The Barnegat High School football team will make its first appearance in a South Jersey final today.
Delsea Regional will make its 14th.
Barnegat (10-1) and Delsea (9-2) will meet for the S.J. Group III title at 4 p.m. at Rowan University in Glassboro. Barnegat is ranked No. 9 in The Press Elite 11. Delsea is the defending champion. The Crusaders have won 10 South Jersey titles.
"They've been there and done it," Barnegat coach Rob Davis said. "We're trying to do what they've already accomplished."
Delsea won its first South Jersey title in 1976; Barnegat didn't open until 2004.
Both teams favor the run. Delsea's Delaware Wing-T offense relies on running backs Isaiah Spencer and Rob Hooks, both of whom have run for more than 1,000 yards this season.
"They're awesome," Barnegat quarterback Cinjun Erskine said of the Crusaders. "They run that Wing-T to (perfection). They're physical. They're tough. They play to the whistle. It should be a real good game."
Barnegat hopes to force Delsea to pass as often as possible. That's easier said than done. Delsea starting quarterback Rob Rolle has thrown just 26 passes all season.
"We have to get them in third-and-long situations," Davis said. "Hopefully, we can win out in those situations. But teams cannot force them to pass. They're that good running their offense."
In past seasons, Barnegat has favored the pass. This year, however, the Bengals often run behind an offensive line that features 330-pound junior Sam Madden and 308-pound senior Zach Andrews.
"We are where we're at because of our line," Davis said. "Our offensive and defensive lines have played physical all season, and that's suited for this time of year."
Barnegat ran for 376 yards in a 28-25 semifinal win over Northern Burlington. The Bengals rushed for 385 yards in 41-13 first-round defeat of Pemberton.
"We look to wear teams down and impose our will on them," Erskine said.
But Erskine can also throw. Barnegat won the Shore Conference's seven-on-seven passing tournament last summer. Erskine has passed for 1,061 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Several NCAA Division I schools are recruiting Madden and Erskine, who are juniors.
"Cinjun can run or throw the football at anytime," Davis said. "He gets the ball in our athletes' hands."
Davis said there will be nothing complicated about today's game.
"The bottom line is that (Delsea) blows you off the football," he said. "The bottom line is we cannot allow that to happen."
This Barnegat team always will be remembered for making the first South Jersey final appearance in the program's history.
The Bengals can enhance those memories and their own legacy with a win today.
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