Semifinal Previews & Predictions

By Tom Szieber
Posted:  Thursday, November 16, 2017   6:30 pm


Check out LaRon Hall's photo gallery from Holy Spirit's win over Gloucester Catholic.


GROUP 1

NORTH 1
Defending champion Hasbrouck Heights (8-1) has a three-headed rushing monster in running backs Jasiah Purdie and Nico Facchini and quarterback James Klenk, who have combined for 1,610 yards and 20 touchdowns. Meanwhile, New Milford (8-1) has done their own damage on the ground via RB Bart Nativo, who has run for 1,033 yards and 12 scores. Sixth-seeded Pompton Lakes (7-2) is led on defense by defensive end Drew Flynn, who has 73 tackles and four sacks this year. Wallington (7-2) is 0-2 against teams remaining in this bracket, though this will be its first meeting with the Cardinals.
 
The Picks:
[6] Pompton Lakes over [2] Wallington
[1] New Milford over [5] Hasbrouck Heights

 
NORTH 2
Top seeded Weequahic (8-1) has reeled off five straight since losing to Cedar Grove on Oct. 6, but only one of its four victories has come against a team with an above-.500 record (Glen Ridge). Strong safety David Kinney is a top-tier defender for Belvidere (7-3) that can hunt down ball carriers anywhere on the field. Previously-skidding Roselle Park (6-3) got back on track by rumbling past Glen Ridge 27-20 last week, with Dylan Camilo carrying the rock 17 times for 140 yards and three touchdowns. Shabazz (9-0) running back Michael Fields is coming off a huge first round performance, having rushed 166 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in the Bulldogs’ 45-0 win over Newark Collegiate.
 
The Picks:
[1] Weequahic over [4] Belvidere
[2] Shabazz over [6] Roselle Park

 
CENTRAL
Burlington City (8-1) running back Jimmy Browne is a force to be reckoned with, having rushed for 1,887 yards and 25 touchdowns for the top-seeded Blue Devils. They’ll face a tough Middlesex (8-1) defense that is led by LB Jose Andujar (70 tackles, three sacks). Running back Joshua Ejiogu ran for 216 of third-seeded Bound Brook’s (8-2) 513 rushing yards in its first round win over Florence. Quarterback Luke Frauenheim and Point Pleasant Beach (6-4) overcame a 14-0 deficit to beat Manville, 22-14, last week.
 
The Picks:
[1] Burlington City over [4] Middlesex
[7] Point Pleasant Beach over [3] Bound Brook

 
SOUTH
No public school in New Jersey has been to more sectional finals than Paulsboro, and the defending champs are one win away from making it there for the 26th time. Fourth-seeded Salem (7-2) will need to find a way to contain Red Raiders running back Dehron Holloway, who exploded for 234 yards and four TDs against Pennsville in the first round. No. 3 Gateway (8-1) is riding high, having won a playoff game for the first time in its history, 28-8 over Woodstown. They’ll face a second-seeded Penns Grove (8-1) squad that has averaged 50.8 points per game during a six-game winning streak -- with five of those victories coming against teams with at least four wins.
 
The Picks:
[1] Paulsboro over [4] Salem
[2] Penns Grove over [3] Gateway



GROUP 2

NORTH 1
Westwood quarterback Sean Hopkins has scored 33 total touchdowns (18 rushing, 15 passing) for the top-seeded Cardinals (9-1). Newton’s confidence is soaring after the Braves (10-0) got a 21-19 win over a Pequannock team that had knocked them out of last year’s state tourney. Lakeland (9-1) running back Kelvin Gonzalez (3 rush TDs in first round win over Mahwah) is a tough matchup for any defense. Manchester Regional (8-2), though, has a top-notch unit led by outside linebacker Rich Jest, who has 83 tackles on the season.
 
The Picks:
[1] Westwood over [4] Newton
[2] Lakeland over [3] Manchester Regional
 

NORTH 2
Running back Abellany Mendez ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns in Rutherford's (9-0) first round win over Lyndhurst. Lenape Valley (7-3) has a dangerous passing combinatiom in QB Tyler Scaff and wide out Michal Radomski. No. 6 Hackettstown (7-3) is looking to earn just its second-ever trip to the sectional finals. Second-seeded Caldwell (8-2), meanwhile, has competed in 10 sectional finals, winning five of them.
 
The Picks:
[1] Rutherford over [4] Lenape Valley
[2] Caldwell over [6] Hackettstown

 
CENTRAL
Top seed Point Pleasant Boro (10-0) was dominant against Raritan last week, rushing for 368 yards as a team. Manasquan (6-3), the five-seed, will need its defense to be at its best this week, and will rely heavily on defensive end Evan Hilla, who had two sacks last week. Hillside safety Boris Nicolas-Paul and linebacker Brian Ugwu were all over South River QB Michael DeSantis in the Comets’ (7-3) upset win last week. Johnson (8-1) has the type of run game it hopes will neutralize that pass rush, led by Joe Turek (134 yards, 2 TD last week).
 
The Picks:
[1] Point Pleasant Boro over [5] Manasquan
[3] Johnson over [7] Hillside

 
SOUTH
West Deptford (8-1) and Cedar Creek (8-2) have met in the last two South, Group 2 finals, with the Eagles winning last season’s championship. Pirates RB/WR Malachi Melton is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Jay Foley and the Haddonfield (6-3) passing game will be a challenge for the Cinnaminson defense. Last-season victories over West Deptford and Camden have given Cinnaminson (7-2) the feel of a “team of destiny.”
 
The Picks:
[1] West Deptford over [4] Cedar Creek
[7] Cinnaminson over [6] Haddonfield


NON-PUBLIC
Top-seeded St. Joseph (Hamm.) (10-0) looked every bit the powerhouse it is known to be with a 54-6 win over St. Mary last week. Immaculata (6-4) has been battle-hardened in close-game situations, going 3-1 in games decided by seven or less this year. Quarterback George Pearson and running back Malik Ingram have defending champion Mater Dei Prep (7-1) looking very capable of defending its crown. No. 2 Holy Spirit (8-1) has beaten three non-publics (St. Augustine Prep, Camden Catholic, Gloucester Catholic), Delsea and a solid Buena squad in its past six games.
 
The Picks:
[1] St. Joseph (Hamm.) over [5] Immaculata
[3] Mater Dei Prep over [2] Holy Spirit


 
GROUP 3

NORTH 1
Sparta (9-1) rode a strong defense and the legs of running back Thomas Agudo to a 17-0 win over Bergenfield in the first round.  Agudo ran 38 times for nearly 200 yards and a touchdown to lead the Spartans to the semifinals for a 6th straight year.  Ramapo (8-2) overcame a 16-0 first quarter deficit to storm past Pascack Valley, 47-16.  Shane Brancaleone and Luke Ragone each ran for over 100 yards, and their performance against a strong Spartans defense will go a long ways in determining the outcome this week. River Dell's 28-0 win over Paramus in the first round made it 11 straight years for the Golden Hawks (9-1) with a playoff victory.  Demarest (9-1), meanwhile, picked up its first playoff win since 2004 with a 35-0 shutout of Englewood.
 
The Picks:
[1] Ramapo over [4] Sparta
[2] River Dell over [3] Demarest

 
NORTH 2
Led by Williams Perez (91 yards, 2 TD) and Vincent Scaglia (92 yards, 2 TD), West Essex (9-1) finished with over 300 yards on the ground in its win 48-19 win over Ridgefield ParkRahway (6-3) avenged a regular season loss two weeks earlier, jumping out to a 38-8 halftime lead, then holding on for a 45-37 win over Summit. George Eberle led Voorhees (8-2) to its first playoff win in 15 years -- and just the 5th in program history -- in a 42-7 route of Nutley. The junior quarterback threw for two touchdowns, ran for another two, and finished with 11 tackles on defense.  In a season filled with gaudy numbers, Parsippany Hills (9-1) quarterback Nick Verducci outdid himself in the Vikings' 48-21 win over Cranford.  The senior completed 23-of-30 passes for 409 yards with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions, while adding 54 yards and a score on the ground.
 
The Picks:
[1] West Essex over [5] Rahway
[3] Voorhees over [2] Parsippany Hills

 
CENTRAL
Rumson-Fair Haven’s (8-1) quest for a 5th straight sectional title got off to a good start with a 35-6 win over Lawrence.  After closing out the regular season with 3 losses in 4 games, Wall (5-4) held on for a wild 49-41 win over Steinert.  Brady McNally was a true workhorse, carrying 35 times for 343 yards and 5 touchdowns, as the Knights survived after nearly blowing a 35-7 halftime lead. Monmouth (7-3), making just its third-ever playoff appearance -- and first since 2010 -- knocked off Carteret, 21-7, thanks to Anthony Guarino.  The senior had a 35-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and forced a fumble with a key fourth quarter sack.  Somerville (9-1), who is now 19-2 over the last two seasons, cruised past Ewing, 51-12, with Robert Fiorentino leading the way with 215 yards rushing and three scores.
 
The Picks:
[1] Rumson-Fair Haven over [5] Wall
[2] Somerville over [3] Monmouth


SOUTH
Timber Creek and Delsea (7-3) will meet up for the second time this season, with the Chargers (9-0) coming away with a 39-36 win back on Sept. 8.  A Crusaders 32-yard field attempt hit the crossbar in the game's final seconds, allowing Timber Creek to hold on.  If they want to do it again, the Chargers' defense will have to find a way to contain Delsea running back Aidan Borguet, who had 354 yards and 3 touchdowns in the regular season contest, and got his postseason off to a good start with more than 230 yards and 3 scores in a 56-26 win over Ocean City. Lakewood's 1-4 start seems like a distant memory after its 4th straight win, a 22-14 victory over Lacey, which moves the Piners (5-4) one win away from a sectional final for just the second time in school history.  Woodrow Wilson (7-2) picked up its first playoff win in six years with an easy 46-14 win over Deptford.  The winner of this game will be considered a big underdog against whomever comes out on the other side of the bracket.
 
The Picks:
[1] Timber Creek over [4] Delsea
[2] Woodrow Wilson over [6] Lakewood

 
NON-PUBLIC
DePaul (6-3) had a bye in the first round, meaning it's had an extra week to stew over blowing a 22-6 4th quarter lead against St. Joseph (Mont.) to close out the regular season.  St. John Vianney (10-0) got a combined five touchdowns from Zyaire Sterling and Johnny Buchanan to outlast Camden Catholic, 45-40. St. Joseph (Mont.) and Pope John each cruised to first round victories, setting up a rematch of their Oct. 14 regular season matchup in Montvale, in which the Green Knights (7-3) came away with a 20-14 victory.  The Lions (6-3) will have to do better than the 40 yards rushing they managed in that first meeting, while St. Joe's can't afford another 16 penalties worth 147 yards, which was the case last month.
 
The Picks:
[1] DePaul over [4] St. John Vianney
[3] St. Joseph (Mont.) over [2] Pope John



GROUP 4

NORTH 1
Top-seeded Old Tappan (10-0) defeated Wayne Hills (7-3), 35-0, in the teams’ first meeting this year. In that encounter, Hills simply didn’t take care of the ball, turning it over five times. The only loss for Mount Olive (9-1) this season has been a 21-7 setback against West Morris. The Wolfpack (7-3) will try to sweep the season series on the legs of RB Jack DiPietro, who has rushed for 13 touchdowns.
 
The Picks:
[1] Old Tappan over [4] Wayne Hills
[2] West Morris over [3] Mount Olive

 
NORTH 2
Jack Staagard is a capable passer that doesn’t make many mistakes for Phillipsburg (9-0), as shown by his 11-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Fourth-seeded Irvington (8-2) has shown that it can both beat traditionally powerful programs (like Wayne Hills) but are sometimes susceptible to a letdown (like when they were handled by Nutley, 34-12, in October). Defending champion Sayreville (6-4) has been up and down at times this year, but two of its four losses came in overtime and it has lost just once by more than six points. Save a loss to the undefeated Stateliners, QB Matt Busher and North Hunterdon (9-1) have been near-flawless as they seek a third-ever finals appearance for their program.
 
The Picks:
[1] Phillipsburg over [4] Irvington
[6] Sayreville over [2] North Hunterdon

 
CENTRAL
Quarterback Ashante Worthy put Central, Group 4 on notice in eighth-seeded Freehold Boro’s (7-3) upset of Nottingham, accounting for an eye-popping 606 yards (416 rushing). Brick Township (6-4) has now won two straight after weathering a stretch that saw it lost four of five. Running back Jermaine Corbett rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown in Long Branch’s (7-2) 20-0 win over Middletown South last week. Six of Jackson’s (6-4) games have been decided by 10 points or less -- with the Jaguars going 3-3 in those contents.
 
The Picks:
[8] Freehold Boro over [5] Brick Township
[3] Long Branch over [7] Jackson

 
SOUTH
After four consecutive seasons without posting a winning record Moorestown (9-1) has shown the mettle of a team that rightfully believes it can win its first sectional title since taking home the Central, Group 3 crown in 2007. Surging Shawnee (6-3) could easily be undefeated, losing to perennial South Jersey contenders Cherokee, Camden Catholic and Williamstown by a combined total of 10 points. Sixth-seeded Hammonton (4-6) got here in an unlikely manner -- starting out 2-5 -- but the Blue Devils have won two of three and are 4-0 when scoring 21-plus (although they’re just 0-6 when they don’t). Highland Regional (5-4) has hung with the likes of Moorestown and Woodrow Wilson this year, and are a legit Cinderella-like squad built on a strong running game.
 
The Picks:
[4] Shawnee over [1] Moorestown
[7] Highland Regional over [6] Hammonton


NON-PUBLIC
Quarterback Johnny Langan’s ability to throw and run (27 total TDs) is one of many reason’s Bergen Catholic (8-2) is the overwhelming favorite to take this section. No. 5 Delbarton (3-7) struggled through a grueling early-season slate, but have won three of four and earned redemption for an October loss to Seton Hall Prep last week. It’s hard to believe, but Paramus Catholic (5-5) has just one regulation victory over a New Jersey opponent with an above-.500 record -- a 35-7 win over St. Joseph (Met.) last week. St. Peter's Prep (8-2) smothered PC with its potent pass rush in their 23-14 victory over the Paladins back on Sept. 29.
 
The Picks:
[1] Bergen Catholic over [5] Delbarton
[2] St. Peter’s Prep over [6] Paramus Catholic



GROUP 5

NORTH 1
Montclair (9-0) is averaging over 49 points per game, and will be looking to unleash that high-powered offense against a Ridgewood team that has knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.  The Maroons (8-2) bring in a defense that has allowed a touchdown or fewer in six of its 10 games.  Seventh-seeded Bloomfield (6-3) enters the semis thanks to a 21-3 upset of Passaic County Tech -- a game in which both teams combined for less than 350 yards of total offense.  Union City (7-3), in the playoffs every year since 2010 -- in the just the third year of the school's existence -- is trying to break through and reach a sectional final for the first time.
 
The Picks:
[1] Montclair over [5] Ridgewood
[3] Union City over [7] Bloomfield

 
NORTH 2
Westfield -- the two-time defending champ in this section -- has the state's longest active winning streak at 34 games, and won the regular season meeting against Elizabeth (5-5), 13-7, in a game played at Rutgers.  The Blue Devils (9-0), as they've done all season, rode their defense to victory in that game.  They've allowed more than one touchdown just once all year.  Bridgewater-Raritan, meanwhile, lost to Westfield in the sectional final in each of the last two seasons.  The Panthers (8-2) enter on a 5-game winning streak, including back-to-back shutouts of Elizabeth and Watchung Hills.  They may, however, be facing their toughest of the season in Piscataway (7-2), who dismantled Bayonne last week, 45-6, thanks to running back Juwon Jackson, who had three first quarter touchdowns and finished with 208 yards rushing on just 12 carries.
 
The Picks:
[1] Westfield over [5] Elizabeth
[2] Piscataway over [3] Bridgewater-Raritan

 
CENTRAL
Top-seeded Manalapan (10-0) has passed every test this season with flying colors, thanks in large part to running back Naim Mayfield, who's averaging more than 14 yards per carry this season while totaling 2,370 yards on the ground with 40 touchdowns. He'll lead the Braves against a Freehold Township (9-2) team they beat just two weeks ago, 48-7.  In that game, by the way, Mayfield had 197 yards and four touchdowns -- on only eight carries.  Old Bridge (7-2) and South Brunswick will also be playing for the second time this season.  It was the Vikings (8-1) who won their first matchup, 35-6, but that was back in Week 1.  The Knights come in having won six in a row, including impressive victories over Piscataway and Sayreville.
 
The Picks:
[1] Manalapan over [4] Freehold Township
[2] South Brunswick over [3] Old Bridge
 

SOUTH
In what is arguably the deepest section in the state, top-seeded Lenape (8-1) handed Vineland just its second loss of the season with a 35-0 victory in the first round.  In seven of their eight wins, the Indians have allowed seven points or fewer, including four shutouts.  Howell, meanwhile, has Naseim Brantley to thank for its 31-17 first round playoff victory over Cherokee.  The 6-3, 197-pound senior returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown, and added a 55-yard touchdown run, as the Rebels (9-1) advanced to the semifinals for the second straight year.  Defending champ Millville needed overtime to squeak past Williamstown, 20-14 and keep its quest for a repeat -- and an undefeated season -- in tact.  The Bolts (9-0) will see a familiar foe in the semifinals in Rancocas Valley, whom they knocked off last year in the semis on their way to the title.  The Red Devils (8-1) needed just 12 carries from future Florida Gator Iverson Clement, as he racked up 180 yards rushing and three touchdowns in an easy 57-9 romp over Eastern.
 
The Picks:
[1] Lenape over [4] Howell
[3] Millville over [2] Rancocas Valley


Tom Szieber can be reached by emailing tom@gridironnewjersey.com.