceptions with two, returning one for a touchdown, and was a top tackler from his cornerback position. He also rushed for 1,621 yards and 28 touchdowns. Just a top athlete whose sensational play over the last six games of the season merited a spot on this team.
Utility -- Nick Batistini, senior, Bishop Eustace. Batistini led one of South Jersey's scrappiest defenses with 90 tackles and also recovered four fumbles. All over the field against Pennsauken on Thanksgiving Eve. Played his best against best competition -- Pennsauken, Camden Catholic, Woodrow Wilson.
Punter -- Pete Galiano, senior, Camden Catholic. In truth, Galiano probably could have been the second-team quarterback, or first-team all-purpose, or first-team DB. I wanted to get him on the team because he was so valuable to the Irish, who had such a great season. Gil Brooks told me Galiano was the best punter he saw all season. Galiano averaged 33.5 yards on punts but was among the best in South Jersey in hang time, according to Brooks. I guess there might be a better punter out there -- it's tough to tell in high school football, and punting isn't nearly as important, in my mind, as place kicking -- but I wanted to get Galiano on the team and his excellence as a punter gave me the flexibility to get some other deserving athletes on the squad. I did the same kind of thing with Corey Clement on the offense. The Glassboro junior could have been first team RB but his versatility -- he had three sacks and kicked four extra points in the title game -- gave me some wiggle room to find spots for other top RBs.
-- Phil Anastasia