Nine teams from the WCTC listening area will compete next weekend for a chance to make it to the finals of the NJSIAA state football playoffs. As many as seven teams could advance, with two upcoming semifinals featuring local teams squaring off against one another. Following is a look at the schedule for next weekend, with an early look at the matchups. Local teams are in bold.
Central Jersey - Group 5
#3 Old Bridge at #2 South Brunswick, Friday 7 pm
#4 Freehold Twp at #1 Manalapan, Friday 7 pm
The Braves (10-0) rolled past Perth Amboy in the opening round, while the Patriots (8-2) won their first-ever playoff game Friday night, defeating North Brunswick. Manalapan - which lost last year in the championship game to Piscataway at Rutgers after defeating the Chiefs there in the regular season - remains the heavy favorite in this section, but the two teams in the other semifinal hope to have something to say about that. The Vikings (8-1) have been consistent all year long, with their lone loss coming on the road against Piscataway. The Knights (7-2) lost to South Brunswick at home in their opener 35-6, but have improved throughout the course of the year. They've only lost once since, 34-13 to Manalapan. In fact, that's 13 more points than Piscataway scored on the road against the Braves a few weeks ago.
North Jersey, Section 2 - Group 5
#3 Bridgewater-Raritan at #2 Piscataway, Saturday 1 pm
#5 Elizabeth at #1 Westfield, Saturday at 1 pm
The Panthers are 8-2 and will be a real test for the Chiefs (7-2). Bridgewater lost its starting runningback early in the season in David Usewick, but his replacement, Anthony Goffe, hasn't missed a beat. The Panthers' lone losses have come to North Hunterdon and Phillipsburg; the Lions have one loss (to P'burg) and the Stateliners are undefeated. B-R has pitched two straight shutouts, but that won't continue against Piscataway. The Chiefs are too good with star runningback Juwon Jackson, who scored touchdowns on his first two touches Saturday afternoon in a cruise past Bayonne. But P'way won't be able to take some of the penalties they did against the Bees and still win the game. As for Westfield, the Blue Devils' winning streak is now at 34 games after a tense 17-10 opening round win over Ridge. They should beat (5-5) Elizabeth, though their margins have been much closer this year.
North Jersey - Section 2 - Group 4
#6 Sayreville at #2 North Hunterdon, Friday 7 pm
#4 Irvington at #1 Phillipsburg, Friday 7 pm
The Stateliners (9-0) are still considered the favorite here over the Lions (9-1), but the Bombers played inspired football against #3 Colonia in a 31-0 shutout win Friday night. Some think Sayreville should take this one. That would likely set up a date with Phillipsburg for the Bombers, who won this section last year, and got to the finals by beating the Stateliners on the road to Championship Weekend.
Central Jersey - Group 3
#3 Monmouth Regional at #2 Somerville, Friday 7 pm
#5 Wall Township at #1 Rumson-Fair Haven, Friday 7 pm
The Pioneers (9-1) are, in my opinion, "better" than lest year because they've been more tested and faced more adversity, and - in all but one game - came out on top. Their lone loss this year came to Rahway. A win in the semis over Monmouth (7-3) would likely set up a finals meeting with four-time defending state champ Rumson-Fair Haven (8-1). The Bulldogs won the CJ2 title in 2013 and 2014, then won the CJ3 title the last two seasons. They've won 12 straight playoff games, with their last postseason defeat coming in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, to Weequahic on November 16, 2012. Rumson knocked Somerville out of the playoffs last year at Brooks Field, in the semifinal round, handing the Pioneers' their first loss of the season.
Central Jersey - Group 1
#4 Middlesex at #1 Burlington City, Friday 7 pm
#7 Pt. Pleasant Beach at #3 Bound Brook, Friday 7 pm
The Blue Jays (8-1) might have showed how much they improved during the year with a second win over Shore Regional. Middlesex beat them a few weeks ago in overtime on the road, 22-21. But in the opening round of the playoffs, they won by 22 at home. Burlington City, meanwhile, was 2-8 last year, but is 8-1 this year. It's a huge turnaround. After getting off to their first 3-0 start in 12 years, senior four-year starter D'andre Thurmond told the Courier-Post, “Before, we were so bad our games were free. Now, it feels pretty good having everybody come out and supporting us.” Meanwhile, Lamont Field will play host to an interesting matchup Friday night. The Garnet Gulls (6-4) face the Crusaders (8-2) with a Frauenheim on each roster. Yes, two of legendary longtime former Immaculata head coach pierce Frauenheim's grandkids will face off in this game, with Pierce himself a volunteer assistant at Bound Brook under Dom Longo. Luke Frauenheim is Point Beach's starting quarterback, and Kyle Frauenheim is a defensive end/right tackle for the Crusaders.
Non-Public - Group 2
#5 Immaculata at #1 St. Joe's-Hammonton, Saturday 1:30 pm
#3 Mater Dei at #2 Holy Spirit, Friday 7 pm
The Spartans (6-4) upset Hudson Catholic for the second year in a row in the playoffs Friday night. Last year, as the 8th-seed, they beat top-seed Hudson Catholic on a Hail Mary play (no pun intended here). This year, it was a milder upset in a 5-4 game. And the third Frauenheim to play in the semifinals stars at linebacker for Immaculata: junior Patrick Frauenheim. They'll have a tall task against top-seed St. Joe's of Hammonton, particularly on the road. They're undefeated at 10-0 and are a traditional South Jersey powerhouse. In the other semifinal, Mater Dei meets Holy Spirit in a rematch of last year's sectional final, which the Seraphs won on a hook-and-lateral as time expired up at Kean University.