By TOM WILLIAMS
The swimmers are in the pools and, starting this week, jump shots and takedowns will replace third down conversions and extra points. But first, one final look at the 2016 football season for the Cape-Atlantic League teams in the West Jersey Football League and a couple of other fall sports.
It was another fall season filled with success.
Millville got its first NJSIAA football championship in 41 years, keeping the CAL’s streak alive – at least one NJSIAA football champ every year since 1986. Holy Spirit and Cedar Creek also reached championship football games. Ocean City notched another state field hockey title and Mainland boys soccer and Holy Spirit girls soccer made school history by winning South Jersey titles.
Before completely filing away all records and move on to basketball, wrestling, swimming and indoor track, lets review some of the highlights of the season.
STAT LEADERS: Holy Spirit senior Reggie Jean Charles led CAL teams in rushing, Millville junior Marcial Ramos led CAL teams in receiving, Cedar Creek senior Jesse Milza had the most passing yards, Millville junior Tristan Harris the most TD passes and Cedar Creek senior Pat Moran topped kickers. Lots more stats are available online at PrimeEvents.net.
INJURY OF THE YEAR: In 2015 as a sophomore, Ocean City’s Harry Pfeifle did pretty much anything the Raiders needed – catching passes, returning kicks and anchoring the defensive secondary. Pre-season knee surgery kept Pfeifle out this season but he is expected to return in 2017.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: The majority of CAL football teams were better at home than on the road. But there were exceptions. Harbor Township and Bridgeton both failed to win a game at home, and they have two of the nicest fields in South Jersey. The biggest home field edges went to Cedar Creek, Vineland, Atlantic City and Lower Cape May. They all won two more at home than they did on the road.
BIGGEST IMPROVEMENTS: Holy Spirit and Vineland each won five more games this season than they did last season, the best among CAL schools.
IN THE RECORD BOOK: Cedar Creek’s Milza set new CAL records for career passing yards, completed passes and pass attempts. Moran, his teammate for four years, set a new career mark for kicking points. And a third teammate, Bo Melton, tied the CAL career record for TD receptions and set new marks for catches and receiving yards. Holy Spirit’s Jean-Charles tied the CAL record with six TDs in one game.
KEITH MARELLA AWARD: Keith was the last CAL football player to score a touchdown all five ways during a season. In 1998, the St. Joseph player scored six rushing TDs, caught five TD passes, brought back one kickoff and two punts and scored once on defense. No CAL player has scored all five ways since. Until this year. Zeke Ennis of St. Augustine rushed for four TDs, caught seven, returned one punt and one kickoff for a TD and scored a defensive TD.
TOP FALL ATHLETE: She beat every runner in the Cape-Atlantic League throughout the season, won a South Jersey championship and then beat every runner in the state for the second straight year. Sophomore Alyssa Aldridge of Mainland became the third consecutive CAL girl to earn the title as the state’s best runner.
TWO MORE GREAT ONES: Vineland junior Tess Fisher again dominated CAL girls tennis players and won her third straight South Jersey singles championship. And Ocean City senior Rialee Allen was named first team, all-state in field hockey after finishing fourth in New Jersey in goals and first in assists.
GAME OF THE YEAR: There were many, a couple of them by Millville. But the edge goes to Cedar Creek’s 17-14 win over St. Joseph on Moran’s field goal. Holy Spirit also defeated St. Joe, 17-14, on Cade Antonucci’s overtime field goal but the Cedar Creek win decided a division championship.
PLAY OF THE YEAR: It was a stunner for Holy Spirit and CAL fans. But very few plays have ever made the impact of Mater Dei’s 49-yard hook and lateral TD with three seconds left to break a 20-20 tie and win the NJSIAA state championship.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There were a lot of great performances from talented players like Kyle Dobbins, Jesse Milza, Josh Zamot, Kendall Elliott, Clayton Scott, Andrew Donoghue, Isiah Pacheco and Bo Melton. But Holy Spirit’s Reggie Jean-Charles is the pick. Holy Spirit could throw the ball and had a second weapon in Justin Figueroa. But opposing teams knew they had to control Jean-Charles and few did. His power and speed brought the Spartans all the way to Kean University.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Players like Markquese Bell, Dante Daniel, Shamere Collins, Sencere Tapp, Dan Walsh and Kendall Elliott made big play after big play on the defensive side. But the best was Millville linebacker Zack Douglas with 131 tackles, including 24 for losses, sparking a defensive effort that led the Thunderbolts to a South Jersey title.
FOOTBALL COACH OF THE YEAR: Mark Reardon and Tim Watson both produced more quality football. A.J. Russo brought Holy Spirit back to the top and Dennis Thomas brought a championship to Millville. But the nod goes to Dan Russo of Vineland, leading his team to the school’s first eight-win season in 32 years. Skeptics expected the Fighting Clan to fade each week but Russo kept them together.
MOST VALUABLE FOOTBALL PLAYER: Millville’s Clayton Scott gained 1722 yards rushing, scored 15 rushing TDs, added four TDs as a receiver and scored seven two-point conversions. He also was a force on defense with 61 tackles and 16 sacks. Nobody did more on both sides of the ball.
LOOKING TOWARD 2017: There is lots of talent returning – Kyle Dobbins and Josh Zamot at St. Augustine; Isaiah Pacheco and Nihym Anderson at Vineland; Mike Costabile and Dan Tarsitano at Holy Spirit; Clayton Scott and Marcial Ramos at Millville; Issac Robertson and Brandon Lin at Ocean City; and Qwashin Townsel at St. Joe are among them.
And, of course, Alyssa Aldridge and Tess Fisher will also lead the way again next year.
Let’s hope 2017 brings us the same level of fall excitement we had this year.