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H.S. football: NJSIAA South Jersey public state semifinals preview

Camden's Taquan Brittingham (2) scored two touchdowns in the Panthers' 21-0 win over Seneca in the Central Jersey Group 3 final in Tabernacle on Saturday, November 12, 2022. Joshua Guirguis/D2 Sports Network

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's inaugural high school football public state semifinals have arrived. 10 sectional champions have been crowned in Central and South Jersey, but only five will be granted the opportunity to advance to Rutgers University's SHI Stadium to compete for a highly coveted state championship.

All South Jersey state semifinals games will be played at Cherokee High School in Evesham on Saturday and Sunday. Here's a breakdown of each game, including dates and times, players to watch, matchup history and state title implications:

Group 1

Salem (8-4 record) at Woodbury (9-2), Saturday, 10:30 am

The Rams repeated as Central Jersey Group 1 champions with a 33-14 win over Paulsboro last Saturday. Jahki Coates completed eight out of 12 pass attempts for 125 yards and three touchdowns. The senior also rushed for 79 yards and a score. Zaheim Jones fueled the ground attack with 20 rushes for 129 yards. 2022 South Jersey Sports Zone Preseason All-South Jersey First Team wide receiver Ramaji Bundy hauled in three receptions for 76 yards. The junior also snared an interception on defense. Sophomore Omarion Pierce caught four passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns.

Amare Smith powered the Rams' defense with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack. Ben Pittman added seven tackles and a tackle for loss. Detric Simmons tallied two sacks.

Woodbury thundered past Maple Shade, 36-6, in the South Jersey Group 1 final last Saturday. The Thundering Herd captured their second sectional title in as many seasons. Southpaw Bryan Johnson completed 11 out of 19 pass attempts for 221 yards, two touchdowns and added a nine-yard rushing score. Anthony Reagan, Jr. rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown. The junior currently holds offers from Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Reagan, Jr. used a pair of 24-yard runs to set up a six-yard rushing score by Ja'Bron Solomon. Freshman Ibn Muhammad reeled in three receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Jayden Johnson added two receptions for 64 yards.

Woodbury coach Anthony Reagan hoists the South Jersey Group 1 trophy after his team defeated Maple Shade, 36-6, in the sectional final in Woodbury on Saturday, November 12, 2022. Kiersten Cowgill/D2 Sports Network

The Thundering Herd watched a 20-7 lead vanish in a setback to Salem on October 22. Coates scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to deliver the gut punch. Smith was ferocious off the edge with nine tackles, three sacks and a tackle for loss. Reagan, Jr. was a bright spot for Woodbury with 106 yards and a touchdown. Solomon reeled in two catches for 54 yards and a pair of scores, and Derron Moore powered the defense with a game-high 12 tackles and two sacks.

The Rams also prevailed in last year's NJSIAA South/Central Group 1 regional final with a 34-8 win over Woodbury. Coates scored three touchdowns in the triumph.

The Thundering Herd plan to use their experience as a tool to prepare for Saturday's heavyweight matchup. Anthony Reagan's squad has adjusted its approach and knows the proper mentality can lead to success in its third rodeo with Salem.

On the contrary, Montrey Wright's squad has hit its stride, hungry for more and knows what it takes. A championship has become the standard for Salem and the objective is to bring the celebration back to Walnut Street.

Get your popcorn ready. This one could be a classic.

The winner of Saturday's showdown will advance to face the winner of Mountain Lakes and Weequahic in the NJSIAA Group 1 state final at Rutgers University.

Group 2

Willingboro (6-5) at Rumson-Fair Haven (7-4), Sunday, 11 am

The Chimeras captured their third sectional title since 2018 behind a three-touchdown performance by freshman quarterback Lamar Best. Best completed 10 out of 15 pass attempts for 169 yards as Willingboro cruised past Gloucester, 20-7, in the Central Jersey Group 2 final last Friday. Khamaad Rice reeled in a pair of touchdowns from Best. Jarelle Taylor, Jr. caught three passes for 63 yards and a score, and Jayson Harris added a team-high four receptions for 49 yards. Derrick Bryant powered the rushing attack with 67 yards on the ground.

Taylor also intercepted a pair of passes on defense. Goddyr Holloway charted two sacks and Karim Nasser added a tackle for a loss.

The Chimeras have won five straight contests since a heartbreaking 31-28 loss to Pennsauken on October 7. Steve Everette's squad reeled off wins against Nottingham, Burlington Township, New Providence, Point Pleasant Borough and Gloucester to help offset a 1-5 start.

Rumson-Fair Haven rallied from a 17-point deficit to upend Raritan, 34-27, in double overtime in the South Jersey Group 2 final last Friday. The Bulldogs trailed 27-10 entering the fourth quarter.

Scott Venancio caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Cole Cashion. Venancio finished with seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Cashion also reeled in three receptions for 77 yards and a score, in addition to delivering the game-winning strike. Nick Rigby emerged as RFH's leading receiver with a game-high 11 receptions for 103 yards. Alastair Orr powered the ground attack with 91 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Luke Mikolajczyk led the Bulldogs with 18 tackles. Marshall Halfacre racked up eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 0.5 sacks. Julien Devlin contributed 5.5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Beau Kemler intercepted a pass and totaled seven tackles as Reed Elsas exploded for 14 tackles and two tackles for loss.

Rumson-Fair Haven has won three straight contests since a 42-14 loss to Shore Conference juggernaut Red Bank Catholic. The Bulldogs have played in a sectional championship in every season since 2013.

The winner of Sunday's contest will advance to face the victor of Caldwell and Westwood in the NJSIAA Group 2 state final at Rutgers University.

Group 3

Camden (10-1) at Delsea (11-0), Saturday, 2 pm

1989 Camden graduate Robert Hinson directed the Panthers to their first sectional title since 1976 with a 21-0 win over Seneca last Saturday. Jahmye Tyson scored on a fumble recovery and Taquan Brittingham added two touchdowns as Camden posted its third consecutive shutout. West Virginia commit James Heard, Jr. recorded three sacks as the Panthers' defense forced six turnovers. Monmouth commit Israel Clark-White powered the offense with 99 yards on the ground.

Monmouth commit Israel Clark-White looks for a running lane against Seneca in the Central Jersey Group 3 final in Tabernacle on Saturday, November 12, 2022. Camden won, 21-0. Joshua Guirguis/D2 Sports Network

Camden has won 10 games in a row since a season-opening loss to Chardon (OH) and has only surrendered 18 points in its last seven games.

Delsea won its first sectional title since 2017 with a convincing 44-7 win over Hopewell Valley last Saturday. Wayne Adair exploded for 136 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The senior leads the Crusaders with 1,164 rushing yards this season. Jared Schoppe, a 175-pound wrestling state finalist, added 85 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Schoppe has 1,032 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground this season.

Linebacker Danny DiGiovacchino leads Delsea with 82 tackles to complement 11 tackles for loss. Ashton Blose is an imposing force up front that leads the Crusaders with 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Blose's 67 tackles rank second on the team. Luke Maxwell has contributed 52 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and a sack. Schoppe has showcased his power on defense as well with 53 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks.

Delsea has won 27 out of its last 29 games since 2020. The Crusaders earned statement wins over Winslow, Ocean City, Kingsway, Hammonton, St. Joseph and Camden Eastside this season. Legendary coach Sal Marchese, Jr. runs a Wing-T offense and makes it difficult for opponents to read keys and adjust to the pace of the Crusaders' offense.

Camden and Delsea have split each of the previous two matchups in 2018 and 2019. Delsea edged the Panthers, 21-12, in the South Jersey Group 3 final in 2015.

The winner of Saturday's highly anticipated showdown between South Jersey's top two-ranked teams will advance to face the winner of Old Tappan and West Morris in the NJSIAA Group 3 state final at Rutgers University.

Group 4

Mainland (10-1) at Millville (11-0), Sunday, 2:30 pm

The Mustangs secured their first sectional crown since 2008 with a 34-24 win over Middletown South last Friday. Three-sport standout Cohen Cook rushed for 63 yards and scored two total touchdowns. Freshman John Franchini completed 50% of his pass attempts (5-for-10) for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Jamie Tyson was his top target with three receptions for 91 yards and a touchdown. Stephen Ordille rushed for an 11-yard touchdown and Villanova commit Ja'Briel Mace added 36 yards on the ground. Hunter Watson, the brother of Notre Dame forward Kylee Watson, recovered a fumble and eluded the Eagles for a 69-yard touchdown.

Mainland has won nine games in a row since a 21-20 loss to Ocean City on September 1 and is averaging 41.6 points per game.

Millville repeated as the South Jersey Group 4 champion with an 18-16, come-from-behind win against traditional Cape-Atlantic League foe Hammonton. The Thunderbolts marched 83 yards with no timeouts, capped by a four-yard scamper courtesy of Na'eem Sharp, to secure the win. Sharp accumulated 60 yards and two scores on the ground as Millville erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit.

Junior Jacob Zamot completed 19 out of 32 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore sensation Lotzeir Brooks hauled in eight receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown. Brooks currently holds offers from Georgia, Oregon, Texas A&M, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Syracuse, Rutgers, Nebraska, Boston College, West Virginia, Louisville, UConn and Temple. Ta'Ron Haile, Freddie Lavan III and Thomas Smith III combined for eight receptions for 63 yards. Haile currently holds offers from Penn State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Maryland, Boston College, West Virginia and Temple.

Kyon Conyers and Darian Blachewicz snared interceptions on defense. Bricere Hunter notched a sack.

The Thunderbolts have won each of the last five meetings in the series since 2012. Brooks reeled in three receptions for 99 yards and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in a 62-0 win in 2021.

The winner of Sunday's contest will advance to face the winner of North Hunterdon and Northern Highlands in the NJSIAA Group 4 state final at Rutgers University.

Group 5

Edison (9-3) at Toms River North (12-0), Saturday, 5:30 pm

The Eagles reached the Group 5 state semifinals via a 28-14 victory over Lenape in the Central Jersey Group 5 final last week. Edison captured its first sectional title since 1991. Senior quarterback Matt Yascko completed 11 out of 17 pass attempts for 92 yards and a touchdown. He added 172 yards and a score on the ground.

Selbin Sabio led the defensive effort with three tackles for loss and a sack. Sebastian Vera added two sacks and a tackle for loss. The Eagles' defense contained Lenape's Zyaire Fleming-Goffney to 73 rushing yards.

Toms River North advanced to the Group 5 state semifinals with a 48-14 triumph over Kingsway last Friday. Micah Ford posted a hat trick in the first quarter with a 26-yard interception return touchdown and a pair of rushing scores. Ford, who currently holds offers from Maryland and West Virginia, rushed for 264 yards and three touchdowns. The junior has 42 total touchdowns, 1,061 passing yards, 1,951 rushing yards, 66 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions this season. Josh Moore added 226 yards and two scores on the ground in the victory. Tareq Council returned an interception for a 90-yard touchdown and Ty Boland powered the Mariners' defense with 10 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. Anthony Rodriguez added nine tackles and a tackle for loss.

Ja’elyne Matthews, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive tackle, powers the Mariners up front and currently holds offers from Georgia, Ohio State, Tennessee, Penn State, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Miami, Rutgers, Boston College and UConn.

Toms River North throttled Edison, 48-7, in the South Jersey Group 5 semifinals last season. Ford scored four total touchdowns and Council reeled in two receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

The winner of Saturday's playoff contest will advance to face the victor of Passaic Tech and West Orange in the NJSIAA Group 5 state final at Rutgers University.

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