Two of the region's most dynamic offensive players will be featured when the Millville and Pennsauken high school football teams meet for the South Jersey Group IV title tonight.
Quarterback Manny Cortez, who has thrown for 2,758 yards and 38 touchdowns, leads Pennsauken.
Millville counters with running back Alquann Jones, who has rushed for a Cape-Atlantic League record 2,121 yards and a school-record 26 touchdowns.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Rowan University. Pennsauken (10-1) is the top seed and No. 6 in The Press Elite 11. Millville (11-0) is the No. 2 seed and No. 3 in the Elite 11.
Both teams are seeking to end title droughts. Millville won its only South Jersey championship in 1975. Pennsauken won the last of its three South Jersey titles in 1986.
"This is like nothing else that I've ever experienced," Millville coach Jason Durham said of the buildup to tonight's game. "Wherever you go people are interested in what's going on. It's really a neat experience and a great opportunity for us."
The winner should be the team that finds a way to stop the other team's potent offense. Pennsauken has scored at least 30 points in 10 of its 11 games. Millville has topped the 30-point mark in seven of its 11 contests.
"We have to make sure we give them a variety of defensive looks to keep (Pennsauken) off balance," Durham said. "Our guys are going to have to play great defense. They've seen film (of Cortez). They're aware of how good he is."
Both Cortez and Jones have been at their best in the playoffs.
Cortez threw for 193 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-9 quarterfinal win over Atlantic City. He threw five touchdown passes in a 52-23 semifinal win over Triton.
"You don't know if he's going to run or throw," Millville defensive back and quarterback Shaq Lee said of Cortez.
Cortez has the ability to escape trouble and create plays. Several times Atlantic City defenders appeared to have Cortez cornered only to have the quarterback spin away and run for a long gain or complete a pass to an open receiver down field. On one play, he scrambled out of the pocket, sprinted down field and then hurdled a would-be Atlantic City tackler.
"He's really good at extending the play and buying time for his receivers to get open," Durham said. "We need to be sound and when we get an opportunity to get a hold of him, we have to make sure we get him on the ground."
Durham said the Thunderbolts will try to surround Cortez with as many defenders as possible.
"It's difficult to tackle him with just one guy," Durham said. "We emphasize getting our guys to the football. We do that every day in practice."
Few backs in the state are as quick as Jones. He rushed for 246 yards in a 19-0 quarterfinal win over Rancocas Valley Regional. Jones scored four touchdowns and gained 257 yards as the Thunderbolts beat Washington Township 42-41 in the semifinals. Four-year starter Nick Tyndal leads the offensive line that opens holes for Jones.
"We're going to continue to do all year what we've done to make us successful on offense," Durham said. "We want to establish Alquann as the featured back in the game. If we can do that, we have an opportunity to be successful."
With the talent on the field, there should be plenty of big plays tonight. Both teams also have a number of athletes playing both offense and defense. Jones and Cortez both play defensive back.
The winner could be the team with the most stamina.
"Both teams have special athletes," Durham said. "I think the coaching staffs (of both schools) feel they need to be out there on both sides of the ball. I think it's going to be great for the fans who are going to watch both these teams play."
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