The swimmers are in the pools and, starting this week, jump shots and takedowns will replace third down conversions and extra points. But first, one final look at the 2017 football season for the Cape-Atlantic League teams in the West Jersey Football League and a couple of other fall sports.
It was another fall season filled with success.
St. Joseph won its 26th NJSIAA football championship and kept the CAL’s streak alive – at least one NJSIAA football champ every year since 1986. Ocean City won a South Jersey girls cross country title, Vineland won a South Jersey girls tennis crown and the Mainland boys and Ocean City girls won South Jersey soccer titles.
Before completely filing away all records and move on to basketball, wrestling, swimming and indoor track, let’s review some of the highlights of the season.
INJURY OF THE YEAR: Both the starting quarterbacks at Mainland (Dean Hall) and Oakcrest (Trey Sayers) were injured early in the season and unavailable, though Sayers did return at the very end of the season. The good news is that both were juniors.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: The majority of CAL football teams were better at home than on the road. But the biggest home field edge went to Pleasantville, which was 5-0 at home and 2-3 on the road. Second best was Buena, 4-2 at home and 1-3 after a bus ride.
BIGGEST TEAM IMPROVEMENTS: St. Joseph won five more games this season than they did in 2016, the best among CAL schools. Pleasantville and Bridgeton were second at plus-three.
KEITH MARELLA AWARD: Keith was a CAL football player who scored a touchdown all five ways during a season. In 1998, the St. Joseph player scored six rushing TDs, caught five TD passes, brought back one kickoff and two punts and scored once on defense. No CAL player had scored all five ways until last year when Zeke Ennis of St. Augustine did it. Well, make it two straight years. St. Joe sophomore Jada Byers did it – rushing for 21 TDs, catching one touchdown pass, returning one kickoff and four punts for TDs and scoring on defense. He also had five two-point conversions.
TOP FALL ATHLETE: She was the best in the state. Vineland senior Tess Fisher won the South Jersey singles championship a fourth straight year and won the NJSIAA state singles title. Fisher was 43-0 this season and her career record was 158-3, both all-time CAL records.
FOOTBALL GAME OF THE YEAR: Millville lost the South Jersey Group 5 semifinal when Rancocas Valley’s Iverson Clement returned a punt for a TD in the final minutes and RV went for two to win by one. Mater Dei defeated Holy Spirit by the narrowest of margins for the second straight year. Matt Hays of Lower Cape May kicked the winning point as the Tigers defeated Middle Township by one to end a five-year losing streak to the Panthers. Ocean City stopped Pleasantville’s two-point conversion with no time on the clock to preserve a two-point win. Millville edged St. Augustine, Holy Spirit beat Delsea in overtime and both Atlantic City and Vineland were upset winners on Thanksgiving. You pick one.
PLAY OF THE YEAR: With just seconds left in the first half of its Group 3 playoff game Ocean City worked the hook-and-lateral as well as it can be done. Harry Pfeifle to Bob Shallcross to Issac Robertson. NBC-10 in Philadelphia picked it as the third best play it had shown this year..
TRANSFER OF THE YEAR: Give the edge to Josh Zamot (St. Augustine to Holy Spirit) for the way he operated the Spartans offense, both throwing the ball and running with it. But special mention to Elijah Nichols (Camden Catholic to Millville), Sahmir Jones (Mainland to Pleasantville), Mike Costabile (Holy Spirit to Atlantic City) and Vic Mahar (St. Augustine to Ocean City).
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: He missed his junior year following knee surgery after two successful years as a freshman and sophomore. But Harry Pfeifle returned as a senior this year for Ocean City, taking over at quarterback and setting school records for rushing yards and TDs by a QB.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There were a lot of great performances from talented players like Zamot, Pfeifle, Nichols, Jada Byers, Clayton Scott, Isaiah Pacheco, Nazim Derry, Josh Coursey, Flash Morgan, Carlton Lawrence, Shamere Collins and Marcial Ramos – to name a few. But St. Joe’s Qwahsin Townsel is the choice. He scored 204 points (only the third CAL player to score 200 in a season) and ran for 1,616 yards. He was beyond impressive.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Players like Pacheco, Scott, Lawrence, Derry, Collins, Niyhm Anderson, Mike Gulig, Sencere Tapp and Nazir Chapman made big play after big play on the defensive side. But the best was St. Augustine junior linebacker Joe Bonczek who made 119 tackles, including 15 for losses, against a very tough schedule.
FOOTBALL COACH OF THE YEAR: You can always pick Paul Sacco, and he certainly deserves a nod for bringing St. Joe back to its usual level so quickly. Tim Watson, Dennis Thomas and A.J. Russo guided their teams to success against tough opponents. And Kevin Smith kept his OCHS program moving forward. But the choice is Chris Sacco, who took Pleasantville to levels it had not reached in more than a decade and will return a very talented group of players next season.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Isaiah Pacheco did it all. He ran for more than 1,400 yards, threw the ball (when necessary) with some success and was an All-South Jersey choice on defense. He will graduate from Vineland this month and head to Rutgers after the holidays.
LOOKING TOWARD 2018: There is lots of talent returning –Byers, Nate Johnson, Angelo Vokolos and Sean Morris at St. Joe; Gray and Ahmad Brown at Holy Spirit; Jones and Mohamed Toure at Pleasantville; Brandon Lin and Brandon Lashley at Ocean City; Pat Smith, True Robinson and Chris Allen at St. Augustine; Lou Barrios and Max Melton at Cedar Creek; and Carnell Davis at Absegami are among them.
Let’s hope 2018 brings us the same level of fall excitement we had this year.
Final football rankings, stats, results, standings and videos are available online at www.PrimeEvents.net.