The undefeated St. Joseph High School football team faces it biggest challenge this month.
And it has nothing to do with an opponent the Wildcats will meet.
Rather, it's the opponents they won't be facing.
St. Joseph, No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, will go 22 days without playing a game.
"We can't make any excuses," coach Paul Sacco said Monday night. "We'll be out of the rhythm of playing. We're going to use these next couple of weeks just like we did in (preseason) camp. We have things we need to work on."
St. Joe, the top seed in the state Non-Public I bracket, advances right to the state final on Dec. 2 or 3 because only three teams qualified in that group.
St. Joe will not play again until it meets rival Hammonton on Nov. 26 in a regular-season game. The Wildcats played last Friday, beating Egg Harbor Township 37-0.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association made the playoff matchups official Monday. The first round will be played Friday and Saturday. The second round is scheduled for Nov. 18-19.
The South Jersey Group IV title games will be played Friday, Dec. 2 at Rowan University. The South Jersey Group I, II and III games will be played Saturday, Dec. 3 at Rowan.
The state Non-Public I and II finals will be played at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, Mercer County.
The teams that did not qualify for the playoffs will play consolation games this weekend.
The top eight teams in each enrollment group with the most power points made the postseason. Teams also have to have at least a .500 records. That's why only three teams - St. Joe (8-0), St. Mary (5-3) and Immaculate Conception (4-4) - qualified in Non-Public I. The other seven schools in the group were all under .500.
St. Mary and Immaculate Conception will meet Nov. 18 for the right to play St. Joe.
St. Joe is in the midst of one of the most dominant seasons ever by a Cape-Atlantic League team. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 391-16. Now they will have to keep their edge without playing a game for three weeks.
Sacco said he will shorten some practices, and the Wildcats will continue weight training.
"All we can do is work on the things we need to work on," he said. "If you know me well enough, there are things we need to work on."
There were only three Non-Public enrollment groups in 2010 because several parochial schools had either closed or dropped football.
The NJSIAA went back to four Non-Public enrollment groups this year. Sacco noted that only five teams qualified for the playoffs when Non-Public I and II were combined last year.
"Why would you go back to four groups?" he said.
Sacco does like playing the championship game the first weekend of December. St. Joe in the past has played championship games before its annual Thanksgiving contest with Hammonton.
"You're excited about winning (a state championship)," he said, "and it doesn't last long because you're getting on the bus and think now we have to play our big crosstown rival."
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First-round playoff schedule
South Jersey Group IV7 p.m. Friday(2) Millville(4) Southern Regional1 p.m. Saturday(8) Atlantic CitySouth Jersey Group III6 p.m. Friday(6) Oakcrest7 p.m. Friday(8)Lacey Township (2) Hammonton1 p.m. SaturdaySouth Jersey Group II7 p.m. Friday (3) BarnegatState Non-Public I(1)St. Joseph 1 p.m. Nov. 18State Non-Public II(2) Holy Spirit7 p.m. Friday1 p.m. SaturdayConsolation schedule
7 p.m. FridayAbsegami (4-4)Egg Harbor Township (4-4)Vineland (3-5)Mainland Regional (3-5)Ocean City (1-7)Bridgeton (5-3)Lower Cape May Regional (4-4)Buena Regional (2-6)Pinelands Regional (0-8)Middle Township (1-7)Pleasantville (0-8)St. Augustine Prep (2-6)