South Jersey football: Closer look at four championship games this weekend
St. Joseph and Holy Spirit clash in Non-Public 2 title game, and Shawnee, Woodrow Wilson and Haddonfield play in 'bowl games' at MetLife Stadium
Here's a closer look at the four championship football games involving South Jersey teams set for this coming weekend at MetLife Stadium:
Non-Public 2 state championship game, 5 p.m.
St. Joseph (9-2) vs. Holy Spirit (8-3)
These teams are old and fierce rivals, but this game will mark the first time they meet with the state title on the line. And they both have to travel a long way to battle for the trophy (117 miles one way for the Spartans and 100 miles one way for the Wildcats).
St. Joseph is seeking its ninth state title in the last 10 seasons. The Wildcats also are seeking to put a strong finishing touch on one of the strangest seasons in the history of the program. St. Joseph endured a tumultuous stretch in midseason as two key players and veteran coach Paul Sacco were suspended for two games after the emergence of a video posted on social media in which some of the team's players were shown taunting Haddonfield players and using inappropriate language.
In the first game without Sacco and the two players, St. Joseph suffered a stunning 51-0 loss to West Deptford on the Wildcats' home field. But St. Joseph has rallied with four straight wins. Included in that surge was a 28-14 victory over Holy Spirit on the Spartans' field on Oct. 26, a game that marked the return of Sacco to the sideline and the two players to the lineup.
St. Joseph is led by junior all-purpose star Jada Byers, who has rushed for 1,645 yards and 28 touchdowns. Byers has 32 total touchdowns, as he also has scored twice on pass receptions and twice on interception returns.
St. Joseph has a powerful offensive line led by seniors Wisdom Quarshie, Brad Lomax, Tucker Monico, Bobby Hyndman and Sean Morris.
The Wildcats defense is led by Lomax, who has 26 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks as an end, and Hyndman, who has 103 tackles and 17 tackles for loss as a linebacker.
Holy Spirit is making its seventh appearance in the state finals since 2010. The Spartans won state titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012 as well as 2007. They've lost in their last three appearances in the championship game, in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Holy Spirit is led by junior Elijah Gray, who has rushed 208 times for 1,223 yards and 15 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Ryan Yost is 142-for-235 for 1,739 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Holy Spirit's top receivers include junior tight end Isaiah Gerena (31 catches, 379 yards, 2 touchdowns) and junior wide receiver Ahman Brown (32 catches, 398 yards, seven touchdowns) as well as senior wide receiver Alvaro Lora (17 catches, 302 yards, four touchdowns).
Senior linebackers Azim Baker-Cooley and Walid Jones and senior lineman Malachi Valentine lead the Spartans defense.
Group 3 South/Central Bowl Game, 1 p.m.
Woodrow Wilson (9-3) vs. Rumson-Fair Haven (9-2)
Woodrow Wilson won its first sectional title since 2001 with a 22-14 victory over top-seeded and undefeated Burlington Twp. on Nov. 17.
The Tigers, who lost to rival Camden, 39-28, on Thanksgiving morning, are led by senior quarterback Nick Kargman, who has put together the most prolific passing season in South Jersey history. Kargman already has set South Jersey records for touchdown passes in a game (eight), passing yards in a game (539), passing attempts in a season (417) and completions in a season (239), per research by South Jersey historian Chuck Langerman.
Kargman also is on the brink of breaking Devin Leary's two-year-old record of 3,688 passing yards in a season. Kargman enters Saturday's game with 3,666 and needs just 23 to set a new mark, although he will have done it in an unprecedented 13 games.
Kargman has thrown 38 touchdown passes. His favorite receivers have been seniors Stanley King (72 catches, 1,339 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Naiem Simmons (53 catches, 828 yards, eight touchdowns) as well as junior Fadil Diggs (29 catches, 410 yards, five touchdowns).
Junior two-way standout Muheem McCargo has rushed for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns and also leads the Woodrow Wilson defense with 95 tackles.
Rumson Fair-Haven is one of Central Jersey's most accomplished programs. The Bulldogs have won five sectional titles in the last six seasons, capturing the Central Jersey Group 3 title this season with a 42-35 win over Somerville. Alex Maldijan rushed 50 times for 281 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Maldijan has 1,576 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns this season.
Rumson quarterback Collin Coles is 91-for-160 passing for 1,222 yards and 13 touchdowns. Linebacker Keegan Woods leads the defense with 167 tackles.
Group 2 South/Central Bowl Game, 4 p.m.
Haddonfield (12-0) vs. Hillside (11-0)
Haddonfield has a chance to join Penns Grove as the first two teams in South Jersey history to finish 13-0.
This is an interesting matchup. Haddonfield has the state's longest winning streak at 16 games. Hillside is second at 15 games. Haddonfield has won back-to-back sectional titles. Hillside has won back-to-back sectional titles. Haddonfield won the crown this season as a top seed after capturing the title as a No. 6 seed in 2017. Hillside won the crown this season as a top seed after capturing the title as a No. 7 seed in 2017.
Haddonfield is led by quarterback Jay Foley, who is 91-for-156 passing for 1,591 yards and 23 touchdowns. Foley also has run for 323 yards and six touchdowns.
Chris Brown has rushed for 797 yards and six touchdowns for Haddonfield. He also returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the sectional final vs. Camden. John Foley, Jay's twin, is a top wide receiver and defensive back. He has 20 catches for 407 yards and six touchdowns as well as four interceptions. Davis Smith has 20 catches for 465 yards and seven touchdowns, and Drew Gavranich has six touchdown catches.
Smith, Gabe Klaus and Lewis Evans lead the Haddonfield defense. Smith has five interceptions. Klaus has 88 tackles and 10 sacks, and Evans has 114 tackles.
Hillside's Gavin Melendez is 80-for-124 passing for 1,725 yards and 20 touchdowns. Shadon Willis has 23 catches for 589 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Comets have a balanced rushing attack, as Brian Ugwu has 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns and James Louis has 918 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Group 4 South/Central Bowl Game, 7 p.m.
Shawnee (6-6) vs. Long Branch (11-1)
Shawnee entered the South Jersey Group 4 tournament as the No. 4 seed, with a 2-6 record. But the Renegades have won four in a row – including a Thanksgiving morning clash with school-district rival Lenape – to enter the "bowl season" as one of the state's more intriguing teams.
Shawnee was 0-4 in October. The Renegades were 4-0 in November.
This "bowl game" is in December, so it's a new month for the Renegades. This final matchup of the two-weekend championship gathering at MetLife Stadium also will mark the 13th consecutive week that Shawnee has played a game (since the Renegades didn't play "Zero Week," didn't have a bye, and played on Thanksgiving). That's a grind.
Shawnee has gotten a big boost from freshman quarterback Matt Welsey, who is 46-for-82 passing for 548 yards and six touchdowns in five games as a starter. His emergence has allowed all-purpose standout Joe Dalsey to move to running back and focus more on defense as a linebacker as well as his kicking duties.
Dalsey has run for 13 touchdowns. He also made the game-winning field goal in a 17-14, double-overtime victory over Clearview in the sectional finals.
J.C. Dobis leads Shawnee's front line and Jon Searcy is a top two-way player, with 40 catches for 527 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver and six interceptions as a linebacker/defensive back.
Long Branch's lone loss was to undefeated Non-Public 3 champion Red Bank Catholic. The Green Wave beat Brick Twp., 21-14, in the Central Jersey Group 4 title game.
Long Branch has a balanced offense, as Marc Dennis is 79-for-113 passing for 1,213 yards and 17 touchdowns (with just one interception) and Jermaine Corbett, a speedy junior with a Rutgers offer, has rushed for 1,783 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Luke Arnold leads the Green Wave defense with 124 tackles.