Cherokee has ended where it started the season, as The Inquirer's No. 1 South Jersey football team.

The Chiefs also ended where they ended last year, which is a rare occurrence.

It's only the second time since 1978 that a team has finished on top in consecutive football seasons.

The other school to achieve that feat?

That would be Cherokee, in 1982 and 1983.

The Chiefs have finished No. 1 six times since 1978. No other school has been No. 1 more than three times.

Difficult to predict. Football may be the most difficult sport in which to predict the top teams each year, because injuries often play a vital role in whether a team can sustain success.

It's interesting that only four of the final Top 10 teams were in The Inquirer's preseason rankings. Those happened to be the top four teams in this final ranking.

Here is the final Top 10:

1. Cherokee

2. Holy Spirit

3. St. Joseph

4. Paul VI

5. Haddonfield

6. Delsea

7. Hammonton

8. Oakcrest

9. West Deptford

10. Willingboro

Compare that with the preseason Top 10:

1. Cherokee

2. Holy Spirit

3. Seneca

4. Shawnee

5. Paul VI

6. Timber Creek

7. St. Joseph

8. Washington Township

9. Bishop Eustace

10. Absegami.

There is one other factor to look at in picking a preseason Top 10. Maybe the person doing the selecting needs to step up his game.

What about Spirit? No doubt that Holy Spirit fans will argue that their team should be No. 1.

And our response?

You have a good point.

For the second time in three years, 12-0 teams finished No. 1 and No. 2. In 2008, Shawnee was No. 1 and Mainland No. 2.

There is no doubt that a game between 2008 Shawnee and Mainland would have been highly anticipated. Just as a game this year between Cherokee and Spirit would have been.

Does Holy Spirit have a good argument?

Absolutely.

The Spartans played a strong schedule and won all but two games by two touchdowns or more.

Yet Cherokee doesn't have to apologize to anyone. The Chiefs had to withstand as many key injuries as any team, had the pressure of defending the No. 1 spot, and won the South Jersey Group 4 title for the second consecutive year.

How rare is that feat?

Since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974, Cherokee is the first team from the seven-county South Jersey area to win consecutive South Jersey Group 4 titles.

Two teams from Ocean County have achieved the feat. Jackson won Group 4 titles in 2000 and 2001, and Brick Township was the champion from 1981-83.

The bottom line is that both Holy Spirit and Cherokee were great teams this year, and either would be capable of beating the other.

Yet there can be only one No. 1 team, and the team that started on top deserves to finish there after Cherokee achieved its first-ever 12-0 season.

The Langerman file. South Jersey historian Chuck Langerman has a long list of facts with another high school season completed. Special thanks to Langerman, whose passion for South Jersey sports and its history has been greatly appreciated by the readers.

Among this week's notes:

Years from now Delsea may be called the "Night Crusaders": Delsea was 10-0 under the lights and 0-2 in day games.

For the last 25 years, the South Jersey Group 1 final has had at least one Gloucester County representative. This year there were two, as Glassboro defeated Paulsboro, 36-0. The last time Gloucester County wasn't represented, in 1985, Florence beat Burlington Township, 19-18, in a battle of Burlington County teams.

There are 342 high school football teams in the state, and Penns Grove was the only one to average more points per game than the total points it gave up. The Red Devils averaged 48 points and allowed a total of 26, half of them in an opening 13-12 loss to Glassboro.

St. Joseph led the area with seven shutouts. The Wildcats gave up only 67 points, and more than half came in a 35-0 loss to Holy Spirit.

The dynamic duo of Holy Spirit junior running backs Nigel Jones and Donta Pollock have combined to score 88 touchdowns in their careers.

Pennsville quarterback Ken Emmons finished his career with 4,989 passing yards, 10th on the all-time South Jersey career passing list behind Audubon's Joe Flacco, who threw for 5,101 yards.

Haddonfield (11-1) set a school record for victories.

National power Don Bosco Prep holds the state's longest active win streak at 35. Cherokee and Holy Spirit lead South Jersey at 13.

And finally: Don't look now, but The Inquirer's South Jersey girls' and boys' basketball preview will appear Dec. 16, one day before the season opens.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225

or mnarducci@phillynews.com.