Today and this weekend is one of the best times of the year on the high school calendar, as football teams are chasing down sectional championships, with the hope of winning two more games after this weekend to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming a state champion — something that has only been afforded to New Jersey prep football players for one year, since the playoffs were expanded in 2022.
Millville took full advantage of that last fall, as the Thunderbolts edged Hammonton to win the South Jersey Group 4 championship, then came back late to beat Mainland, 18-14, in the group semifinal before completing the task and winning a state championship with an 18-14 win over Northern Highlands.
The Bolts have spent this entire season as the No. 1 team in the South Jersey Glory Days/South Jersey Football Frenzy Show Best 11 rankings, but that could change tonight if Mainland, No. 2 in the rankings all year, can go on the road and score the upset in the South Jersey Group 4 championship (6 p.m. at Millville).
Here’s a quick look at all the public school sectional championships on tap for this weekend:
South Jersey Group 5: No. 3 Marlboro at No. 1 Cherokee, tonight at 6.
THE SKINNY: Cherokee has been one of the top teams in South Jersey all year, and even after star running back Bam Boria graduated the Chiefs haven’t skipped a beat. They are 8-2, their only losses a 3-0 setback to St. Augustine Prep and a 41-17 blowout loss to Millville a few weeks ago. Expect a lot of running in this game, as Murad Campfield has more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns while QB Ryan Bender has rushed for 600+ yards and 12 TDs. The Chiefs don’t throw the ball all that often, averaging only about eight attempts per game. If Cherokee can get an early lead they can grind down Marlboro with the running game.
South Jersey Group 4: No. 2 Mainland Regional at No. 1 Millville, tonight at 6.
THE SKINNY: This is the big one, the one every South Jersey football fan has been waiting all year for, the best two teams going at it for the right to move on. Mainland has to be smarting from last year’s loss, but this team has been laser focused all year long and won’t need any extra motivation. Mainland (11-0) has absolutely blitzed opponents this year, as only three teams have scored in double figures on the Stangs, and none of those games were close. Mainland has scored 35+ points in eight of 11 games and has topped 50 points four times. They get it done defensively, too, as the Stangs have forced nine fumbles and have 15 interceptions — half of which they’ve returned for touchdowns — and 32 sacks. If Mainland gets ahead early that’s going to spell trouble for Millville and QB Jacob Zamot, as Hunter Watson and Cohen Cook have combined for 12 sacks. Mainland’s secondary better be ready, though, because Zamot has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns — including 16 to Power 5 recruit Lotzeir Brooks. Turnovers and short fields could play a huge role in this game.
South Jersey Group 3: No. 3 Seneca at No. 1 Delsea Regional, tonight at 7.
THE SKINNY: This is Delsea’s section to lose. The Crusaders have been chewing up opponents and spitting them out ever since an early season setback to Winslow. Since that game they’ve scored at least 35 points in every contest but one. This game could be over in an hour, as Delsea only throws the ball about three or four times a game. The Crusaders have rushed for 3,134 yards on nearly 400 carries — so if Seneca has thoughts of an upset the Golden Eagles better be prepared to tackle the likes of Dan Russo and Wayne Adair about 50 times tonight.
South Jersey Group 2: No. 2 Haddonfield at No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven, tonight at 6.
THE SKINNY: This is a tough road trip for the Dawgs. Rumson is only 6-4 but has played a pretty tough schedule and has some quality wins, over the likes of Middletown South and Marlboro. Haddonfield’s only loss was an early October road game at Camden, and in the four games since then the Bulldogs have put up nearly 150 points. Dominic Hahn needs to have a good game and find the end zone, something he’s done 13 times this season.
South Jersey Group 1: No. 3 Woodbury at No. 1 Woodstown, tonight at 7.
THE SKINNY: Woodstown got beat up by Woodbury pretty good last year, so the Wolverines will be eager for some payback. Bryce Belinfanti has rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns, so look for Woodstown to try to establish the run game early to open things up for QB Max Webb. Woodbury typically plays early Saturday morning games, so it will be interesting to see how they come out in a late Friday night start.
Central Jersey Group 5: No. 2 Washington Township at No. 1 Toms River North, tonight at 6.
THE SKINNY: On paper, it looks like there’s not much of a chance for the Minutemen going against reigning New Jersey Player of the Year Micah Ford and the North offense, but this Washington Township team has had some magical mojo going on all year. They’ve lost just once — in overtime, to Holy Spirit — since a loss to Mainland at the Battle at the Beach, and included in seven-game win streak was a miraculous Hail Mary win over Winslow on the final play of the game. Sophomore QB Cole Aquino has come on strong since then and has more than 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. Look for senior Jared Dzierzgowski to have a big impact on this game, on both sides of the ball.
Central Jersey Group 4: No. 6 Long Branch at No. 1 Winslow, tonight at 6.
THE SKINNY: It would be surprising if Winslow didn’t roll in this one. The Eagles have some of the best athletes in South Jersey and are out to prove they belong at the top of the rankings. Since that heartbreaking loss to Washington Township, Winslow has ripped off four straight wins and has scored nearly 80 points in the playoffs already.
Central Jersey Group 3: No. 4 Cedar Creek at No. 3 Camden, Saturday at noon.
THE SKINNY: Cedar Creek was one of the few teams to knock off a No. 1 seed as the Pirates took down Timber Creek last weekend, but Camden presents a whole different challenge. The Panthers have three running backs with at least 150 yards this season, use two quarterbacks and can throw to any one of nine receivers. The stats aren’t mind blowing, but that’s because a lot of Camden’s games have been blowouts. The key here for Cedar Creek will be limiting turnovers and leaning on sophomore running back Aamir Dunbar, who has had a breakout season as a running back with nearly 1,300 yards and nine TDs.
Central Jersey Group 2: No. 2 Willingboro at No. 1 Point Pleasant Boro, tonight at 7.
THE SKINNY: A long road trip for the Chimeras, but Willingboro has been on the road eight times this season and is 6-2 in those games. Sophomore Lamar Best (2,209 yards, 33 TDs) will have to be at his best, as the Panthers have allowed more than 14 points in only four of their 10 games this season.
Central Jersey Group 1: No. 3 Glassboro at No. 1 Schalick, tonight at 7.
THE SKINNY: Four years ago, Schalick was winless, and now the Cougars are playing for a sectional title, at home. They have to be wary of getting too excited and out of sorts in the first quarter. Xavier Sabb is a big play threat as a freshman, and he could make a huge impact in this game, especially in the return game — although Schalick would probably be content with knocking every kickoff out of bounds and giving Glassboro the ball at the 35-yard line rather than risk kicking it to Sabb.
NON-PUBLICS: Holy Spirit, the No. 4 seed, has to go on the road tonight and take on No. 1 Red Bank Catholic in the Non-Public B semifinals. The Caseys are 18-3 the past two seasons and beat Holy Spirit 50-21 in this same round a year ago. The Non-Public A brackets are in the quarterfinals, with No. 5 St. Augustine Prep going on the road Saturday night to No. 4 Donovan Catholic, and No. 8 Paul VI traveling up to No. 1 Bergen Catholic for a 1 p.m. start on Saturday.
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.