Finals Predictions: Groups 1 & 2
By Tom Szieber
Posted: Monday, November 27, 2017 10:30 pm
Check out LaRon Hall's photo gallery from West Deptford's win over Haddonfield on Oct. 20.
#6 Pompton Lakes (8-2) vs. #5 Hasbrouck Heights (9-1)
Wide receiver Jasiah Purdie scored the Aviators’ only touchdown in the third quarter last week, which -- combined with a Matt Gwziszc 21-yard field goal -- was good enough to push Hasbrouck Heights past New Milford. Well, that and one of the most controversial blows of a referee’s whistle we’ve seen in a while. Heights may have squeaked by the Knights, but it is still the defending sectional champ that hasn’t lost a game in regulation this year. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are looking for their first title since 2013, and will try to earn it with a steady dose of Frank Negrini -- its star running back who has 1,645 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.
The Pick: Hasbrouck Heights
#2 Shabazz (11-0) vs. #1 Weequahic (9-2)
The Indians are looking to repeat, and Bulldogs are seeking their first sectional crown since 2014, but they’ll need to beat a Shabazz team to whom it lost, 7-0, in a physical Thanksgiving Day game nicknamed The Soul Bowl. The teams were already familiar with one another, having played in last year’s final. The Indians aren’t hiding their strategy: they want to run and run and run with Robert Leverett and Charles Bruton. Shabazz’s stingy D believes it’s up to the challenge of slowing them down for a second time and is adept at keeping teams out of the end zone. The Bulldogs’ shutout win on Thanksgiving was no anamoly -- they have allowed more than 7 points just twice this year.
The Pick: Shabazz
#7 Point Pleasant Beach (7-4) vs. #4 Middlesex (10-1)
Middlesex is looking to make history by winning its first title since 1984. It kept its momentum going with a 40-24 Thanksgiving Eve win over Dunellen, with QB John Kressbach and RB Anthony Mason combining for 259 yards on the ground. Point Beach won this section four years ago, and has won four-of-its-last-five after beginning the year 2-3. Middlesex won the first meeting between these teams, 28-12, thanks to RB Tom Rau’s 23 carry, for 216-yard, three-touchdown outing.
The Pick: Middlesex
 Penns Grove (10-1) vs.  Paulsboro (9-2)
Both squads had to briefly shift their focuses to Thanksgiving games. Penns Grove defeated Pennsville, while Paulsboro fell to West Deptford. The Paulsboro offense, led by quarterback Colin McCarthy running back Dehron Holloway is difficult to stop, and Penns Grove’s defense has had a hard time keeping opponents from scoring. Still, with sophomore Kavon Lewis under center, the Red Devils can light up the scoreboard if given an opening.
The Pick: Paulsboro
 Newton (11-0) vs.  Lakeland (10-1)
Newton is the team that delivered Lakeland its only loss -- a 47-14 setback on Oct. 6. The Braves ran for 461 yards in that encounter, but the Lancers have cleaned up their defense quite a bit, and have allowed a total of 27 points (and have pitched four shutouts) since. Lakeland is led by running back Kelvin Gonzalez, who has carried the ball 144 times for 1,329 yards (9.2 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns on the season. A player to keep an eye on is Newton defensive end Nick Brigante, who has 10.5 sacks this year.
The Pick: Newton
 Hackettstown (8-3) vs.  Rutherford (10-0)
The Tigers’ only sectional title of the playoff era came in 1981. This year, they weathered a midseason two-game skid, beating a good Lenape Valley team and winning four of five. The NJIC champion Bulldogs are led by quarterback Kyle Russell, who is 77-of-125 for 1,017 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. His classmate, junior running back Abellany Mendez is a skilled runner who has rushed for 936 yards and 10 touchdowns. Rutherford is looking to win its first playoff era championship, having last earned a title in 1966, when it won North 1, Group 1.
The Pick: Rutherford
 Hillside (8-3) vs.  Point Pleasant Boro (11-0)
Point Pleasant Boro is proficient between the tackles, with tailback Brandon Cipriano and fullback Tanner Gordon both capable of picking up tough yards. That combo, combined with dual threat quarterback James Fara, has spearheaded an offense that fell short of the 27-point mark just one time this season. Quarterback Tajae Irby and running back Brian Ugwu have lead an offense that is potent in its own right, though Hillside’s key to a win here would be to ride the defense that has allowed it to win several low-scoring games. The Panthers are trying to lock up their first title since they won South, Group 2 in 2005. The Comets’ last championship was in 1985, when they won North 2, Group 2.
The Pick: Point Pleasant Boro
 Haddonfield (8-3) vs.  West Deptford (10-1)
A 35-yard field goal by Mike Bilodeau was the difference in the first meeting of the year between the rival squads, as West Deptford won, 17-14, in overtime. Haddonfield will look to get a different result this time with quarterback Jay Foley (1,568 passing yards, 12 passing TDs, 6 rush TDs) leading the way. The Eagles will try to control this one on the ground with running back Ken Lim, but know they can ask Tyshawn Bookman to get tough yards (he got 134 of them in October meeting.
The Pick: West Deptford
 Mater Dei Prep (8-1) vs.  St. Joseph (Hamm.) (11-0)
The Wildcats have a devastating run game with the two-headed monster of Jada Byers and Qwahsin Townsel. Townsel has rushed for 1,374 yards and 28 touchdowns on the year, while Byers -- a sophomore -- has 1,373 and 19. The Seraphs have been on an impressive three-game stretch throughout November, defeating Central, Group 1 finalist Point Pleasant Beach, Holy Cross and Holy Spirit. After being without a title since 1969, Mater Dei Prep is now looking for back-to-back championships for the first time ever.
The Pick: St. Joseph (Hamm.)
Tom Szieber can be reached by emailing email@example.com.