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Glassboro's James out for bragging rights

Glassboro junior running back/safety Ronnie James has already been a major contributor to one sectional title, but to gain more respect at the dinner table, he knows he will need more.

Glassboro running back Ronnie James. (April Saul/Staff)
Glassboro running back Ronnie James. (April Saul/Staff)Read more

Glassboro junior running back/safety Ronnie James has already been a major contributor to one sectional title, but to gain more respect at the dinner table, he knows he will need more.

James' three older brothers - Corey, Christian, and P.J. (a current running back at Rutgers) - have eight Glassboro sectional championships among them. Ronnie James started in the secondary as a freshman when Glassboro won the South Jersey Group 1 title in 2011 with a 41-13 victory over Pennsville.

Now, Glassboro (6-5) will vie for another sectional crown when the Bulldogs meet defending champion Penns Grove (8-3) in Saturday's 10 a.m. Group 1 final at Rowan.

James is hungry for a second title, something that would allow him some additional family bragging rights.

"I have to get at least another to keep up with my brothers," he said, laughing.

James gets critiques from his brothers and he knows that they keep him grounded.

"If I mess up, I hear it," James said.

Of course, he hasn't messed up much.

The 6-foot, 180-pound James is one of the major reasons that a Glassboro team that was just 3-5 when the postseason began is playing for a title.

James, who is generating recruiting interest from Football Championship Subdivision and Football Bowl Subdivision schools, has rushed for 1,047 yards (6.3 average) and 14 touchdowns.

And he has made just as much of an impact on the other side of the ball.

"He is an indispensable player for all he does on defense," Glassboro coach Mark Maccarone said.

James is fourth on the team with 66 tackles. He also has one interception and has caused and recovered a fumble.

"He's always in the right position," Maccarone said.

During Glassboro's two playoff wins, James carried his normal heavy load.

The No. 5 seed, Glassboro opened with a 12-8 win over No. 4 Paulsboro as James rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He also made 15 tackles.

During the Bulldogs' 40-33 semifinal win over top seed Pennsville, he rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries and caught two passes for 29 yards. James also had two two-point conversion receptions. He contributed five tackles and three passes defensed.

Add in a 19-yard punt return and two kickoff returns totaling 39 yards, and it was a typically busy day for James.

"At first, I thought it was going to be pretty hard," James said about rarely leaving the field. "After a while, I really started liking it, being the player my team looked for to make plays."

Despite Glassboro's record, its advancement to the title game shouldn't come as a major surprise. This team has weathered early injuries. The Bulldogs also took off when Mike Maldonado joined the team in midseason and eventually earned the quarterback job.

Maldonado threw four TD passes against Pennsville.

The one constant has been James, who helped keep Glassboro afloat early in the season and has continued to be a major contributor in the postseason.

Glassboro was highly competitive even in some of its earlier defeats. The Bulldogs opened the season with a 14-12 loss at Penns Grove and also lost a 40-34 regular-season game to Pennsville.

"Our goal was to get here all along, and earlier in the season, we were doing things like beating ourselves with penalties," James said. "We have come together, and it feels great to be playing for the championship."

It's a feeling that is expected in the James household.

S.J. Group 1 Final Preview

Glassboro (6-5) vs. Penns Grove (8-3)

Saturday, 10 a.m. at Rowan

Previous titles: Glassboro, 9 (2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 1999, 1987, 1983, 1981, 1975); Penns Grove, 1 (2012).

Coaches: Mark Maccarone, Glassboro (25-9 in three years); Kemp Carr, Penns Grove (74-33 in 10 years).

How Glassboro can win: The Bulldogs have a great ground game led by Ronnie James, who has rushed for 1,047 yards and 14 touchdowns, but a key will be the passing game. QB Mike Maldonado, who didn't come out for the team until midseason, has enjoyed a solid stretch, and receiver Juwan James (23 receptions, 333 yards, 4 TDs) is a major threat despite being hampered by an ankle injury. The Bulldogs also must stop the strong Penns Grove ground game. Tackle Caron Lee (94 tackles) will lead the defensive effort.

How Penns Grove can win: By sticking to its postseason formula of running the ball and playing tight defense. Sophomore Corey Ransome is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing and has run for 11 TDs. The Red Devils also have to pressure Maldonado. Linebackers Jaron Maldonado (14 sacks) and Isaiah Coppage (11 sacks) will give Glassboro's blockers all they can handle.

Fast fact: With Glassboro in the title game, it marks the 28th straight season that at least one South Jersey Group 1 finalist comes from Gloucester County.

- Marc Narducci