This weekend in South Jersey football will feature the playoff semifinals, which often are more exciting than the finals.
There are twice as many of them, anyway. Here's a closer look at all the games (Friday games at 7, Saturday games at 1):
No. 4 Howell (9-1) at No. 1 Lenape (8-1), Friday: The host Indians looked strong in a 35-0 win over Vineland in the first round as senior QB Matt LaJoie and senior RB JoJo Kellum each ran for 2 TDs. Lenape has allowed just 44 points with four shutouts, including two in a row. The Indians will face a big challenge in high-powered Howell. The Rebels have cracked 30 points eight times this season behind senior QB Edwin Morales III, who passed for 202 yards and ran for 89 in 31-17 win over Cherokee. Naseim Brantley is another big time player who had a KOR for a TD and a scoring run vs. the Chiefs.
No. 3 Millville (9-0) at No. 2 Rancocas Valley (8-1), Friday: This has the look of a potential classic. The visiting Thunderbolts are the defending champions. They have been led by senior RB Clayton Scott as well as senior QB Elijah Nichols and senior WRs Marcial Ramos and Carlton Lawrence. Senior two-way lineman Dylan Washington is another player to watch for the Thunderbolts. RV has a dynamic all-around player in Iverson Clement, who scored 3 TDs in a 57-9 victory over Eastern in the first round, and a top LB/OL in senior Kyle Sapp. Junior QB Bryce Mangene is another player to watch for the Red Devils. These teams have recent playoff history: Millville beat RV, 32-15, last year and RV beat Millville, 52-29, in 2014.
No. 4 Shawnee (6-3) at No. 1 Moorestown (9-1), Friday: The visiting Renegades have won three in a row, averaging 38 points. They've gotten a big lift with the recent return from injury of senior RB/LB Ryan Parris, an impact player on both sides of the football. Moorestown has put together the program's best season in the last 10 years. The Quakers escaped a big challenge from Pennsauken in the opener, as junior Josh Pearcy ran for a late TD in a 16-13 win.
No. 7 Highland (5-4) at No. 6 Hammonton (4-6), Friday: Somebody — cough, cough — wondered aloud how Hammonton managed to get the No. 6 seed with a 3-6 record that included five losses in the previous six games. Then the Blue Devils went out and beat No. 3 Central, 21-6, in the opener as Jake Cooper and Peyton LeMunyan ran for TDs and Rey Triboletti fired a TD pass to Anthony Fazio. Highland might have been even more of a surprise team in the first round. The Tartans stunned second-seeded Burlington Twp., 41-0, as senior DaeJuan Sanders ran for 191 and 2 TDs, senior Jared Colbert made 12 tackles and senior
Damola Dairo registered 3 sacks.
No. 4 Delsea (7-3) at No. 1 Timber Creek (9-0), Friday: This might be the GOTW. Timber Creek has won 25 in a row, including the last two sectional titles in South Jersey 4. Senior QB Devin Leary has an even 100 career TD passes. Senior RBs Kyle Dobbins and Jerome Gibson have combined for 1,527 yards and 19 TDs. Delsea junior RB Aidan Borguet already has set a team record with 1,889 yards and also has 25 TDs. Junior Keison Fowler and sophomore Jay Wright lead the Delsea defense with 83 tackles each. These teams have history, too. Timber Creek beat Delsea, 39-36, on Sept. 8 when a Crusaders FG attempt hit the upright in the final seconds. They played in the opener in 2016, and TC won, 54-28. That's a combined 157 points in the last two games between these perennial powers.
No. 6 Lakewood (5-4) at No. 2 Woodrow Wilson (7-2), Saturday: The Tigers got a big game from senior all-purpose Hydir Moore and rolled to a 46-14 win over Deptford in the playoff opener. Junior QB Nick Kargman has 23 TD passes for Woodrow Wilson. Lakewood is hot, having won four in a row. Lakewood stunned No. 3 seed Lacey, 22-14, in the playoff opener as senior QB Zyheir Jones ran for 134 yards and passed for 120.
No. 4 Cedar Creek (8-2) at No. 1 West Deptford (8-1), Friday: Talk about history. These teams have met in the last two S.J. 2 title games as well as three of the last five. West Deptford beat Cedar Creek, 19-13, last season. Cedar Creek beat West Deptford, 28-27, in 2016. And West Deptford beat Cedar Creek, 42-28, in 2012. West Deptford has gotten a big boost in recent weeks from the return from injury of junior RB/DB Kenny Lim. He ran for 2 TDs in a 51-12 win over Pleasantville in the opener. Cedar Creek has an RB to watch in junior Kamaal Reed. Sophompore Malachi Melton, brother of former Player of the
Year and current Rutgers freshman Bo Melton, is a playmaker for the Pirates. He scored the winning TD in a 19-15 victory over Willingboro in the playoff opener.
No. 7 Cinnaminson (7-2) at No. 6 Haddonfield (6-3), Saturday at Cherry Hill West: This is another 7-6 matchup in the semifinals, which rarely happens. Cinnaminson has won six in a row, including victories over West Deptford and Camden. The Pirates won at Farnham Park, 28-12, on Friday night as junior Rashad Raymond ran for 2 TDs and senior Kevin Schoch made the play of the game with a KOR for TD. Haddonfield is a rejuvenated team after entering the playoffs on a 3-game losing streak. Haddonfield turned the tables on No. 3 seed Sterling, which had beaten the Bulldawgs by 37-19 six days earlier. Senior RB Nick Patrizi — whose uncle Mario is the Cinnaminson coach — ran for two TDs, and junior all-purpose Davis Smith made an impact in his return from injury.
No. 4 Salem (7-2) at No. 1 Paulsboro (8-1), Saturday: These teams have recent playoff history, too. Paulsboro beat Salem in the 2016 sectional title game by 29-26 and in the 2014 final by 21-0. Paulsboro has won four games in a row as senior Dehron Holloway has scored 13 TDs. He scored four in a 42-28 win over Pennsville in the playoff opener. Salem senior Zaire Jones leads South Jersey with 26 touchdowns. He has scored 18 in the last 5 games, all wins.
No. 3 Gateway (8-1) at No. 2 Penns Grove (8-1), Saturday: The Gators are putting together one of the best seasons, if not the best, in program history. They won their first playoff game Friday night, handling No. 6 Woodstown, 28-8. Senior LB Jared Clayton leads a sturdy Gateway defense. Junior Logan Cruet scored two TDs in the win over Woodstown. Penns Grove has won six in a row since a Week 3 loss to Salem. The Red Devils have averaged 50.8 points in that winning streak behind junior all-purpose Tyreke Brown and sophomore quarterback Kavon Lewis, who leads South Jersey with 29 touchdown passes.
No. 4 Middlesex (8-1) at No. 1 Burlington City (8-1), Friday: The host Blue Devils beat Asbury Park, 28-6, in playoff opener as Jimmy Browne ran for three touchdowns and Thomas Roach threw a scoring pass to D.J. Woodbury. Browne, a senior running back, has 22 touchdowns. Burlington City is trying to reach the finals for the first time since the 1979 team won the South Jersey Group 2 title. Middlesex beat Shore, 28-6, as senior quarterback John Kressbach ran for one score and passed for another.
No. 5 Immaculata (6-4) at No. 1 St. Joseph (10-0), Saturday: The host Wildcats are in hot pursuit of their eighth state title in the last nine seasons. They won seven in a row before losing to eventual champion Mater Dei in the semifinals last season. St. Joe is averaging 45.1 points behind senior running back Qwahsin Townsel (25 touchdowns) and sophomore running back Jada Byers (20 TDs). Juniors Wisdom Quarshie, Sean Morris and Brad Lomax lead the Wildcats' powerful front lines. Immaculata beat No. 4 seed Hudson Catholic, 10-6, in the first round; the Spartans played strong defense in rallying from a 6-0 deficit.