The Lower Cape May Regional High School football struggled for recognition and success the past three years.
That has changed this season. Lower is off to its best start in years and tonight it plays in one of the biggest games of the weekend. The Caper Tigers (4-0) host St. Joseph (3-1) at 7 p.m. in a Cape-Atlantic League United Division game. The teams are tied for the division lead.
Lower was a combined 1-29 the past three seasons. St. Joe is No. 6 in The Press Elite 11. "The kids are excited," Lower coach Mike Wilson said. "The community is really excited. We've got a little bit of winning fever and we've come to our toughest opponent of the year."
Lower is off to its best start since it was 5-0 in 1996. The Caper Tigers were 8-0 in 1980. The Caper Tigers haven't had a winning season since they finished 7-3 in 2006. Previews of all the weekend's local games follow. By Michael McGarry
St. Joseph (3-1) at Lower Cape May (4-0)
7 p.m. today: Quarterback Mike Mulligan has sparked the Caper Tigers with seven touchdown passes, four of which have gone to Vance Matthews. Lower running back Jimmy Hall has rushed 67 times for 474 yards. Wildcats running back Gordon Hill averages 7.9 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns. Linebacker Pat Casey leads the St. Joe defense with 40 tackles and one sack.
Pleasantville (0-4) at Buena Regional (1-4)
7 p.m. today: Buena quarterback Donetae McKinnon ran for 90 yards in last Friday's 12-0 loss to Atlantic City. Running back Michael Haygood has rushed 70 times for 363 yards. Pleasantville nearly got its first win of the season last week, losing to Middle Township 22-20 on a late touchdown. Buena beat Pleasantville 19-12 last season.
Millville (2-2) at Absegami (2-3)
7 p.m. today (1240-AM): Both teams need a win to stay in contention for a South Jersey Group IV playoff spot. Millville leads the division in scoring with a 24.5-point average. Quarterback Shaq Lee has thrown for 420 yards and six touchdowns. Running back Alquann Jones has rushed for 346 yards and five TDs. Standout Absegami running back Ben Martin has been hobbled by ankle injury. He played the first quarter in last Friday's 10-7 loss to Mainland Regional but left the game in the second quarter and did not return.
Hammonton (3-1) at Ocean City (1-4)
7 p.m. today (98.7 FM): Hammonton squandered a 13-0 lead in last Saturday's 24-13 loss to Egg Harbor Township. Hammonton running back Jared Sanchez had success in the Wildcat formation, throwing 51-yard TD pass. Sanchez has rushed 47 times for 298 yards this season. Ocean City wide receiver Mike Coccodrilli sparks the Red Raiders' offense with 21 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
Holy Spirit (4-0) at Mainland Regional (3-2)
7 p.m. today (97.3 FM): This is one of the CAL's top rivalries. The schools are located a few miles apart on Route 9. Spirit, No. 1 in the Elite 11, was off last week. Running back Donta Pollock (105 carries for 698 yards) and quarterback Joe Callahan (24-of-41 for 492 yards and eight touchdowns) lead the Spartans. Mainland running back Latroy Spencer ran for a touchdown in last Friday's 10-7 win over Absegami.
Middle Township (1-4) at Oakcrest (3-2)
7 p.m. today: Middle comes off its first win of the season - 22-20 over Pleasantville last Friday. Zack Vogelei scored a touchdown, a two-point conversion and kicked two extra points. Oakcrest is contending for a S.J. Group IV playoff spot. Quarterback Quaashie Jetter has thrown for 257 yards and rushed for 102. Defensive back Mark Clements has three interceptions.
Bridgeton (2-3) at Kittatinny (1-4)
1 p.m. Saturday: Jae DeShields has been one of Bridgeton's most consistent players. He has scored three touchdown catches and made four field goals. Running back Kevin Bunton has rushed for five touchdowns. Kittatinny, a Group II school in Sussex County, has scored a total of 14 points in its four losses.
Toms River North (4-1) at Southern Regional (3-2)
7 p.m. today: Toms River is No. 7 in the Elite 11. Quarterback Demetri Davis has rushed for at least 100 yards in all five games. Southern comes off a 27-20 win over Jackson Memorial. Quarterback Eric Sullivan rushed for one touchdown and threw for another in the win. Running back Billy Shimko has carried 76 times for 291 yards. Southern would stay in contention for a S.J. Group IV playoff spot with a win.
Pinelands Regional (2-2) at Lakewood (0-4)
7 p.m. today: Pinelands has dropped two straight games. Running back Matt McLain is one of the area's most dynamic players. He has rushed 120 times for 1,027 yards and 11 touchdowns. Pinelands beat Lakewood 35-16 last year.
Barnegat (3-1) at Matawan (5-0)
6 p.m. Saturday: Barnegat faces its second straight tough opponent. The Bengals lost to Lacey Township, No. 3 in the Elite 11, 28-7 last Friday. Matawan, like Lacey, is considered one of the Shore Conference's best teams and is the defending Central Jersey Group II champion. Barnegat quarterback Nick SanGiacomo has thrown for 989 yards and 11 touchdowns but left the Lacey game in the third quarter with a hip injury and did not return. He is expected to play Saturday.
Toms River East at Lacey Township (5-0)
1 p.m. Saturday: Lacey is No. 3 in the Elite 11. Linebacker Matt Uveges (38 tackles, two interceptions) leads a defense that has allowed 20 points all season. Zach Torrell (three interceptions) and Jarrod Molzon (29 tackles) also excel on defense. Toms River East has gone 1-2 and averaged 14.3 points in its last three games.
West Jersey Football League
Wildwood (0-5) at Penns Grove (4-1)
Noon Saturday: Wildwood lost to Pennsville 32-0 last week. Penns Grove has won four straight and has three consecutive shutouts.