The high school football season began in the heat of August with training camps.
It ends this weekend with championship games being played around the state.
Four local teams — Southern Regional, St. Joseph, Holy Spirit and Cedar Creek — will pursue titles this weekend.
An appearance in a title game means something different to each of these local teams.
The Southern football team once barely merited a mention when the region’s top programs were listed.
The Rams (9-2) will meet Williamstown (11-0) for the South Jersey Group V title at 7 p.m. today at Rowan University.
Southern has reached the playoffs in four of the last six seasons.
The Rams lost in the 2008 S.J. Group IV final 21-14 to Mainland Regional.
With its appearance in tonight’s final, Southern can take its place alongside some of the region’s top big-school programs.
A one-time appearance in a S.J. final can be considered a fluke.
But what Southern has done the past six years cannot be dismissed. Since 2008, only Cherokee — the 2009 and 2010 S.J. Group IV final — has made more than one appearance in a S.J. Group IV or V final.
“That shows how difficult it is to get here,” Southern coach Chuck Donohue said.
“When you make the game, you are making statement that you’re a solid football program. That you can make the final again in a very competitive group is a compliment to our kids and believing that football is important.”
St. Joseph’s experience
Few teams in the state have experienced more playoff success than St. Joe.
The Wildcats (9-1) will play St. Mary of Rutherford (11-0) for the state Non-Public I title at 4 p.m. Saturday at The College of New Jersey.
St. Joe has won three straight state titles and 14 championships since the state Non-Public playoffs began in 1993.
St. Joe coach Paul Sacco said the Wildcats must fight the temptation to take winning for granted.
But winning that often also gives St. Joe’s opponents extra motivation. St. Mary, which lost to St. Joe in the 2011 and 2010 title games, would like nothing better than to upset the Wildcats on Saturday.
“We’re not in the position to take anything for granted,” Sacco said. “We’re going to have to play 48 minutes and bring our best game (Saturday). We’re going to get St. Mary’s best game.”
Holy Spirit a surprise
Holy Spirit began the season 0-2.
The Spartans can end their season by making history and joining an elite group of New Jersey football powers.
Spirit (7-4) plays Immaculata (10-1) for the state Non-Public II title 7 p.m. Saturday at The College of New Jersey.
With a victory, Holy Spirit would win its third straight state title.
Since the Non-Public playoffs began in 1993, only four schools — St. Joseph of Hammonton (1999-2006 and 2009-11), St. Joseph Montvale (1995-97 and 1999-2005), Don Bosco Prep (2006-11) and Pope John XXIII (1995-98) — have won at least three straight state titles.
The Spartans seemed a long way from even reaching a state final when they began this season with losses at Hammonton and St. Joe.
This had figured to be a rebuilding season anyway for Spirit because nearly every starter from last season’s team graduated.
The Spartans also have a new coach as John Iannucci took over for Charles Roman, who left after last season to become a St. Augustine Prep assistant.
“We’re proving everybody wrong,” senior offensive lineman Steve Domonowski said.
“We’re not rebuilding, we’re restacking. There’s no way you could see the coach leaving and other adversity like that, but as usual we just played through it.”
Cedar Creek the newcomer
Cedar Creek meets West Deptford for the South Jersey Group II title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Rowan University.
The Pirates began preparing for Saturday’s game at their first practice in 2010.
The Egg Harbor City school opened that fall. Cedar Creek just played a junior varsity schedule that season.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Pirates senior lineman Ben Keating said. “Our first practice, (head) coach (Tim) Watson made it clear that he had big plans for us.”
Watson had his players close their eyes at practice and imagine what playing in a championship game would be like.
The Pirates imagined the last seconds ticking off the clock, the fans rushing the field, the parade down Philadelphia Avenue in Egg Harbor City and the raising of a championship banner.
This weekend Cedar Creek, St. Joe, Southern and Holy Spirit will try to make those dreams reality.
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