• Kevin Emmons

NJSIAA opening round playoff games to watch in South Jersey

The Rancocas Valley Regional High School football team takes the field against Highland in Gloucester Township on Friday, October 21, 2022. Ryan Fuhs/D2 Sports Network

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association high school football playoffs have arrived. Here's a look at five intriguing matchups coming up this weekend, plus a full group-by-group schedule:

Cedar Creek (3-6 record) at Timber Creek (6-3), Friday, 6 pm

The matchup has already been dubbed, 'the Battle of the Creeks.' The Pirates of Egg Harbor City and the Chargers of Gloucester Township square off in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs in Erial on Friday.

Cedar Creek sits at 3-6 following a 28-7 loss to Winslow. The defending South Jersey Group 3 regional champions are battle-tested, losing three of their last five games to state title contenders Delsea, St. Joseph (Hammonton) and Salem.

Mekhi Harvey leads the ground attack with 652 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Billy Smith has thrown for 1,530 yards, eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The junior has also added 202 yards and a pair of scores on the ground. Alim Parks has been his top target with 42 catches for 702 yards and five scores. Darius Benjamin (38 receptions, 315 yards, two touchdowns) and Zaire Pilgrim (24 receptions, 317 yards, two touchdowns) have also been heavily involved in the passing game.

Mike Sears leads the defense with 71 tackles, three fumble recoveries and 11 tackles for loss. Malik Moore-Summers has contributed a team-high 4.5 sacks along with 50 tackles. Linebacker Justin Castillo has racked up 61 tackles and 10 for a loss.

Timber Creek improved its record to 6-3 with a 20-6 victory over Eastern last Friday. The triumph ended a three-game skid that included losses to Highland, Hammonton and Williamstown.

Quarterback Victor Oquendo has paced the Chargers' offense under center with 1,257 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Senior Nasir Reason-Dallas (427 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) and junior Chase Conway (390 rushing yards, touchdown) power a two-headed rushing attack that has combined for nine touchdowns. Monmouth commit Zyheem-Coleman Frazier has emerged as Timber Creek's top playmaker accumulating 395 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns and two rushing scores.

Brahim Wynn has been a menace pursuing opposing passers off the edge. The junior has racked up 12.5 sacks, 45 tackles, five tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Sophomore Amir Reason-Dallas leads the unit with 58 tackles, a pair of fumble recoveries and has snared two interceptions. Marcus Upton and Isaiah Clay have two interceptions each.

If the seeds hold in Central Jersey Group 3, a matchup will loom against second-seeded Camden in the sectional semifinals on November 4.

The Pirates defeated Camden, 31-23, in the Central Jersey Group 2 final in 2019. The victory offset a 42-41 loss to the Panthers earlier in the campaign.

Camden is also led by former Timber Creek coach Robert Hinson. Hinson directed the Chargers to six sectional final appearances (seven in total) and four South Jersey titles in a five-year span from 2011 to 2016. He also accumulated a 114-43 record during his tenure.

Get your popcorn ready.

Ocean City (2-6) at Shawnee (5-4), Friday, 6 pm

Ocean City and Shawnee tend to run into each other when the stakes are high.

In the last meeting between the two programs, the Renegades stormed to a 28-0 victory to capture the South Jersey Group 4 title in 2019.

Tim Gushue's squad will host Ocean City in the South Jersey Group 4 quarterfinals in Medford on Friday.

The Red Raiders have suffered five consecutive losses to Hammonton, Millville, St. Joseph, Winslow and Delsea. Ocean City also has notable wins over Mainland and Cedar Creek, and its brutal West Jersey Football League Independence Division schedule has it primed for playoff football.

Quarterback Riley Gunnels has paced the offense with 1,229 passing yards, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The senior has evenly distributed his passes to the trio of Pat Lonergan (19 receptions, 417 yards, touchdown), Jack Hoag (25 receptions, 361 yards, three touchdowns) and John Moyer (20 receptions, 229 yards, touchdown). Duke Guenther leads the rushing attack with 328 yards. The senior's 29-yard score proved to be the difference in the Red Raiders' 21-20 triumph over rival Mainland on September 1.

Ricky Wetzel leads the defense with a pair of interceptions. Ocean City's defense held St. Joseph and Winslow to a combined 13 points in eight quarters.

The Renegades are rolling on all cylinders after notching back-to-back wins over Washington Township and Williamstown. The victory over the Minutemen ceased a four-game losing streak that featured setbacks to Cherokee, Winslow, St. Augustine and Millville.

Quarterback Joe Papa has been a Jack-of-all-trades for Shawnee. The junior has racked up 1,145 passing yards, 666 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns (seven passing, 14 rushing). Nick Rusinski has rushed for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Jimmy Potter has added 323 yards and a score on the ground. Ethan Krauss (27 catches, 440 yards, two touchdowns) and tight end Liam Gilmore (22 catches, 314 yards, touchdown) have been Papa's top two targets. Krauss also leads the defense with three interceptions, while Potter has racked up 56 tackles and a forced fumble.

Josh Peluse has also powered the Renegades with a team-high 85 tackles and three sacks. Junior Eric Bill has registered 34 tackles and two sacks.

The winner of Friday night's contest could potentially face top-seeded Hammonton in the sectional semifinals. Ocean City fell to the Blue Devils, 28-14, last Friday. Shawnee has defeated Hammonton twice in the playoffs over the past three seasons, including a 34-0 triumph in the inaugural South Jersey Group 4 regional championship at Rutgers University in 2019.

Atlantic City (6-1) at Rancocas Valley (6-3), Friday, 6 pm

Atlantic City has ridden its current four-game winning streak to a playoff berth for the first time since 2016. The Vikings will visit fourth-seeded Rancocas Valley in the Central Jersey Group 5 quarterfinals in Mount Holly on Friday.

With wins over Oakcrest, Bridgeton, Egg Harbor Township, Deptford, Absegami and Clearview, the Vikings have won six games in single season for the first time since 2017. From 2018 to 2021, Atlantic City went 6-30.

Keenan Wright's offensive group is led by running back Allen Packard. The senior has tallied 696 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Packard ran for 228 yards and a pair of scores in the Vikings' lone setback to Central Jersey Group 4 title contender Mainland. Junior Dre Rooks has also contributed 229 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Joe Lyons has completed 72 out of 126 passes for 996 yards and 11 touchdowns. The junior also has five interceptions. Sophomore Sah'nye Degraffanreidtt has reeled in a team-high 31 receptions for 510 yards and seven touchdowns. Shawn Williams has 12 catches for 201 yards and Nasir Turner has snagged seven passes for 134 yards and two scores.

Defensively, sophomore Raul Cabrera has charted a team-best five sacks to complement 21 tackles, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He also returned an interception for a touchdown in a 27-16 win over Deptford. Junior Shareef Williams has contributed a team-high 39 tackles, five tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. Ronnie Lawson has also been disruptive with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Tyliqk Sims has 37 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.

Rancocas Valley reached the playoffs for the first time since 2018 under first-year coach Garrett Lucas. This season, the program has experienced its highs and lows in groups of three. A 3-0 start with wins over Williamstown, Paterson Eastside and Eastern was followed up by a three-game skid. The Red Devils fell to Timber Creek, Burlington Township and Hammonton, before reeling off a three-game winning streak to conclude the regular season. RV made a statement with a 46-42 triumph over Highland last Friday. Jase Deiter threw for 246 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another 106 yards and three touchdowns. Brody Deiter hauled in five catches for 136 yards.

Jerimya Paula has fueled the Red Devils' rushing attack with 615 yards and five touchdowns this season. Jase Deiter (390 yards), Kevin Burr (344 yards), Malachi Castle (324 yards) and Montre Wilson (200 yards) have helped contribute to 1,956 total yards on the ground in 2022. Brody Deiter leads the team in receiving yards (578) and receiving touchdowns (four), and Jameir Rollins has caught 19 passes for 313 and two touchdowns.

Rancocas Valley's Montre Wilson looks towards the sideline in a game against Highland in Gloucester Township on Friday, October 21, 2022. Wilson's 200 rushing yards have helped the Red Devils accumulate 1,956 yards on the ground in 2022. Ryan Fuhs/D2 Sports Network

Defensively, Castle has racked up five sacks, two forced fumbles and 50 tackles. Jase Deiter leads the unit with 95 tackles and two interceptions. Junior Damien Peterson has 69 tackles and three tackles for loss. Seniors Prince Williams (61 tackles) and Jaiden Sheridan (59 tackles) have combined for 120 tackles. Williams and Sheridan each have three tackles for loss.

Friday night's victor will face the winner of Lenape and Freehold Township in the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals. The Tribe is a familiar opponent for Rancocas Valley. The Red Devils notched a 28-7 win over Lenape in the 2018 South Jersey Group 5 semifinals after falling to the Indians, 10-7, in the sectional final on a field goal by Stephen Mulville with seven seconds left at Rowan University in 2017.

West Deptford (4-4) at Gloucester (6-2), Friday, 7 pm

Only 4.2 miles separate these two playoff foes.

Despite a disastrous 1-4 start, the Eagles responded with victories in three consecutive games to clinch a playoff berth. West Deptford sailed past Sterling, 70-6, before notching a 6-0 statement win over defending South Jersey Group 1 regional champion Salem.

Senior Lawrence Howard has powered the offense with 516 rushing yards and five touchdowns. David Davis has added 318 rushing yards and four scores. The Eagles' offense has accumulated 1,432 rushing yards in eight games. Junior Zack Gugel has snared a team-best three interceptions and is responsible for forcing a fumble. Gugel has scored two defensive touchdowns this season.

The Lions also concluded the regular season on a three-game winning streak. Gloucester earned a narrow 7-3 win over Deptford, before cruising past Sterling and Collingswood by a combined 79 points.

Junior running back Jake Zearfoss leads the offense with 1,059 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Mason Widman and Ibyn Obey also have three rushing touchdowns each. Obey has a team-high four interceptions on defense. Jake Seibert has directed an efficient passing attack with 509 yards, six touchdowns and one interception on 36-for-67 passing. Senior John Daily leads the Lions with 14 receptions, 254 receiving yards and a touchdown. Daily has three interceptions on defense. Trevin Burkhardt has caught two touchdowns.

Mason Jankowski has racked up a team-high 72 tackles. The senior also has two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Damere Finley leads the unit with five sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and Cody Gardzielik has tallied 57 tackles to go with two sacks and five tackles for loss. Junior Caidan Elmore is another contributor with three sacks and 40 tackles.

South Jersey football fans are guaranteed an all-South Jersey semifinal matchup in Central Jersey Group 2. The winner of Gloucester-West Deptford will challenge the winner of Haddonfield-Cinnaminson in the sectional semifinals next Friday.

Audubon (3-4) at Paulsboro (4-4), Saturday, 11 am

The Red Raiders scored 22 unanswered points and rallied from a 10-point deficit to defeat Audubon, 34-19, last Saturday. Quarterback Rocco Pellegrini scored three touchdowns and Damire Avant added two rushing scores.

A week later, Paulsboro will host the Green Wave in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 1 playoffs.

Under the direction of first-year coach Kevin Harvey, Paulsboro has won four out of its last five games with key triumphs over West Deptford, Penns Grove and Salem. Preston Moore is the Red Raiders' primary playmaker and is surrounded by a plethora of speed with wide receivers Javon Bagby and Jamile Gantt.

Junior Sharif Green leads the team in interceptions after picking off a pass for a touchdown in a 44-26 setback to Haddonfield on September 3. Senior Jordon Eli has registered 2.5 sacks and a pair of tackles for loss.

The Green Wave are led by deep-throwing signal caller Scott Lynch. The senior holds an offer from Maine and has accumulated 1,516 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. He also has six rushing scores. Senior Billy Lindemuth has corralled 30 receptions for a team-high 593 yards and two touchdowns. Luke Hoke has generated a team-best 461 rushing yards to complement 30 receptions for 363 yards and two scores. Amauri Pimentel has hauled in four touchdown catches, including the game-winning score in a 29-23 win over Gloucester City.

The Green Wave defense is led by senior Charlie Grady. Grady has tallied a team-best 55 tackles and two forced fumbles. The senior also has 8.5 tackles for loss. Junior Jacob Holland has also contributed 32 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Hoke leads the unit with a pair of interceptions.

The winner of Paulsboro-Audubon will face the winner of Woodstown-Schalick in the Central Jersey Group 1 semifinals.


South Jersey Group 1

(8) Penns Grove at (1) Woodbury, Saturday, 10:30 am

(5) Shore at (4) Manville, Friday, 7 pm

(6) South Hunterdon at (3) Maple Shade, Friday, 6 pm

(7) Pitman at (2) Asbury Park, Saturday, 11 am

South Jersey Group 2

(8) Middle Township at (1) Raritan, Friday, 7 pm

(5) Johnson at (4) Pleasantville, Friday, 7 pm

(6) Delaware Valley at (3) Oakcrest, Saturday, 12 pm

(7) Monmouth at (2) Rumson-Fair Haven, Friday, 7 pm

South Jersey Group 3

(8) Deptford at (1) Delsea, Friday, 7 pm

(5) Camden Eastside at (4) South Plainfield, Friday, 7 pm

(6) Matawan at (3) Hopewell Valley, Friday, 7 pm

(7) Burlington Township at (2) Ocean Township, Friday, 7 pm

South Jersey Group 4

(8) Hightstown at (1) Hammonton, Friday, 6 pm

(5) Ocean City at (4) Shawnee, Friday, 6 pm

(6) Manalapan at (3) Jackson Memorial, Friday, 6:30 pm

(7) Lacey at (2) Millville, Friday, 6 pm

South Jersey Group 5

(8) Old Bridge at (1) Toms River North, Friday, 6 pm

(5) Washington Township at (4) Marlboro, Saturday, 12 pm

(6) Williamstown at (3) Cherokee, Friday, 6 pm

(7) Southern at (2) Kingsway, Friday, 6 pm

Central Jersey Group 1

(8) Schalick at (1) Woodstown, Friday, 7 pm

(5) Audubon at (4) Paulsboro, Saturday, 11 am

(6) Keyport at (3) Glassboro, Friday, 6 pm

(7) Florence at (2) Salem, Saturday, 12 pm

Central Jersey Group 2

(8) Overbrook at (1) Point Pleasant Borough, Friday, 7 pm

(5) New Providence at (4) Willingboro, Friday, 7 pm

(6) West Deptford at (3) Gloucester, Friday, 7 pm

(7) Cinnaminson at (2) Haddonfield, Friday, 7 pm

Central Jersey Group 3

(8) Somerville at (1) Seneca, Friday, 7 pm

(5) Highland at (4) Manasquan, Saturday, 1 pm

(6) Cedar Creek at (3) Timber Creek, Friday, 6 pm

(7) Nottingham at (2) Camden, Friday, 6 pm

Central Jersey Group 4

(8) Cherry Hill West at (1) Middletown South, Friday, 7 pm

(5) Winslow at (4) Colts Neck, Saturday, 12 pm

(6) Moorestown at (3) Mainland, Friday, 6 pm

(7) Long Branch at (2) Pennsauken, Friday, 6 pm

Central Jersey Group 5

(8) Freehold Township at (1) Lenape, Friday, 7 pm

(5) Atlantic City at (4) Rancocas Valley, Friday, 6 pm

(6) Edison at (3) Hillsborough, Friday, 7 pm

(7) Hunterdon Central at (2) North Brunswick, Friday, 7 pm

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