Playoff Predictions: Finals
By Tom Szieber
Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2016 11:00 pm
Check out Brian Carr's photo gallery from Wayne Hills' victory over West Morris.
(2) New Milford (8-2) vs. (1) Hasbrouck Heights (10-0)
New Milford running back Christian Correa is tough to contain, as illustrated by his 2,279 yards this year. Aviators QB Frank Quatrone is similarly dangerous on the ground, having churned 1,015 rushing yards in 2016.
The Pick: Hasbrouck Heights
(3) Shabazz (8-3) vs. (1) Weequahic (11-0)
Linebacker Messiah Williams’ first half blocked punt and safety were difference makers in the Indians’ Thanksgiving victory over the Bulldogs. The effort as a whole was nothing new for Weequahic’s D, which has held opponents to eight or fewer points seven times this year.
The Pick: Weequahic
(5) Asbury Park (7-4) vs. (3) Keyport (10-1)
The Bishops’ defense will need to do a better job on running back Devin Wollner than it did in the first meeting between these teams, when Wollner rushed for 152 Yards and Keyport won, 14-7. It may have been a “meaningless” Thanksgiving game, but Asbury will need to regroup quickly after a surprising loss to 3-7 Neptune.
The Pick: Keyport
(4) Salem (9-2) vs. (2) Paulsboro (9-2)
Quarterback Kyle Jones and running back Dehron Holloway comprise a backfield the likes of a which Salem will need a mistake-free effort to stop. The Rams, of course, have their own stud back in Johnathan Taylor, whose 2,625 rushing yards are the second-most in state history in a single season (behind now-defunct Netcong’s John Giannantonio’s 4,756 in 1950).
The Pick: Salem
(4) Westwood (9-2) vs. (2) Mahwah (10-1)
Mahwah defeated the Cardinals convincingly in the season opener, 24-6. Still the Cards have come a long way, largely due to QB Sean Hopkins, who has thrown for 2,011 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The Pick: Mahwah
(3) Lenape Valley (10-1) vs. (1) Madison (11-0)
The Patriots’ only loss was in a 45-42 barnburner to the Dodgers in week one. Dodgers quarterback Michael Kearney ran for a score and threw four more in that game, and has been a force throughout 2016.
The Pick: Madison
(5) Bernards (8-3) vs. (3) Manasquan (9-2)
Running backs Matt Tantleff (985 rush yards, 18 TD) and Marc Murphy (796 yards, 8 TD) give the Mountaineers a two-headed monster on the ground. The Warriors have valuable close-game experience, going 3-1 in games decided by seven or less this year.
The Pick: Bernards
(2) Cedar Creek (10-1) vs. (1) West Deptford (11-0)
Running backs Anthony Seas and Gio Gismondi give West Deptford arguably the most dangerous double-threat playing in finals weekend. Cedar Creek has defeated all of its past five opponents -- all of whom own 6-plus victories on the year.
The Pick: West Deptford
(4) Holy Spirit (9-2) vs. (2) Mater Dei Prep (11-0)
A sectional title would put a stamp on a remarkable turnaround for a Seraphs program that was in danger of shutting down not all that long ago. Holy Spirit linebacker Dante Daniel and a tough Spartans defense will have to be at its best against a high-octane Mater Dei offense that has failed to score 30 points just once.
The Pick: Holy Spirit
(4) Old Tappan (9-2) vs. (3) River Dell (9-2)
The Golden Hawks are feeling confident after avenging a midseason loss to Ramapo in the last round of the state tourney. Quarterback Jack Bilali shredded Sparta’s defense in the semis, and his leadership is big a reason the Golden Knights have won seven straight.
The Pick: Old Tappan
(4) Parsippany Hills (7-4) vs. (3) Morris Hills (8-3)
Par Hills QB Nick Verducci is an exceptional threat running the ball, as shown by his 173-yard, three-touchdown day against West Essex in the semifinals. Morris Hills is obviously a good team to be where it is, but its only wins over above-.500 opposition were over 6-4 High Point and 6-5 Orange.
The Pick: Parsippany Hills
(4) Rumson-Fair Haven (8-3) vs. (3) South Plainfield (8-3)
South Plainfield has been outscored 50-0 in three previous sectional finals appearances. The Tigers need to match physicality with running back Matt Vecchiarelli and the bruising Bulldogs O-line -- not an easy task.
The Pick: Rumson-Fair Haven
(3) Delsea (7-4) vs. (1) Wall (9-2)
A fifth consecutive title for Delsea would be the most in a row by a public school team since Wayne Hills accomplished the quintet of championships from 2004 to 2008. Delsea’s D will have its hands full with Crimson Knights running back Sean Larkin, who has racked up 1,349 yards and 23 yards this year (on 7.7 yards per carry).
The Pick: Wall
(2) DePaul (6-5) vs. (1) St. Joseph (Mont.) (8-2)
Linebacker Louis Acceus’ 93 tackles and 6.5 sacks are big reasons why Joe’s is competing for yet another Non-Public, Group 3 crown. DePaul is 0-9 versus the Green Knights since 2009.
The Pick: St. Joseph (Mont.)
(3) Wayne Valley (9-2) vs. (1) Wayne Hills (10-1)
Hills QB Brendan Devera’s 17-yard game-winning touchdown on a screen pass to receiver Tyler Hayek pushed the Pats past Valley by the slimmest of margins, 25-24, in late October. This one figures to be a shootout, as the Indians have their own gunslinger in Grant Ferrauilo, who has 3,073 yards and 37 touchdowns this season.
The Pick: Wayne Hills
(5) Sayreville (9-2) vs. (2) Middletown North (9-2)
The Bombers are 3-0 against Shore Conference opponents this year, and opened a lot of eyes with its 42-28 win over Middletown South in the sectional semis. Quarterback Donald Glenn and the Lions are one of the state’s hottest teams, riding high after wins over traditional Mid-State 38 power Summit and their cross-town rival Eagles on Thanksgiving.
The Pick: Middletown North
(2) Allentown (9-2) vs. (1) Brick Township (8-3)
The Redbirds have won eight straight behind multi-dimensional QB Jordan Winston. Save a slip-up against the state’s best public school team in Toms River North, the Green Dragons have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 23 points.
The Pick: Brick Township
(2) Timber Creek (11-0) vs. (1) Lenape (11-0)
The Chargers have won the section in two of the last four seasons, and have a passing attack that is second-to-none led by QB Devin Leary. Lenape has its own star signal-caller in Matt Lajoie, who has a top-flight receiver in Jake Topolski that can turn any catch into a long score.
The Pick: Timber Creek
(3) St. Peter’s Prep (8-3) vs. (1) Paramus Catholic (9-2)
The Marauders had Bergen Catholic’s number this year, but were 0-3 versus the rest of the NJSFC United Red Division this year. Paladins running back Alijah Jackson has rushed for 1,034 yards and 11 touchdowns against a brutal schedule.
The Pick: Paramus Catholic
(3) Passaic County Tech (9-2) vs. (1) Ridgewood (11-0)
The Bulldogs D held Ridgewood to its lowest scoring output of the season -- 14 points -- in a midseason loss to the Maroons. Ridgewood linebacker James Mondi is a tough matchup, having racked up 88 tackles on the season.
The Pick: Ridgewood
(2) Westfield (11-0) vs. (1) Bridgewater-Raritan (11-0)
Last year’s 10-7 Westfield victory in the finals was one of the best games of 2015, and the rematch pits two of the Mid-State 38’s best QBs against each other - Bridgewater’s Nick Attanasio and Westfield’s Phillip Martini. The wild card could be Westfield wide receiver Jack Shirk, who had 202 yards in the semifinals against Union.
The Pick: Westfield
(2) Piscataway (9-2) vs. (1) Manalapan (11-0)
Manalapan won the first meeting between these perennial powers, 21-10, on Oct. 29. Linebacker Sal Tardogno, who has 105 tackles and three sacks on the season for the Braves, could be a problem for running back Elijah Barnwell and the Piscataway offense.
The Pick: Manalapan
(3) Millville (9-2) vs. (1) Toms River North (11-0)
Quarterback Mike Husni has passed for 1,977 yards, rushed for 1,545 and generated 43 total touchdowns (25 pass, 18 rush) for the Mariners. Millville’s offense figures to run through running back Clayton Scott, a game-breaker who can ensure the Thunderbolts offense won’t miss a beat, even in the cold of December.
The Pick: Toms River North
Tom Szieber can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.