Winter officially begins at 7:04 A.M. tomorrow. But before the chill winds (officially) come coursing in, followed by the relentless blizzard of basketball, let's take a moment to salute the champions and near-champions of high school football from the area.

First, congratulations - and condolences - to West Catholic and Archbishop Wood, a pair of juggernaut teams that stormed into the state finals behind high-octane offenses. Sadly, they both came up just short of winning District 12's first Pennsylvania football championship.

Wood ran into a buzzsaw in falling by 34-7 Dec. 12 to Thomas Jefferson of suburban Pittsburgh, the defending state Class AAA champion.

West Catholic's downfall in Class AA was more painful. Favored to beat Wilmington, a school northwest of Pittsburgh near the Ohio border, the Burrs piled up nearly 400 yards rushing, but lost by one point on a failed two-point conversion in double overtime, 35-34, last Saturday.

Worse still, West had a chance to win in the final seconds of regulation, with a first-and-goal from the 1, in a 21-21 tie game, but failed to find the end zone as time expired, forcing overtime.

Still, for West and Wood, this season was a proud debut in the Catholic League's first season as full-fledged PIAA members.

Pennsylvania kudos also go to George Washington, the Public League champion, which shocked PCL champ La Salle for city bragging rights in the District 12 Class AAAA title game, 23-14.

Other District 12 champions: Wood, which beat Dobbins, 56-7, for the AAA title; West Catholic, which blew away Bok, 55-0, in Class AA, and Class A champ Communications Tech, which beat Del-Val Charter, 26-0.

In District 1, North Penn emerged triumphant in the always competitive Class AAAA field, with Bayard Rustin capturing the AAA crown.

In South Jersey, just one team - Holy Cross in Non-Public 2 - captured a state championship. That, of course, is because public schools in the NJSIAA do not get to compete for state titles in football. (And why the heck not, the Cheese wants to know?)

Holy Cross repeated as state champion despite having a new coach and a new offensive scheme.

First-year Crusaders coach Tim McAneney overhauled the offense, going from a pass-happy attack to a run-heavy assault. But the result was the same as last year: a state crown. (Ironically, the title game's lone touchdown came on a

pass

play.)

South Jersey sectional champions were Glassboro in Group 1, Delsea in Group 2, Shawnee in Group 3 and Mainland in Group 4.

Shawnee running back Chris LaPierre set state records for touchdowns (44) and points (272) in a season. Amazingly, he likely won't even play football in college. He's headed to Virginia on a lacrosse scholarship.

It's a miracle! Talk about your Christmas stories: Our old friend, Adam "Pacman" Jones, is back with the Dallas Cowboys.

And here we thought poor T.O. was going to have to disgrace the 'Boys all by himself. You may recall that Pacman, who suffered a neck injury against Pittsburgh a couple weeks back in his first game back after a six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, was thought to be out for the season.

But Jones returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to play tonight, both as a cornerback and kick returner, after having missed only one game.

Coach Wade Phillips said the herniated disk discovered last week has healed, perhaps because he already had the problem and it was only aggravated by the hit he took in Pittsburgh.

"He's got nine lives," Phillips said. "Maybe he's got 18."

Quick hits and headlines

NFL forced to lay off 150

Does this go by seniority, or can we just get rid of the Lions, Chiefs and Rams right now? The Lions, at 0-14, have already equaled Tampa Bay's record-worst finish of 0-14 in 1976, before the NFL went to a 16-game season. They have also equaled the 0-14 start by the 1980 New Orleans Saints. You may recall that was the year when the few fans who showed up for home games wore bags over their heads and called their team the "Aint's." (They finished 1-15.)

Bengals beat reeling Redskins

Be sure to thank those nice Washington guys for stepping aside and giving the Eagles just a little more hope for a playoff spot.

Woman accused of biting man at N.Y. basketball game

The woman was charged with biting a security officer who was trying to break up a crowd at a Long Island high school basketball game. Guess she'll be a regular at the Mets' Citi Field when it opens.

Quotable

"Of course, we're going to try to win the division. Of course, we're going to be the front-runner. Of course, we're going to be the team to beat."

- Francisco Rodriguez,

new Mets closer

Where have I heard that phrase "we're the team to beat" before? Hmmmm. So based on all this bravado, it appears the team most likely to beat the Mets in 2009 will be themselves. At least they have a good track record of doing that. Here's to a three-peat for them in 2009.

This article contains information

from Inquirer wire services.

Contact staff writer Al Campbell

at 215-854-5414

or acampbell@phillynews.com.