Paulsboro threw 53 passes last Friday night.

"We used to throw 50 to 60 passes all year," Paulsboro coach Glenn Howard said. "Now, we throw that many in one game. It's crazy."

The Red Raiders' remarkable reliance on the passing game in a 36-33 overtime victory over rival West Deptford on a cold, damp night did more than underscore their complete commitment to the no-huddle, spread offense.

It also served as a showcase for junior quarterback Carlton Aiken.

"He's the real thing," West Deptford coach Clyde Folsom said.

Folsom thinks Aiken is the early favorite to be the all-South Jersey quarterback in 2015.

But the speedy athlete with the quick release and live right arm still has one more game to play in 2014: the South Jersey Group 1 title game against Salem at noon Saturday at Rowan University.

"We've been working all season for this," Aiken said.

Aiken represents the tremendous change in Paulsboro's approach to offense. A program that once relied heavily on the running game - first in the option, then in the I formation - now chucks the football as often as teams such as Pennsville and Timber Creek.

But here's the thing: The new approach has the Red Raiders on the brink of an old and familiar place.

Paulsboro has won 16 sectional titles, more than any public-school team in South Jersey. But the Red Raiders need one more win to end what Howard calls a "drought" and win their first crown since 2006.

"That's been our motivation," Aiken said.

Paulsboro's passing attack has produced some big receiving statistics. Senior running back De'Shaun Burgess has 45 catches for 537 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Theo Holloway has 32 catches for 493 yards and six touchdowns. Junior wide receiver John Pellegrini has 34 catches for 570 yards and six touchdowns.

But the biggest beneficiary might be Aiken, who has emerged as one of South Jersey's most productive players despite not becoming a full-time starter until Week 5.

Aiken split time with junior A.J. Gugel, who is a starter at defensive back, through training camp and the first month of the season.

"It was so close, we couldn't make a decision," Howard said.

Aiken's emergence has coincided with a surge by the Red Raiders that has included six wins in the last seven games and an average of 40.6 points in the last three games.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Aiken has passed for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns.

"He's just gotten better and better," Howard said. "He's very coachable. He's got a lot of natural ability, with a great, live arm. But he works and works on his fundamentals."

Aiken said he grew up in Springfield in Montgomery County, Pa. He was a running back for most of his career in youth football.

He moved to Paulsboro in the summer before his sophomore year. He was a junior-varsity quarterback last season.

"The older guys welcomed me like a little brother," Aiken said. "They made sure everybody knew who I was."

Aiken said it was "music to my ears" when he heard that Paulsboro was switching to a no-huddle, spread offense for this season.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God, this is going to be great,' " Aiken said. "I knew it would be a lot of fun, and it has been great. I love playing quarterback, and I love this offense."

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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