By TOM WILLIAMS
The biggest high school football event in New Jersey is coming to Ocean City.
In the last weekend of this month (August 27-28-29) there will be 11 games played at Carey Stadium, right next to the Ocean City Boardwalk and beach, one of the most scenic high school football locations in the state.
It’s called the Battle at the Beach and has been created by the West Jersey Football League Coaches Association, with four games Friday, four on Saturday and three more on Sunday.
St. Joseph Academy of Hammonton – coached by Paul Sacco, whose 342 wins is the most in South Jersey history – will open things on Friday, August 27 (11am) against Northeast Philly. St. Joe, ranked No. 8 in South Jersey last year and No. 19 in the state, will be led by versatile Cohl Mercado, QB Ja’son Prevard and highly-recruited offensive tackle Z’Amir Thomas. Northeast won six of its seven games last year and is led by defensive tackle Ken Talley, a Penn State recruit.
Camden, ranked No. 10 last year, and Salem, No. 21 a year ago, will follow at 2 p.m. Camden returns rushing leader Nazir Dale and Antoine Still, who led the team in tackles; and adds top defensive end recruit Marcus Johnson from Woodrow Wilson. Jahki Coates threw for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore at Salem and Anthony Selby led the team in rushing.
Collingswood will take on Pennsylvania’s Marple Newtown in Friday’s 5p.m. game. The Colls’ Quentin Moss was the team’s top receiver last year and totaled more the 600 offensive yards. Marple Newtown returns Charlie Box, a Pennsylvania all-state back last year, who has committed to Cornell for lacrosse.
Host Ocean City, No. 7 in South Jersey last year and No. 17 in the state, will conclude the first day against Vineland. The Raiders return running backs Jacob Wilson and Jack Hoag and Brendan McGonigle, one of South Jersey’s top kickers. Vineland returns running back Anthony Arthur and Billy Davis, who led the team in tackles.
Penns Grove will start the second day with a Saturday (11am) game against Bernards. QBs Curt Gould and Jaleel Patrick threw the ball effectively last season and Cincinnati recruit Zion Cheeks was a top receiver and defensive leader for Penns Grove, which won its last four games. Bernards won eight of nine a year ago and returns running back Mike Leanza.
Timber Creek, ranked No. 16 in South Jersey a year ago, will follow against Red Bank Catholic. Timber Creek returns one of the state’s top QBs – Donovan Leary. The Illinois recruit has thrown for more than 4,400 yards and 35 TDs in his career. Jihadd Campbell and James Wilson were favorite targets last year. RBC boasts offensive tackle Vince Carpenter and tight end Alex Bauman, both among the state’s top recruits.
The third game on Saturday pairs Millville, No. 20 in South Jersey last year, with Union. Running back LeQuint Allen, a Syracuse recruit, and QB Nate Robbins, who threw for over 1,000 yards last year, lead Millville. Union defensive back Davison Igbinoson is one of the state’s top recruits.
The final game on Saturday pairs Holy Spirit, No. 1 in South Jersey and No. 2 in the state last year, with DeMatha (MD) Catholic, traditionally one the best programs in the East. Among their graduates is Brian Westbrook, who gained 6,000 yards with the Philadelphia Eagles. Spirit returns QB Trevor Cohen and wide receivers Elijah Steward and Gavin Roman.
Sunday begins at noon with Moorestown against Cherry Hill East. The Quakers return QB Nick DiMarino and running back Moe Airall. Last year, Rome Ciocco was East’s leading receiver.
The 3 p.m. game on Sunday pairs Cedar Creek with Scotch Plains-Fanwood. Creek is led by Rutgers recruit JoJo Bermudez, one of South Jersey’s top wide receivers and kick returners. Scotch Plains-Fanwood, which won its last five games last year, returns running back Anthony Robinson.
Wrapping up the events on Sunday is the game between Winslow Township, ranked No. 9 in South Jersey in 2020, and Woodbridge. Winslow won five of six last year, losing only to Holy Spirit. QB Hamas Duren has thrown for more than 1,800 yards. Trey Thorpe led the team in rushing last year. Woodbridge won five of six last year. Isaiah Allen was a leading receiver.
Some of the most exciting high school football players in the Garden State and many of the best teams – all playing at one site on one weekend. Tickets ($10 per day) are available at all 22 participating schools as the New Jersey high school football season begins with the spectacular Battle at the Beach in Ocean City’s Carey Stadium.