• Kevin Emmons

NJSIAA public sectional semifinals matchups to watch in South Jersey

Kingsway's Darrell Brown, Jr. attempts to shed a tackle by Cherokee's Brian Mitchell in Marlton on Friday, October 18, 2022. The Dragons won, 35-21. Ryan Fuhs/D2 Sports Network


The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association high school football public sectional semifinals have arrived, with 40 teams left throughout Central and South Jersey still pushing for a state championship. This week features highly anticipated rematches, Cinderella stories and a host of teams looking to keep their unblemished records intact. Here's a look at five intriguing matchups coming up this weekend, plus a full group-by-group schedule:


Cherokee (4-5 record) at Kingsway (6-3), Friday, 6 pm


The Dragons emerged victorious with a 35-21 win over Cherokee on October 18. Veteran quarterback Nate Maiers completed eight out of 11 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and rushed for a pair of scores. Tight end Luke Van Brill went off for 121 receiving yards and a touchdown. Senior Darrell Brown, Jr. rushed 14 times for 62 yards and a score. D.J. DiPietro established a presence on defense with a team-high 10 tackles and two tackles for loss.

The Chiefs were able to battle and even the score at 14-14 in the second quarter, despite competing without starting quarterback Ryan Bender and All-State running back Brandon "Bam" Boria.


The Dragons left no doubt with 21 unanswered points to create a 35-14 advantage in the final stanza.


Bender returned from injury to deliver 96 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 9-for-12 passing in the Chiefs' 45-14 win over Williamstown last Friday. The junior also ran for 50 yards and a pair of scores. Kevin Pacan, filling in for Boria, rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown. Cameron Burti reeled in five receptions for 77 yards and two touchdowns.


Kingsway cruised past Southern, 35-6, in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 5 playoffs. Maiers racked up 232 passing yards and five total touchdowns. Benny Liles III reeled in a team-high 84 receiving yards and a touchdown. Brown, Jr.'s game-high five receptions netted 72 yards and three touchdowns.


A rematch for a rematch?


A win for the Dragons could likely pit them against top-seeded Toms River North in the South Jersey Group 5 final. Kingsway won its first sectional championship since 2001 with a 21-14 win over the Mariners in last year's S.J. Group 5 championship.


Cherokee has redemption on its mind.


A win for the Chiefs would secure the program's first sectional final appearance since 2019. Cherokee defeated the Dragons, 35-18, in the Central Jersey Group 5 final to advance to the inaugural NJSIAA South/Central Group 5 regional championship at Rutgers University.


This matchup's history runs deep.


Highland (6-4) at Seneca (9-0), Friday, 7 pm


After withstanding a dreaded 0-3 start, the Tartans proceeded to win six of their next seven games.


Highland throttled Manasquan, 32-7, in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs last Saturday. Angelo Rodriguez rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns while Connor Leary completed 10 out of 13 passes for 152 yards and a pair of scores. Avani Stewart hauled in five of Leary's passes for 107 yards and both scores. The victory catapulted the Tartans to their first sectional semifinals appearance since 2018.

Highland running back Angelo Rodriguez looks for a running lane and initiates a stiff arm against Rancocas Valley in Gloucester Township on Friday, October 21, 2022. Ryan Fuhs/D2 Sports Network


Top-seeded Seneca has cruised to its first sectional semifinals appearance since 2019 by averaging 34.6 points per game. Bill Fisher's squad earned quality wins over Paul VI, Cherry Hill West, Moorestown and Northern Burlington.


Senior Brayden Davis has completed 62.4% of his pass attempts this season for 1,037 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback has also run for 856 yards and 13 touchdowns. The senior scored five touchdowns in the Golden Eagles' 47-33 win over Somerville in the Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. His counterpart, Zac Fearon, has contributed 646 yards and 11 scores on the ground. The junior also has 266 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. Junior Jason Sheairs has been Davis' top target with 314 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Kyle Stickel and David Vacca also have three receiving touchdowns each.


Fearon also leads the defense with 81 tackles, five interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. Stickel leads the unit with six sacks. Pemberton transfer Jamar Warthen has contributed 77 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown via interception. Linebacker Tom Mikulski has secured a team-high four fumble recoveries to complement 72 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. Max Borton has five sacks, 43 tackles and three tackles for loss at linebacker.


A win for the Golden Eagles will secure their first sectional final appearance since 2006.


South Jersey football fans are guaranteed an all-South Jersey final in Central Jersey Group 3 as Friday night's winner will take on the winner of No. 2 Camden and sixth-seeded Cedar Creek next weekend.


Camden Eastside (4-4) at Delsea (9-0), Friday, 7 pm


After limping out of the gates to a 0-3 start, Camden Eastside has won four out of its last five games. The additions and returns of Florida commit Will Norman, four-star recruit William Love and Judah Anthony have benefited the Tigers both in the trenches and on the outside. Melik Brown's Tigers etched out wins over Willingboro, Burlington Township and Delran during the stretch. Their only loss since September 18 came at the hands of St. Augustine.


Quarterback Mahki Brunson completed 14 out of 23 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns in Eastside's 27-6 win over South Plainfield in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. Roger Brown rushed for a game-high 124 yards. Norman tallied a sack and Love reeled in a 25-yard touchdown catch. The latter of the two currently holds offers from Georgia, Ole Miss, Oregon, Texas A&M, Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State and Syracuse, among others. Anthony also caught a touchdown while defensive lineman Anthony Turlington snared an interception for a 22-yard touchdown and Terron Loyd returned a kickoff for a touchdown.


Delsea, the consensus No.1-ranked team in South Jersey, defeated Deptford, 48-13, in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals last Friday. South Jersey Sports Zone Player of the Year candidate Jared Schoppe rushed for three touchdowns in the triumph. Zach Maxwell added a pair of rushing scores.

The Crusaders are averaging 35.8 points per game and earned quality wins over Winslow, Ocean City, Kingsway, Cedar Creek, Hammonton and St. Joseph. Their recipe to success has been formulated on establishing leverage in the trenches and utilizing their rushing attack in Sal Marchese's traditional Wing-T offense. Schoppe, the Maxwell brothers and Wayne Adair provide Delsea with a balanced rushing quartet. Senior Ashton Blose is a two-way lineman that helps the operation flow smoothly. Blose also has 2.5 sacks on defense. Junior Dante McGrenehan leads the team with two interceptions.


On the contrary, Norman's return, aided by Turlington, Rashee Bell, and linebacker Fatim Diggs, could allow the Tigers to combat Delsea's approach with their ability to clog the gaps and neutralize the run. The secondary is loaded with juniors Julius Dominguez (four interceptions), Marshall Washington, and sophomore Montell Anderson, and can minimize the threat of a big play as the front lines generate pressure.


Delsea doesn't throw the ball often, but they are capable of doing so when needed. Zach Maxwell has completed nine out of 15 passes for 208 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. The junior went 4-for-4 for 105 yards in a 35-21 win over Winslow on September 9.


The Crusaders reached the South Jersey Group 3 final a season ago, falling to Cedar Creek, 30-13. Camden Eastside, formerly known as Woodrow Wilson, captured the Central Jersey Group 3 crown with a 28-6 victory over Rumson-Fair Haven.


Friday night will determine which program will get to experience their second straight sectional final.


Burlington Township (4-6) at Hopewell Valley (9-0), 7 pm


Burlington Township football coach Tom Maderia embraced for a rebuild after losing 18 out of 22 starters following the 2021-22 school year.


So far, the Falcons are ahead of schedule.


Burlington Township, along with Long Branch, was the lowest seed to advance in any of the Central and South Jersey public sectional brackets last weekend. The seventh-seeded Falcons cruised past No. 2 Ocean Township, 34-7, in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals. Naquan Jones exploded for 173 rushing yards and a pair of scores. Quarterback Baron Davis completed four out of seven passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak and handed the Spartans their first loss of 2022.


Maderia's squad will be tasked with fending off another undefeated team on Friday.


Hopewell Valley defeated Matawan, 34-21, to advance to the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals and improve its record to 9-0. Quarterback Tim McKeown threw for 100 yards and scored four (three passing, one rushing) touchdowns in the victory. Derek Van Brunt tallied 146 rushing yards, while Landon Schafer added a pair of scores on the ground. On defense, David Ellis racked up a team-high 13 tackles to complement a sack, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.


The 4-6 Falcons were battle-tested during the regular season with losses against Pennsauken, Delsea, Camden Eastside, Winslow and Willingboro. Burlington Township also notched a statement win over neighboring rival Rancocas Valley on September 23.


Four out of the six aforementioned teams will be competing in their respective sectional semifinals this weekend. Two of them - Camden Eastside and Delsea - will be going head-to-head for a spot in the South Jersey Group 3 final.


A win for Burlington Township on Friday night would garner a chance for redemption. After all, a sectional championship appearance isn't a bad start for a rebuild.


Glassboro (7-2) at Salem (6-4), Saturday, 12 pm


When's the last time the Bulldogs beat Salem?


Jamir Jenkins tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Imon Golden and Tameer Kizee in a 24-22 win in 2016. Golden also returned a kickoff for a 79-yard touchdown and Kizee ran for a five-yard score.


Current Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns for Salem in the two-point setback.


Tim Hagerty's squad will seek victory lane again on Saturday afternoon after dropping four straight matchups to the Rams. Since 2017, Salem is 4-0 against the Rams by a combined score of 123-33.


Glassboro is currently riding a five-game win streak following a 22-16 overtime loss to Woodstown on September 23.


Freshman sensation Amari Sabb leads the offense with 725 rushing yards, eight touchdowns (six rushing, two receiving) and 136 receiving yards. Sabb, the brother of Michigan safety Keon Sabb, currently holds offers from Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss, Oregon and Penn State. Quarterback Jhaisir Harden has accumulated 545 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. The senior also has thrown for 545 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Senior Zaivon Burt-Graves has 640 yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns.


Defensive end Caron Wright leads the unit with 10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Freshman defensive tackle Brandon Simmons, Jr. also anchors the Bulldogs' defensive front with 6.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. Senior Carter Kensil has a team-high 90 tackles to complement 12 tackles for loss. Freshman Jerome Foster has 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, and Damere Lassiter has three sacks, five tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. Sabb also maneuvers in the secondary and leads Glassboro with four interceptions.


After a three-game skid, Salem bounced back with wins over Woodbury and Florence. Jahki Coates tossed a 72-yard touchdown and ran for a pair of scores in the statement victory over the Thundering Herd on October 22. The Rams' 49-0 triumph over Florence secured a sectional semifinal berth for the sixth time since 2016.

Coates powers the offense with his dual threat ability. The senior has scored 23 touchdowns (13 passing, 10 rushing) to complement 1,105 passing yards, 527 rushing yards and 39 tackles on defense. Ramaji Bundy has been his top target with 386 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Senior Anthony Selby has 301 receiving yards and three touchdowns.


Senior Amare Smith is a menace off the edge with 46.5 tackles, nine sacks, seven tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception return touchdown. Two-way interior lineman Benjamin Pittman complements Smith's explosiveness with overwhelming power. The senior has a team-best 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Junior Detric Simmons has 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.


What do Glassboro and Salem have in common?


Both teams fell to Woodstown during the regular season. The winner of Saturday's bout could likely see the Wolverines in the Central Jersey Group 1 final.


Get your popcorn ready.


Schedule


South Jersey Group 1


(5) Shore at (1) Woodbury, Saturday, 10:30 am

(3) Maple Shade at (2) Asbury Park, Friday, 6 pm


South Jersey Group 2


(4) Pleasantville at (1) Raritan, Friday, 7 pm

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


South Jersey Group 3


(5) Camden Eastside at (1) Delsea, Friday, 7 pm

(7) Burlington Township at (3) Hopewell Valley, Friday, 7 pm


South Jersey Group 4


(4) Shawnee at (1) Hammonton, Friday, 6 pm

(3) Jackson Memorial at (2) Millville, Friday, 6 pm


South Jersey Group 5


(4) Marlboro at (1) Toms River North, Friday, 6:30 pm

(3) Cherokee at (2) Kingsway, Friday, 6 pm


Central Jersey Group 1


(4) Paulsboro at (1) Woodstown, Friday, 7 pm

(3) Glassboro at (2) Salem, Saturday, 12 pm


Central Jersey Group 2


(4) Willingboro at (1) Point Pleasant Borough, Friday, 7 pm

(3) Gloucester at (2) Haddonfield, Friday, 7 pm


Central Jersey Group 3


(5) Highland at (1) Seneca, Friday, 7 pm

(6) Cedar Creek at (2) Camden, Friday, 6 pm


Central Jersey Group 4


(5) Winslow at (1) Middletown South, Friday, 7 pm

(7) Long Branch at (3) Mainland, Friday, 6 pm


Central Jersey Group 5


(5) Atlantic City at (1) Lenape, Friday, 7 pm

(6) Edison at (2) North Brunswick, Friday, 7 pm

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