Breaking down this weekend’s sectional finals involving South Jersey teams
Camden at Haddonfield in South Jersey 2 and Shawnee at Clearview in South Jersey 4 among the highlights of championship action.
At last, championship weekend.
Here's a look at this weekend's sectional title games in football:
Rancocas Valley (8-2) at Williamstown (11-0), Friday at 7: Rancocas Valley is back in the finals for the third time in five seasons. The Red Devils lost last year by 10-7 to Lenape and fell to Cherokee in 2014 by 30-10.
Rancocas Valley's one sectional title in the playoff era came in 1987, when the Red Devils won the South Jersey Group 3 crown with a 26-0 victory over Point Pleasant Boro.
Williamstown is in the finals for the third time since 2012. The Braves won the first South Jersey Group 5 title in 2012, completing a 12-0 season with a 43-20 win over a Southern team that featured future Penn State star and current Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki.
Williamstown also made the final in 2015, losing to Toms River North by 14-7.
Williamstown has powered through a perfect season behind senior all-purpose standouts Wade Inge and J.C. Collins as well as a swarming defense sparked by juniors such as end Aaron Lewis – who will be one of South Jersey's most highly recruited players in the class of 2020 – and linebackers Brandon Perkins and Julian Gravener.
Inge ran for two touchdowns and Collins ran for a score and passed for another in a victory over Vineland in the semifinals.
Williamstown, which might have the best overall team speed in South Jersey, beat Rancocas Valley, 17-6, Sept. 8 in Mt. Holly.
Rancocas Valley has caught its stride in the playoffs behind seniors Bruce Mangene and Danny Kondras, among others. Kondras scored three touchdowns in a victory over Lenape in the semifinals.
The Red Devils are playing with a lot of confidence. They've won five in a row since an Oct. 5 loss to St. Augustine, and have proven adept at capturing close games with second-half surges.
Shawnee (4-6) at Clearview (7-2), Friday at 7: The winner of this game will be a great story.
Shawnee was 2-6 entering the playoffs but handled Mainland in the first round then stunned top-seeded Millville, 28-26, on the Thunderbolts' home field Saturday night. The Renegades scored 14 points in the final 1 minute, 14 seconds and hung on as Millville rallied to cut the margin to two with a touchdown with 0:18 left.
Defensive back Joe Moore knocked down Millville's pass for a two-point conversion and also recovered an onsides kick to preserve the victory for the Renegades.
Shawnee is the defending sectional champion, has won three titles since 2013, and is making its fifth appearance in the title game in the last six years. So playoff success is nothing new for coach Tim Gushue and the Renegades.
But this season has been unique. Shawnee was 0-4 in October, although all four losses were to teams that have made sectional finals.
Gushue has "no doubt" his team's daunting schedule has made a difference in the playoffs. The Renegades' rich tradition of postseason success probably has helped as well.
The context is completely different for Clearview. The Pioneers are in the sectional finals for just the second time in program history and for the first time since 1986, when they were a Group 2 team (and lost to Delsea 16-13 in the final).
Clearview was 3-7 last season and 2-2 after allowing 50 points to Burlington Township in Week 4 this season. But the Pioneers have put together a five-game winning streak with a sturdy defense and bruising ground game.
They punched their ticket to the title game with a signature win over second-seeded Highland on Saturday night, shutting out the Tartans, 20-0, in Blackwood.
Linebacker Justin Iaccio led a defense that held Highland without a first down in the second half. Iaccio and Mike Ancona scored touchdowns and Hunter Logan kicked a pair of field goals for coach Steve Scanlon's team.
These teams have recent history: In 2016, Clearview pushed Shawnee to the limit in a 35-34 loss in Medford in the first round of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.
Woodrow Wilson (8-2) at Burlington Twp. (10-0), Friday at 7: The Tigers are in the title game for the second year in a row and seeking their first championship since 2001. Current coach Preston Brown was a junior linebacker for that team.
Woodrow Wilson earned redemption and a return to the finals with an imposing win over Delsea on Friday night. Star quarterback Nick Kargman threw just 11 passes – although two went for touchdowns – as the Tigers dominated play with their defense and ground game.
Running backs Muheem McCargo and Jahdir White combined for 237 rushing yards and Fadil Diggs and Stanley King led the defense as Woodrow Wilson beat Delsea for the first time in nine games, including three losses in the previous 13 months.
Burlington Township has rolled through the program's first perfect season since 1977, which also is the last time the Falcons won a sectional crown.
In Saturday night's victory over Timber Creek, quarterback Dan Grozoski threw a pair of touchdown passes to Justin Johnson.
Camden (9-1) at Haddonfield (10-0), Friday at 7: Football fans in the city of Camden have to make a tough choice this weekend as both teams in town will be in championship action at the same time.
Camden is seeking its first sectional title since 1976, when the Panthers won the South Jersey Group 4 crown with a 30-13 victory over Toms River South. The Panthers were in the S.J. 3 final in 2015 (losing to Delsea) and the S.J. 2 final in 2005 (losing to Point Pleasant Boro).
Camden advanced with a hard-fought victory over West Deptford in the semifinals. Hassan Turner returned a muffed punt 50 yards for a score in one of the game's biggest plays.
Led by linebacker Tirek Austin-Cave and lineman Tidaine Bama, among many others, Camden's defense has been air-tight in the winning streak. The Panthers have allowed just 14 points in their last six games.
Haddonfield and Camden met in 2013 in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals, with the Bulldawgs beating the then-unbeaten Panthers, 45-19, in Farnham Park.
Haddonfield has won four titles since 2010 and three since 2013. The Bulldawgs are riding a 14-game winning streak.
Haddonfield has rolled through a perfect season behind a sturdy defense and a balanced offense. Special teams made a difference in Friday's semifinal win over Pleasantville as Davis Smith's long kickoff return and Harry Rohlfing's blocked punt and Lance Forebaugh's recovery for touchdown sparked a second-half rally.
Smith, a big-play man on offense, defense and special teams, also returned an interception for touchdown.
Salem (8-2) at Penns Grove (11-0), Saturday at noon: This clash of old Salem County rivals is a rematch of an Oct. 27 game won by the visiting Red Devils, 26-20.
"They beat us on our home field," Salem linebacker/running back Ra'Mir Nock said. "Now we're coming to beat them on their home field."
Salem advanced with a shutout of Gateway on Saturday as Nock and linemen Savion Moore and Josh Johnson led the defense. The Rams also got two big plays from dynamic quarterback Jamael Bundy, who ran for one score and passed to Keith Chung for another.
Salem is making its third appearance in the final in the last five years. The Rams lost to Paulsboro in the title game in both 2016 and 2014.
Salem is seeking its first sectional title since the 1983 team won the S.J. 2 crown by beating Hammonton.
Penns Grove also is looking for its second title. The Red Devils won the 2012 championship, beating Woodbury to complete a perfect season.
Penns Grove has been perfect this season as well. The Red Devils are coming off a victory over previously unbeaten Buena in the semifinals, as Tyreke Brown scored a pair of touchdowns.
Paulsboro (8-2) at Willingboro (6-4), Friday at 7: The Red Raiders are seeking their 20th sectional title, third in a row and fourth in the last five years, but with a twist: All the previous crowns, dating to the first in 1979, were in South Jersey Group 1.
Now the Red Raiders are in strange territory, competing in Central Jersey 1 and facing an unfamiliar opponent, as Paulsboro and Willingboro have never met on the football field.
Paulsboro is coming off an imposing win over Asbury Park (another unfamiliar foe) in the semifinals as sophomore Bhayshul Tuten ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns. The Red Raiders have outscored opponents, 81-7, in two playoff games.
Willingboro is seeking its first sectional title since 1985, when the Chimeras beat Deptford in the S.J. 3 final. Willingboro has played a daunting scheduled filled with Group 2 and Group 3 opponents, including sectional finalists Camden and Woodrow Wilson.
The Chimeras beat Florence in the semifinals as Demie Sumo ran for two touchdowns and also registered two sacks. All-purpose standout Nasir Murray is another player to watch for Willingboro.