Kingsway at Lenape, Eastern at Rancocas Valley highlight South Jersey games of week
First-round playoff action also features Deptford at Delsea, Mainland at Shawnee, Collingswood at Camden and Triton at Woodrow Wilson among key matchups.
The playoffs are here, a week earlier than in the past but not a moment too soon this season.
Here's a look at 10 (plus one for good luck) first-round games to watch this weekend:
(All games at 7 p.m. except Notre Dame at St. Augustine at 6 p.m.)
No. 8 seed Washington Twp. (3-5) at No. 1 Williamstown (9-0): These teams are old rivals and used to play on Thanksgiving Day. They played earlier this season, with the Braves recording a 34-3 win.
Williamstown has been rolling behind senior leaders such as Wade Inge and J.C. Collins as well as a junior-heavy defense that features 11th graders such as Aaron Lewis, Brandon Perkins and Julian Gravener.
The Braves are seeking their first title since the 2012 team went 12-0 and won the first S.J. 5 crown. This season marks another first, as the winner of each sectional title will play in the first so-called Bowl Games that will match the South Jersey titlist with the Central Jersey champ.
Washington Twp. earned a playoff berth in its first season under coach Mike Schatzman. The last time the Minutemen made the tournament was 2015, when they lost to Williamstown in the first round, then stunned the Braves two weeks later in the Thanksgiving Day game.
Quarterback Roger Baldacci is a player to watch for Washington Twp.
No. 6 Kingsway (5-3) at No. 3 Lenape (4-4): This game marks a homecoming for Kingsway coach Mark Hendricks, a former teacher and defensive coordinator at Lenape.
Kingsway surged into the No. 6 spot thanks to a big win over Eastern on Friday night. Alex Odom and A.J. Butler both ran for 140-plus yards for the Dragons. Kingsway has played a tough schedule. The Dragons' three losses were to teams that have spent time in the Top 10: Highland, Millville, and Holy Spirit.
Lenape is battle-tested, as well. The defending champions have pushed through a daunting schedule with a young, inexperienced team.
Lenape is coming off a big win over school-district rival Cherokee. Connor Kennedy returned an interception for a touchdown for the second time in three weeks, and Xavier Coleman scored three touchdowns.
No. 7 Eastern (6-2) at No. 2 Rancocas Valley (6-2): The visiting Vikings were riding high with a six-game winning streak but slipped in a loss to Kingsway, which dropped them to No. 7 in the seedings.
Eastern has an explosive offense that features quarterback Andre Heck and wide receiver Dante Kiett, who has nine touchdown catches.
This game has a chance to be a shootout, depending on the weather. Rancocas Valley, which made the sectional finals last season, has a talented quarterback in Bryce Mangene and playmakers to watch in Tai Matlock and Cerrome Hill, among others.
No. 8 Winslow Twp. (3-5) at No. 1. Millville (5-3): The visiting Eagles have been a hard-luck team, losing three straight one-score games to Hammonton (20-14), Clearview (20-17 in overtime), and Burlington Twp. (7-6).
The Eagles have playmakers in quarterback Prince-Dru Bey and Donovan Bunch. They have nothing to lose and could be an underdog to watch.
Millville is coming off a bye after a wild run through the first eight weeks. The Thunderbolts lost their first three to tough opponents and have since ripped off five wins in a row.
Quarterback Eddie Jamison and all-purpose standout Kyle Yancey are players to watch for the Thunderbolts.
No. 5 Mainland (6-2) at No. 4 Shawnee (2-6): The visiting Mustangs have put together their best season in a decade. They are coming off an emotional win over arch-rival Ocean City, as cancer survivor Sean Carey made a 41-yard field goal with 0:01 on the clock in a 24-21 victory on Friday night.
Shawnee is the No. 4 seed despite its record because of the Renegades' past success (which helped their Born Power Index ranking at the start of the season) and the caliber of their competition.
In the WJFL American Division, Shawnee has played a daunting schedule for a Group 4 program. The Renegades are the defending champions in this tournament and will be a tough out, with senior all-purpose athletes such as Jon Searcy and Joe Dalsey among the players to watch.
No. 7 Deptford (5-3) at No. 2 Delsea (5-3): The defending-champion Crusaders have won four in a row in a familiar script to past seasons.
Running back Aidan Borguet has led Delsea back from an 1-3 start. Borguet has scored 11 touchdowns in the last three games, and the Crusaders' younger players have begun to handle the demands of varsity competition.
Deptford has been competitive against Top 10 teams West Deptford and Haddonfield in recent weeks and should enter this with confidence. Twins Naseem and Khi'on Smith lead the Spartans.
This game harkens back to competition in the old Tri-County Conference Royal Division, as these teams used to be rivals for years in that arena.
No. 5 Cedar Creek (4-4) at No. 4 Pleasantville (6-2): The visiting Pirates actually finished ahead of the Greyhounds in UPR, but the teams flipped spots because Pleasantville won a head-to-head battle Sept. 29, 38-22.
This could be another shootout. Cedar Creek has playmakers such as Malachi Melton and Louis Barrios, plus a recent history of success in the state tournament.
Pleasantville's big-play men are Mohammed Toure, Elijah Glover and Sahmir Jones, among others. Playoff success is the next step in the program's remarkable resurgence under coach Chris Sacco.
No. 6 Schalick (3-4) at No. 3 Gateway (7-0): How about the host Gators? The team that was 5-45 from 2009-13 is 7-0 this season and 15-3 since the start of last season.
Gateway is coming off a 27-20 win over Paulsboro, the gold standard in Group 1. Quarterback Matt Goetz and tight end Jake Schultes combined for two touchdown passes in the statement victory.
Schalick enters the playoffs on a high note after scoring 55 in a win over Pennsville. Quarterback Patrick McCann is a run-pass threat for the Cougars.
No. 10 Notre Dame (7-1) at No. 7 St. Augustine (6-3): The host Hermits have a chance to win a game in this tournament, which has been tough duty in recent years because the program usually has met a North Jersey super-power in the first round.
That's next weekend's challenge, if the Hermits survive the opener. They would visit second-seeded St. Joseph of Montvale in the quarterfinals.
St. Augustine has been highly competitive against a tough schedule. They are coming off a hard-fought, 14-7 loss to undefeated Williamstown, the top seed in S.J. 5, on Friday night.
Isaiah Raikes has been an impact player on both sides for St. Augustine. Raikes has scored a touchdown in four straight games despite limited carries.
Notre Dame has not played the same caliber of competition. But the Irish have won seven in row since losing the opener to Allentown, including a 21-7 victory over a solid Trenton team Friday night.
Notre Dame has a top back in Cortaz Williams, who has rushed for 1,029 yards and 13 touchdowns.
No. 6 Triton (5-3) at No. 3 Woodrow Wilson (6-2), 2: The host Tigers are coming off a bye after losing two straight following an impressive 6-0 start.
Woodrow Wilson made a run to the S.J. 3 finals last season and will look to get on another hot streak behind quarterback Nick Kargman and wide receiver Stanley King, among others.
Kargman has 7,006 career passing yards and 75 career touchdowns and has the chance to land No. 2 all-time on South Jersey's list behind state-record holder Devin Leary, per research by South Jersey historian Chuck Langerman.
Triton is coming off an imposing win over Pennsauken that secure the Mustangs a share of their first division title since 2006. Running back Eric Staton, quarterback Geff Giancaterino, and all-purpose standout Ryan Franz are players to watch for Triton.
No. 7 Collingswood (6-3) at No. 2 Camden (7-1), 3: The visiting Panthers are coming off a shutout of rival Sterling that punched their ticket to the tournament and earned this trip to Farnham Park.
Running back Michael Jenkins is a player to watch for Collingswood.
Camden has won seven in a row. The Panthers have three Colonial Conference teams in their way on the path to a sectional title, if form holds: Collingswood, No. 3 West Deptford, and No. 1 Haddonfield.
Camden has a top defense led by Tidaine Bamba, Tirek Austin-Cave and Donald Williams, among others. Quarterback Monte Williams has thrown six touchdown passes in the last two games and wide-out Corey Palmer is a dynamic playmaker.
These teams have history, as Collingswood stunned then-unbeaten Camden in the first round of the tournament in 2014.