News, notes and items of interest from the long South Jersey football season, which began when St. Augustine took the field vs. Malvern Prep under an orange sky on the night of Sept. 2 and ends next weekend with championship games at Rowan University and Kean University:
Game of the year: Freehold Boro 69, Pennsauken 56 in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 4 tournament on Nov. 12 at Vince McAneney Field.
The late, great McAneney was a defensive guy, first and foremost, so it's not clear how much the old football coach would have appreciated this PlayStation-like competition sprung to life on the grass field off Rt. 73 in Pennsauken.
But the highest-scoring game in New Jersey state tournament history must have been fun to watch. Pennsauken senior running back Martin Booker Jr. carried the football 40 times for 376 yards and eight touchdowns - and he was the second-most-productive back on the field.
Freehold Boro junior Ashante Worthy ran for 465 yards and eight touchdowns and also threw a pair of touchdown passes.
"I never saw anything like it in my life," Pennsauken coach Clint Tabb said.
Moment of the year: Audubon special-needs senior Michael Arechavala returned a kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown in an untimed play at the start of the Green Wave's 52d annual Thanksgiving Day clash with rial Haddon Twp.
It was a great scene, with fans from both sides erupting in cheers and players and coaches from both sides relishing their part in a heartwarming display of sportsmanship.
"Overwhelming," Donna Arechavala said of the response to her son's race down the right sideline and into the end zone with a convoy of teammates along for the thrill ride.
Record setter: St. Joseph coach Paul Sacco became the first member of South Jersey's 300-win club when his team beat Mainland, 50-7, on Sept. 9.
Many of the spectators in the visiting stands wore white "300 Wins" T-shirts and several former players were in attendance on a special night for the longtime coach.
"I'm flabbergasted," Sacco said that hot and humid night on Mainland's Mustang Corral off Route 9. "It's a number but I guess it's a big number."
WJFL division champions: Shawnee (American), Schalick (Classic), Timber Creek (National), Lenape (Capitol), Woodbury (Memorial), Pennsville (Diamond), Camden Catholic (Constitution), Cedar Creek (Independence), Holy Spirit (United), St. Augustine (Continental), Highland (Royal), West Deptford (Colonial), New Egypt (Freedom), and Cinnaminson (Liberty).
Fast fact: Of the above champions, every one was undefeated in division play except Pennsville. The Eagles went 4-1 in the Diamond, edging out 3-2 Salem and 3-2 Woodstown.
Most improved teams: Four teams improved their wins totals from last season by five games. Holy Spirit went from 4-6 to 9-2 (with a game to play) while Vineland went from 3-7 to 8-2, Schalick went from 3-7 to 8-2 and Pennsauken went from 1-9 to 6-4.
Gloucester Catholic made the biggest leap, from 0-10 to 6-4. The Rams benefited from a drop from the Diamond to the Classic division and from some manageable crossover games as a result of the WJFL's expansion to 95 teams.
But Gloucester Catholic's final three games - 23-21 loss to Schalick, 11-6 win over Glassboro and 34-14 win over archrival Gloucester on Thanksgiving Day - showed the team's improvement wasn't just a reflection of a forgiving schedule.
Two other improved teams of note: Cherry Hill West went from 4-6 to 8-2, the best season since the Lions went 9-0 in 1967, thanks to great work from seniors such as Harrison Hand, Lorenzo Hernandez, Sameer Parks and George Vyzaniaris, among others.
Highland went from 5-5 to 9-2, fashioning the best season in program history under second-year coach Brian Leary. Among the Tartans' leaders were junior defensive end Naiem Furlow, who registered 16 sacks, and senior defensive back Matt McBride, who had eight interceptions.
Improvement, Part 3: Kingsway started 0-5 under first-year coach Mark Hendricks. The Dragons won four of their last five, knocking off Hammonton and Washington Township and beating rival Clearview in a thriller on Thanksgiving Day.
Coach of year candidates: Leary belongs on the short list along with Lenape's Tim McAneney, West Deptford's Clyde Folsom, Salem's Montrey Wright, Millville's Dennis Thomas, Vineland's Dan Russo, Cedar Creek's Tim Watson and Holy Spirit's A.J. Russo.
Offensive player of the year candidates: There are just two players on this list: Timber Creek junior quarterback Devin Leary and Salem senior running back Jon Taylor both set South Jersey records on Thanksgiving Day.
Leary has 45 touchdown passes this season, a state record. Taylor has 2,635 rushing yards this season, a South Jersey record and modern-day state mark.
And both players have a game on championship weekend.
Defensive player of the year candidates: This list is longer and fuzzier with no clear favorite as players such as Millville senior linebacker Zack Douglas, Vineland junior end Nihym Anderson, Holy Spirit linebacker Dante Daniel, St. Augustine senior back Zeke Ennis and Cherry Hill West senior back Harrison Hand have excelled on that side of the football.
Lenape senior back Mike Doulong was perhaps the most productive player on South Jersey's top overall defense, but will miss the Indians' final two games with a foot injury.
By the numbers: Here are Taylor's last seven games in rushing yards: 242, 385, 238, 250, 228, 276, and 224.
By the numbers, too: Leary has two six-touchdown passing games, three five-touchdown games and three four-touchdown games. He threw for five touchdowns in three first halves.
Long may they run: West Deptford has 4,327 rushing yards and 251 passing yards.
Clutch kicker: Cedar Creek senior Pat Moran made the difference in three dramatic victories for the Pirates.
Moran made a 39-yard field goal in overtime for a 17-14 win over St. Joseph; made a 28-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter in a 17-14 win over Haddonfield; and made a 37-yard field goal on the Pirates' final possession that stood up as the winning points in a 27-26 win over Willingboro in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals.
Highest-scoring teams by average points: Timber Creek (48.4), St. Augustine (41.5) and West Deptford (40.0).
Stingiest defensive teams by average points allowed: Lenape (7.1), West Deptford (8.6), Burlington Township (9.0).
Furious finish: Overbook was 1-6 entering November. But the Rams won their final three games as senior running back Marques DeShields scored a total of 13 touchdowns.