St Joe Mater Dei Championship Football

The St. Joseph’s High School football team from Hammonton celebrates its championship win Sunday over Mater Dei Prep at Rowan University in Glassboro. A celebration greeted the team when its bus returned home. Check out photo galleries and video at

Dale Gerhard / Staff Photographer

New Jersey high school football playoffs are one step away from public school state championship games.

At a general membership meeting of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association in Robbinsville Monday, representatives from the state’s high schools voted 218-79, with 12 members abstaining, to change the current playoff system. The new format will begin in 2018.

Under the current system, public schools can only win sectional championships in their enrollment groups, such as South Jersey Group I, II, III, IV and V.

The new system creates two “bowl games” in each of the five enrollment groups among the four sectional champions — South Jersey, Central Jersey, North Jersey I and North Jersey II. These games are, in effect, state semifinals.

But the season will end without a state final — for now — because the NJSIAA constitution bans them in football for public schools. The NJSIAA governs most New Jersey high school sports.

“A lot of people want to see overall state champions in New Jersey,” said Southern Regional Athletic Director Chuck Donohue Jr., who supported the proposal and whose father, Chuck Sr., is the Rams’ longtime coach. “Today was a step forward toward that. It adds not only excitement but new opportunities.”

The new format does the following:

• Divides the state into South Jersey and North Jersey. The 16 teams with the highest power ranking in each enrollment group in North Jersey would be divided into two sections. The 16 teams with the most power points in each enrollment group in South Jersey would be divided into two sections.

• The current power-points system in which teams earn points based on their record and their opponents’ records and enrollment will be re-examined and revised.

• Thanksgiving rivalries are preserved. Teams will play eight regular-season games.

• Teams that don’t make the playoffs can play two consolation games instead of one. Teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs also can play a consolation game.

• The playoffs will begin the first weekend in November, one week earlier than they currently do.

• The sectional title games would be played the weekend before Thanksgiving instead of the first weekend in December.

• The sectional winners will meet in bowl games the first weekend of December.

• Nearly all Non-Public teams will make the playoffs. This will add an extra round to the Non-Public playoffs. The Non-Public title games will be played the first weekend in December, along with the public school bowl games.

Football coaches and athletic directors from both North and South Jersey put together the proposal.

“The proposal was very unified,” Donohue said. “It (came) from people who care about the game.”

Many athletic directors praised the new format’s flexibility. Teams can choose to play just eight regular-season games. They also can choose to play just one consolation game rather than the two permitted under the new system.

Mainland Regional High School also voted in support of the proposal.

Mustangs coach Chuck Smith said he liked that sectional title games will be played the week before Thanksgiving instead of after the holiday. Teams involved in sectional title games often play a Thanksgiving game in the middle of their playoff runs. Playoff teams often have to scramble to play Thanksgiving or are just worn out by the emotional toll of competing in the playoffs.

“In the past, that caused some hiccups,” Smith said.

Smith said he likes that teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs can now play a consolation game.

“If you ended on a sour note,” he said, “you can still get a victory.”

The so-called bowl games should create excitement and add interest in football, Donohue said.

“For the high school football fans in the state, instead of just hearing about Delsea Regional football (this year’s South Jersey group III champion), now they have a better opportunity to see it,” Donohue said. “That’s good for the state of the game and the popularity of the game.”

The new system does not extend the season. To add state title games, the season would have to start one week earlier or end one week later.

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I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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