It was the year of the running back in S.J. football
Seniors Qwahsin Townsel of St. Joseph, JoJo Kellum of Lenape and Dehron Holloway of Paulsboro as well as junior Adian Borguet of Delsea led their teams to championships.
Jimmy Browne missed most of the 2016 season with the Burlington City football team because of a hip injury.
Aidan Borguet was a reserve last season for Delsea.
When the 2017 season began in September, few would have imagined that Browne and Borguet would burst from relative anonymity and crack the Top 10 all-time in South Jersey for single-season rushing.
But it was that kind of season in South Jersey football, with running backs grabbing some of the spotlight that had been seized in recent years by quarterbacks and wide receivers in the sport's steady shift toward pass-happy, no-huddle, spread offenses.
Make no mistake: This season still featured plenty of potent passers and top receivers. Timber Creek senior quarterback Devin Leary had the most prolific career in New Jersey high school history with 9,672 yards and 105 touchdowns, both state records.
Leary passed for 2,863 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. Penns Grove sophomore Kavon Lewis passed for a South Jersey-high 2,934 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Woodrow Wilson junior Nick Kargman passed for 2,072 yards and 28 touchdowns, despite missing three games with injuries. Willingboro senior Trae Greene passed for 26 touchdowns, and Shawnee senior Colin Wetterau set a program record with 2,197 yards and also threw for 19 touchdowns.
Winslow Township junior quarterback Prince-dru Bey passed for 2,416 yards and 24 touchdowns, while also rushing for 541 yards and six scores.
Holy Spirit senior quarterback Josh Zamot joined Bey as South Jersey's top dual threats, with 19 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns, while Vineland senior Isaih Pacheco was the most productive running quarterback with 1,414 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
It was a big year for receivers, too. Penns Grove junior Tyreke Brown had 42 catches for 1,042 yards and 15 touchdowns. Willingboro senior David Green III caught 44 passes for 742 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Kingsway senior Kevin Zehner set school records with 66 catches for 1,073 yards and 11 touchdowns. Winslow Township senior Isaiah Shaw caught 48 passes for 1,078 yards and seven touchdowns.
Woodrow Wilson's King brothers — Travon, a senior, and Stanley, a junior — almost evenly split 72 catches, 1,262 yards and 18 touchdowns.
But 2017 might be best regarded as the Year of the Running Back.
Browne carried 277 times for 2,332 yards, the third-highest total in South Jersey history. Only Salem's Jon Taylor with 2,815 yards in 2016 and Glassboro's Corey Clement, with 2,510 yards in 2011, have ever covered more ground in a season among area runners.
That's pretty elite company for Brown, since Clement has scored six touchdowns this season as a rookie for the Eagles and Taylor has run for 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns as a true freshman at Wisconsin.
Borguet moved into the Top 10 in South Jersey's single-season rushing list with a 2,208-yard performance that included 32 total touchdowns, including a pair in Delsea's 29-28 victory over Woodrow Wilson in the South Jersey Group 3 title game.
"He's a beast," Delsea senior quarterback Mason Maxwell said of Borguet. "The kid worked so hard in the off-season to get ready for this season."
Delsea's run-heavy drive to a championship last weekend at Rowan Unviersity was matched by three other teams that relied heavily on highly productive running backs.
St. Joseph captured the Non-Public 2 state title and earned the No. 1 spot in the Inquirer's final Top 25 thanks in large part to the work of its dynamic duo of running backs, senior Qwahsin Townsel and sophomore Jada Byers.
Townsel ran for 1,608 yards and 30 touchdowns. He went for 232 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 30-14 victory over Mater Dei, the defending state champion.
Byers ran for 1,572 yards on just 143 carries (10.9-yard average) with 21 rushing touchdowns. He generated 199 yards and
two scores in the state final.
Lenape won uts first sectional title in program hisory with a 10-7 win over Rancocas Valley in the South Jersey Group 5 final on Saturday night. Senior JoJo Kellum picked up 93 hard yards against the Red Devils' imposing defense, including a 12-yard gain from the Indians' 1-yard line with the scored tied at 7-7 and less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
"Jo's run out of the end zone, that might have been the play of the game," Lenape coach Tim McAneney said. "He dragged three guys the final seven yards."
Kellum finished the season with 1,642 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns.
Paulsboro earned its 19th sectional title Saturday afternoon in a 34-24 victory over Penns Grove in the South Jersey Group 1 final that also served as a showcase for senior running back Dehron Holloway.
Playing his final game, Holloway scored touchdowns in three ways — as a runner, receiver, and returner of an interception on the final play of the first half — as the Red Raiders won their third title in his four seasons.
"I wish it was 4-for-4," Holloway said. "But I'll take three."
Holloway ran for 1,670 yards this season on 210 carries, with 23 touchdowns.
Among other running backs who made their mark in 2017 were Rancocas Valley senior Iverson Clement, a Florida recruit who generated 1,425 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns, and Salem senior Zaire Jones, who picked up 1,792 yards with 29 touchdowns.
Millville senior Clayton Scott finished a stellar career with 17 rushing touchdowns this season as the Thunderbolts went 9-2 and Camden Catholic sneior Marcus Hillman ran for 1,419 yards with 21 total touchdowns — as well as 15 sacks as a
linebacker — as the Irish finished 8-2.
South Jersey scoring leaders
31 — Qwahsin Townsel, St. Joseph; Aidan Borguet, Delsea; JoJo Kellum, Lenape.
30 — Jimmy Browne, Burlington City.
29 — Dehron Holloway, Paulsboro; Zaire Jones, Salem; Tyereke Brown, Penns Grove.
27 — Jada Byers, St. Joseph.
21 — Marcus Hillman, Camden Catholic.
20 — Elijah Gray, Holy Spirit.
19 — Elijah Karnjay, Palmyra; Nick Bard, Pennsville.
18 — Isaih Pacheco, Vineland.
33 — Kavon Lewis, Penns Grove.
31 — Devin Leary, Timber Creek.
28 — Nick Kargman, Woodrow Wilson.
24 — Prince-dru Bey, Winslow Twp.
19 — Josh Zamot, Holy Spirit; Taj Harris, Palmyra, Colin Wetterau.
18 — Brian McMonagle, Moorestown; Elijah Nichols, Millville.
15 — Tyreke Brown, Penns Grove.
13 — David Green III, Willingboro.
11 — Stanley King, Woodrow Wilson; Kevin Zehner, Kingsway; Nah'Sir Morgan, Atlantic City; Marcial Ramos, Millville.
10 — David Wallace, Winslow Twp.; Sai'mere Colon, Gloucester.
9 — Josh Martin, Penns Grove; Carlton Lawrence, Millville.