Finals Predictions: Groups 3, 4, 5
By Tom Szieber
Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2017 9:30 am
Check out Mark Wyville's photo gallery from Bergen Catholic's win over St. Peter's Prep on Oct. 14.
 River Dell (10-1) vs.  Ramapo (9-2)
The Raiders defeated River Dell, 23-20, on Oct. 20, by limiting the damage from River Dell’s dynamic QB David Estevez. River Dell is the defending sectional champion, and did beat Ramapo in the semifinals last year, but fell to the Raiders in the finals two years ago. Ramapo has its own multidimensional signal-caller in A.J. Wingfield, who has gone 103-of-163 for 1,481 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air while rushing for 948 yards and 18 scores on the ground. Running back Shane Brancaleone (849 yards, 13 TDs) is the type of player that can be a difference-maker in a cold weather game like this figures to be.
The Pick: Ramapo
 Voorhees (9-2) vs.  West Essex (10-1)
Voorhees is seeking its second-ever sectional title, and first in 32 years. To earn the championship, they’ll rely on quarterback George Eberle, who has thrown for 1,848 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Running back Colin Tong gives the Voorhees offense balance, having churned out 1,009 yards and 13 scores of his own. The Knights are looking for a ninth overall championship, but their first since 2011. The generally multi-pronged West Essex run game boasts three backs -- Vin Scaglia, Will Perez and Anthony Sangillo -- that have more than 500 yards rushing.
The Pick: West Essex
 Somerville (10-1) vs.  Rumson-Fair Haven (10-1)
Rumson has won the last two titles in this section (and four championships in a row overall), and is a three-point, overtime loss to St. John Vianney away from being 11-0 right now. Its run game will surely be its main form of offense, and tailback Peter Lucas gives them a bruiser that can help the Bulldogs control the clock. Somerville’s season ended in an 8-point loss to Rumson in last year’s sectional semis, and the Pioneers are looking to get some revenge with a high-octane offense led by QBs Jalahn Dabne and Ryan Kovacs and RB Robbie Fiorentino.
The Pick: Rumson-Fair Haven
 Delsea (8-3) vs.  Woodrow Wilson (8-3)
Delsea pounded Woodrow Wilson, 43-12, in the teams’ first meeting on Oct. 27. In that game, running back Aidan Borguet ran all over the Tigers, accumulating 205 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Delsea is riding high after a huge semifinal win over Timber Creek, and is hard to stop when its triple option offense gets going. Woodrow Wilson quarterback Nick Kargman will need to be careful with the football after being picked four times in the October loss to the Crusaders.
The Pick: Delsea
 St. Joseph (Mont.) (8-3) vs.  DePaul (7-3)
DePaul quarterback Taquan Roberson is 151-of-221 for 2,315 yards this year, but St. Joseph (Mont.) can obviously handle a passing dual with anyone with Nick Patti under center. Joe’s has beaten the Spartans 13 times in a row, with one of the bigger wins coming in last season’s final. They also earned a 28-21 win on Nov. 4 of this season. DePaul has one of the state’s top two-way players in RB/LB Vin DePalma.
The Pick: St. Joseph (Mont.)
 Mount Olive (10-1) vs.  Old Tappan (11-0)
Before 2015, the Golden Knights hadn’t won a sectional title since 1985. They couldn’t repeat last year, losing to River Dell in the North 1, Group 3 final, but came out on a mission this year and have rarely shown vulnerability. Running back Marquez Antinori and quarterback Nick McNerney have both had outstanding seasons, and will be tough matchups for a good Mount Olive D, which is looking to the program to its second ever sectional title and first in 15 years. Marauders QB Liam Anderson has some eye-popping numbers this year, going 113-of-192 passing for 1,516 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing 1,070 yards and 14 touchdowns on 108 carries.
The Pick: Old Tappan
 North Hunterdon (10-1) vs.  Phillipsburg (10-1)
Phillipsburg beat North Hunterdon, 20-7, on Oct. 27, and is built to win at this time of year with running back Joe Green and a great offensive line. This is new territory for North Hunterdon, who is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and win just the second sectional title in program history (the first coming in 1975). Quarterback Matt Busher is a special player that can certainly guide the Lions to victory, but if P-Burg’s defense can keep him from making too many trips to the end zone, it will be in good shape. Lions defensive back Kyle Hensler is a player that can make a big difference (115 tackles) and will need to be accounted for.
The Pick: Phillipsburg
 Freehold Boro (8-3) vs.  Long Branch (8-2)
Freehold Boro neutralized Long Branch running back Jermaine Corbett in t he Nov. 3 meeting between these teams, and was able to earn a close win as a result. The Colonials have now won seven straight behind star QB Ashante Worthy, and have the feel of a group that can take home its first title in seven years. Long Branch, meanwhile, is looking for its first crown since 1999, and has only given up more than 21 points to a public school once this year -- in the 27-20 loss to the Colonials.
The Pick: Freehold Boro
 Hammonton (5-6) vs.  Shawnee (7-4)
Not many expected the Blue Devils to be here in late October, when they were on a five-game losing streak and 2-5 overall. They snuck into the playoffs, though, and won 3 of their next 4 games, including playoff victories over Central and Highland Regional. Of course, their one loss during that stretch was a 38-6 shellacking at the hands of the Renegades on Nov. 3. Shawnee quarterback Colin Wetterau threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another in that contest, and Hammonton will need to play the type of defense its played in the postseason to get a different result.
The Pick: Shawnee
 St. Peter's Prep (9-2) vs.  Bergen Catholic (9-2)
The Crusaders throttled the Marauders, 41-14, on Oct. 14, and have won eight straight going into this final. Bergen’s confidence is at an all-time high as it looks to win its first title since 2004, in a legendary Brian Cushing-led win over Don Bosco Prep. The formula will be obvious -- a passing game that is a big play waiting to happen and a run game that can sting you with QB Johnny Langan or RBs Josh McKenzie and Rahmir Johnson. Defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola could be an x-factor for St. Peter’s Prep, as he is a solid run-stuffer (56 tackles) and dangerous pass rusher (eight sacks).
The Pick: Bergen Catholic
 Union City (8-3) vs.  Montclair (11-0)
All year, it’s been all about the Mounties. They’ve been the favorites from the summer to the present, and made a statement early when they beat the Soaring Eagles, 22-7, on Sept. 28. To keep Montclair’s offense from getting off to a typical hot start, Union City defensive lineman Jose Taveras (five sacks) will have to assert himself from the get-go. Montclair running back Danny Webb was one of the NJSFC’s top rushers all year, and cranked out 1,314 yards and 26 total touchdowns.
The Pick: Montclair
 Bridgewater-Raritan (9-2) vs.  Westfield (11-0)
For the third year in a row, the Panthers and Blue Devils find themselves battling to be top dog in an always-tough section. Both times, Westfield won, though each win was close (10-7 in 2015 and 15-13 in 2016). Not many expected Westfield to maintain its state-best win streak all the way to MetLife, but here they are. This one provides an interesting dynamic -- a Panthers offense that has show it can score a lot of points and a smothering Westfield D that has shut down everyone it has played. The one knock on the Blue Devils, though, is that of its 11 wins, just one (over Immaculata) came against a team that finished its season with a winning record.
The Pick: Bridgewater-Raritan
 South Brunswick (10-1) vs.  Manalapan (11-0)
Arguably the best player in New Jersey this year, Manalapan RB Naim Mayfield’s numbers are staggering. The senior phenom has carried the ball 179 times for 2,546 yards and 45 -- yes, 45 -- touchdowns. The scariest part for Braves opponents is that even in the unlikely event they stop Mayfield, quarterback Luke Corcione and wide out Symir Blacknall are just as capable of burying defenses. South Brunswick’s top playmaker is receiver Justin Shorter, who will have to make an impact to help the Vikings keep pace with the lethal Braves offense. The last meeting between these squads was in last year’s Central, Group 5 semis, when Manalapan won 34-20.
The Pick: Manalapan
 Rancocas Valley (10-1) vs.  Lenape (10-1)
Both teams avoided one of those annoying Thanksgiving losses, with Rancocas Valley beating Burlington Township and Lenape defeating Shawnee to maintain their respective momentum. This final could be among the most exciting in New Jersey, firstly because of the running back matchup between Lenape’s JoJo Kellum and RV’s Iverson Clement. The difference, then, could end up being whose defense is stronger. The Red Devils’ unit, led by linebacker Kyle Sapp, is outstanding, and showed just how elite it is in its playoff victory over one of South Jersey’s best teams in Millville -- and, of course, in its 10-7 victory over the Indians on Oct. 6 (Lenape’s lone loss this year).
The Pick: Rancocas Valley
Tom Szieber can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.