2022 NJ Football Group Finals Preview
The stage is set and ten teams are set to compete for the five separate Group Championships this weekend at SHI Stadium on Rutgers’ campus in Piscataway. This is the first time in state history the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association will hold a final championship to crown one true state champion for each of the five public group classifications. North will be taking on South for state supremacy and these five matchups will have their fair share of top players, big moments, and championship-clinching plays. Make sure to keep an eye on the NJAthletics social media pages and website to follow the action all weekend. Let’s take a look at the matchups:
Mountain Lakes HERD vs Woodbury Bison
The Mountain Lakes HERD erased a halftime deficit last week against Weequahic to make it to the Group 1 title game. The team has faced its fair share of adversity this season, yet they have run through competition when it matters most (literally). Their potent ground game comes with contributions from a plethora of players, including Nico Dunn, Jimmy Elliot, Jordan Hernando, and more. The defense is just as good. The Herd plays their game by taking time off the clock while plowing down the field before giving way to their defense to make the stop. They will run into a Woodbury Bison team that is coming out with the opposite attack. Quarterback Bryan Johnson has thrown for over 2,100 yards to go with 24 touchdowns. The air raid employed by the Bison is backed up by a running back room with Anthony Reagan Jr who can make an impact when called upon. Woodbury avenged a regular season loss to Salem in the regional championship, and they look to add a Group 1 Championship to this season’s resume at Rutgers this weekend.
Caldwell Chiefs vs Rumson-Fair Haven Bulldogs
The Caldwell Chiefs have dominated their way through the past two seasons, boasting the longest winning streak in the state and winning two consecutive sectional and regional titles. They are looking to cap off this season with New Jersey’s first Group 2 Championship under their belt. The Chiefs carry a true athlete in superstar Harry Boland, who will be the best player on the field in this matchup. Quarterback Luke Kurzum has plenty of other weapons, particularly in receiver Lucas Lattimer and running back Joey Marinello. Boland, Lattimer, and Marinello all work with linebacker Julian Casale to form a formidable defense that always comes up with the big stop. Standing in the way of this juggernaut is the Rumson-Fair Haven Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have a great cast of players, with sophomore quarterback Owen O’Toole 51 yards off of the 2,000 mark coming into the game. He throws it to the dynamic receiving duo of Scott Venancio and Nick Rigby, who are complemented by running back Alastair Orr. The defense is strong, especially in the middle with linebacker Luke Mikolajczyk. The secret weapon the bulldogs carry is in kicker Oliver Lorraine. Lorraine is perfect on extra point attemps and five-for-six on field goal attempts. If the game comes down to a walk-off kick, Lorraine is one of the guys in this state you would want taking the attempt. This will be an all-out battle between offenses that can spread the ball around the field and defenses that hit hard. Will one of the state’s most successful teams in the last two years prevail or will the underdog Bulldogs play spoiler at Rutgers?
Delsea Crusaders vs Old Tappan Golden Knights
The Delsea Crusaders are arguably the top public bracket team in the state out of any of the five groups. The Crusaders have rolled through their schedule, trailing for the first time at the half last week against Camden and still getting the job done. Delsea loves the run, boasting a running back room that has ran for over 3,000 yards on the season. Wayne Adair (1,229 yards and 18 touchdowns) and Jared Schoppe (1,160 yards and 24 touchdowns) do most of the damge out of the backfield. The defense does the job from there, stifling opponents to an average of 12 points per game. The Old Tappan Golden Knights have had a similar season in the sense of domination, only dropping one game to a top Ramapo Raiders team. They have mowed through playoff competition, finishing out with a clutch performance in the waning minutes against West Morris. Their offense is prolific. Led by 1,896 yard passer Tommy Caracciolo and 1,491 yard rusher Aidan Heaney, the two have combined for almost 50 touchdowns on the season and are a threat to score on every drive. Having the ability to go to either the run game or pass game at any point is a luxury most teams do not have. Evan Brooks is an X-factor from the receiver position too. The defense is known to make big plays, boasting consistently dominant players like Dennis Delaney and Jack Diggins. With nine interceptions and seven forced fumbles on the season, opposing teams must take care of the ball and limit mistakes. With two behemoths set to meet at Rutgers, the Group 3 Championship should be one of the best games we have seen all season.
Millville Thunderbolts vs Northern Highlands Highlanders
The Millville Thunderbolts are one of the strongest teams in the state when firing on all cylinders. It has been clicking all playoffs, and that has led them to the Group 4 Championship. Quarterback Jacob Zamot is having himself a year approaching 3,000 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. He has the luxury of throwing to one of the state’s top players in Lotzeir Brooks and a deep receiving room. You never know what’s coming from the Millville offense, also featuring 1,000 yard rusher Na’eem Sharp. The defense is as good, particularly in the secondary. The Thunderbolts have picked off the opposing quarterback 13 times this season, and plays like that could be the difference in this game. The Northern Highlands Highlanders have had a starkly different season. Finally figuring out their issues towards the end of the year, they have taken a Cinderella-esque run to the Group 4 Championship. Overtime magic and stunning upsets have been the theme of their run under first year head coach Dave Cord. The Highlanders look to cap it off one last time at Rutgers for state supremacy. Quarterback Nate Johnson will lead the charge with running back Charlie Sparago and receiver Zach Madison. Their defense has made some big stops and momentum shifting plays, the question is if Zach Chostaka and company can do it one more time on New Jersey’s biggest stage.
Toms River North Mariners vs Passaic County Technical Institute Bulldogs
The state’s most potent offense will battle the team that always seems to pull it out in New Jersey’s first-ever Group 5 Championship. The season that the Toms River North Mariners’ offense is having is jaw-dropping, even historic, in the entire scope of football in New Jersey. Toms River North not only has one of the most prolific offenses the state has ever seen, but they also became the first Shore Conference team to amass 13 wins in a single season. Arguable the state’s best dual-threat quarterback Micah Ford will lead this team into battle yet again against their toughest opponent yet. The Passaic Tech Bulldogs have found ways to win games all season long. Their ability to play their best in the clutch is second to none in the state. PCTI is led by the brothers Dye, Trashon and Travon, as well as Cashmere Jones on both sides of the ball; the team is dynamic and these three can break games when working as a unit. The Bulldogs will need to be explosive to keep up with the Mariners, and this game will be decided by which defense can stand tall and stop this game’s superstars.