Vineland might be the best football team in South Jersey.
It's just tough to know for sure because the Clan has not played a challenging schedule
Vineland is 7-0 and No. 4 in the Inquirer Top 25. The Clan has a huge game Friday night in hosting No. 12 St. Augustine
Prep in a West Jersey Football League Continental Division clash of rivals.
The game against the visiting Hermits will mark Vineland's first game against a team in the current Top 25. Vineland's first
seven opponents are a combined 9-41, including three 0-7 teams (Cherry Hill East, Egg Harbor Township, Cumberland) and two
1-6 teams (Clearview, Mainland).
"It is what it is," Vineland coach Dan Russo said. "Some of the teams we've played have been up in the past and are a
little down this year.
"We've done what we need to do. We've played good football."
The Clan's schedule was skewed a bit by circumstances out of the team's control. For one thing, Vineland's top two division opponents were on the docket for late in the season — St. Augustine in Week 9, and No. 2 Millville on Thanksgiving.
For another, the Clan's four cross-over games were created by the WJFL after the 2015 season, when Vineland was coming off
back-to-back 3-7 campaigns.
Since the start of the 2016 season, Vineland is 15-2, with dominant play from athletes such as Rutgers recruit Isaih
Pacheco and Maryland recruit Nihym Anderson.
But Pacheco, a four-year starter, was hurt most of the 2015 season. If he was healthy, Vineland might have been a .500 or
better team that year, and WJFL officials might have arranged for different cross-over games for the Clan.
Russo said the team was challenged in its 34-8 win at Atlantic City on Oct. 20. The 4-3 Vikings are the only team that
Vineland has played that has a winning record.
"I don't care what year it is, you go into Atlantic City and play them there, it's a tough game," Russo said.
Because of the schedule, Vineland is looking at a low seed in the South Jersey Group 5 tournament. Even with a win over St.
Augustine, Vineland likely will be an 8-0 team that opens on the road in the playoffs.
In fact, if Vineland loses Friday there's an outside chance the Clan could miss the tournament, depending on whether
Atlantic City upsets Millville and the results of a few other games.
"We expect to be on the road," Russo said.
Vineland has nothing but big games ahead — St. Augustine on Friday, likely followed by the South Jersey Group 5 tournament,
followed by the annual Thanksgiving Day clash with Millville.
This year will mark the 146th renewal of South Jersey's oldest rivalry.
"Our guys are ready," Russo said. "We've been able to get our guys out of games. We're healthy. I'm a big believer in fresh
legs. We have fresh legs."
Here's a closer look at six games this weekend with predictions:
No. 11 St. Augustine (4-4) at No. 4 Vineland (7-0), Friday at 6 p.m.: The visiting Hermits are better than their record. They
lost to a strong Southeastern Pa. squad in Malvern Prep and to three South Jersey teams that are ranked in the Top 5 — No. 2 Millville, No. 3 St. Joseph and No. 5 Holy Spirit.
Pick: Vineland, 20-14.
No. 3 St. Joseph (8-0) at No. 25 Ocean City (6-1), Friday at 6 p.m: The visiting Wildcats can secure the WJFL Independence
title with a win. Senior end Sencere Tapp leads the St. Joe defense.
Ocean City is 11-2 since the middle of last season. Senior QB Harry Pfeifle and senior all-purpose Isaac Robertson lead the
way for the Red Raiders.
Pick: St. Joe 27-13.
No. 13 Williamstown (4-3) at No. 9 Cherokee (5-2), Friday at 7 p.m.: This game has major WJFL American and South Jersey Group 5 playoff implications.
The visiting Braves are 3-0 in the division, with a Thanksgiving game vs. Washington Township. The Chiefs are 4-0 and can clinch the division title with a win.
Plus, both teams are jostling for the best possible seed in what looks to be a loaded tournament field.
Pick: Cherokee, 17-14.
Eastern (5-3) at Paul VI (3-4), Friday at 7 p.m.: This is a homecoming for Eastern coach John Doherty, who spent 13 seasons
building Paul VI into one of South Jersey's most respected programs.
Doherty went 75-46 with the Eagles, winning seven division titles. His last season was 2015, so he coached most of the
Paul VI has a chance to get to .500 in its first full season under coach Glenn Hutton, who played for Doherty.
Pick: Eastern, 21-19.
Bishop Eustace (4-3) at Highland (4-3): The host Tartans are angling to improve their seed in what looks to be a wide-open
South Jersey Group 4 tournament. Senior linebacker Jared Colbert leads Highland's defense.
Bishop Eustace has won three of four. Senior two-way lineman Andrew Klitchko is a player to watch for the Crusaders.
Pick: Highland, 13-10.
No. 19 Sterling (6-1) vs. No. 22 Haddonfield (5-2) Saturday at Cherry Hill West, 2 p.m.: This game has major South Jersey Group 2 playoff implications. The winner is likely to earn a top 4 seed, which would mean a home game in the first round of the
The visiting Silver Knights are a one-point loss to West Deptford away from being 7-0 one season after they went 1-9.
Haddonfield is looking to regroup after two tough weeks: a 17-14 overtime loss to arch-rival West Deptford followed by a 24-3
loss at Cedar Creek on Saturday.
Pick: Sterling, 26-24.
Last week: 4-3.