COLUMN: Wrapping up the 2021 CAL football season

By TOM WILLIAMS

It was quite a season for Cape-Atlantic League football teams in the West Jersey Football League. The 18 CAL teams were somehow spread out over eight different divisions (CAL teams won five of those divisions with four other teams finishing second).

A pair of CAL teams won regional championships at Rutgers last week and four other teams reached the sectional finals or semi-finals. New passing and receiving records were set and CAL teams were at the top in the final rankings.

Before completely filing away all records and eventually moving on to basketball, wrestling, swimming and winter track, lets review some of the highlights of the football season.

SCORING LEADERS: LeQuint Allen of Millville was the highest-scoring Cape-Atlantic League player with 166 points, the 13th highest total ever by a CAL player. Five other players also scored more than 100 points. Cedar Creek’s J.C. Landicini threw the most TD passes (36, a CAL record) with Millville’s Lotzeir Brooks and Elijah Steward of Holy Spirit each catching 15 touchdowns. Brooks, JoJo Bermudez of Cedar Creek and Samir Miller of Pleasantville each had two return TDs. Jahmeer Cartagena of St. Joseph had three defensive touchdowns and three others scored two. Millville scored the most points per game (49.1) and Ocean City allowed the fewest points (8.2). Lots more scoring leaders are available HERE.

STAT LEADERS: LeQuint Allen ran for 1,463 yards and three other backs also gained more than 1,000 yards. One of them, St. Augustine’s Kanye Udoh, carried the ball 247 times, best among CAL players. Among other leaders, Cedar Creek’s JoJo Bermudez caught 90 passes for 1,662 yards as he broke virtually every CAL receiving record; the Pirates’ QB, J.C. Landicini completed 202 passes for 3,230 yards and 36 TDs, all CAL records; Millville’s Nate Robbins had the highest pass efficiency rating (215.3). The stats of 73 of the leaders in rushing, passing and receiving are available HERE.

J.C. Landicini

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: In addition to Cedar Creek, which was undefeated everywhere, three other CAL teams were unbeaten at home – Ocean City, Middle Township and St. Joseph (wasn’t it nice to see the Wildcats play some games in Hammonton!). But four teams had much better records on the road than at home – Oakcrest, Bridgeton, Atlantic City and Mainland. The final records of all CAL teams are HERE.

BIGGEST IMPROVEMENTS: Cedar Creek had the most improved record, winning 10 more games in 2021 than in 2020. Millville improved by 8 wins, Ocean City by 6 and St. Augustine by 5, But, keep in mind, 2020 was a strange season and many teams did not play a full schedule. So, the comparisons could be a little inconsistent. You can check the final Online 25 rankings of South Jersey teams HERE.

Nate Robbins

IN THE RECORD BOOK: JoJo Bermudez broke virtually every CAL receiving record, finishing his career with over 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns. The guy throwing him the ball this year, J.C. Landicini, set new single-season records for completions (202), yards (3.230) and TD passes (36). He also tied the record of 5 TD passes in a game twice. Holy Spirit’s Trevor Cohen threw 5 in his final game on Thanksgiving. Millville’s Nate Robbins threw for a record 408 yards in one game and Millville’s Lotzeir Brooks had 971 receiving yards, a South Jersey record for a freshman. Ocean City kicker Brendan McGonigle finished his career with a CAL record 167 kicking points. And Absegami’s Ray Weed finished as the first football player in South Jersey history with more than 2,500 career rushing yards and 4,500 career passing yards. He also threw for over 1,000 yards in all four seasons, just the second South Jersey QB to do that.

Ray Weed

Brendan McGonigle

STREAMING SEASON: Live video streams continued to increase this year, Matt Ulmer, the “King of Stream”, again played a key role along with Bill Shallcross, who has been recording high school football for three decades, playing a big role. Brian Cunniff was on 98.7-The Coast, whose coverage also featured the inimitable Buddy Tarbotton. Quinn Broadcasting covered the Cumberland County teams, Dan Hollingsworth and Half Pint Productions streamed St. Joseph Academy and Hermits Broadcasting covered St. Augustine. Most of those streams are still available online. And there are lots more as streaming played an even bigger role.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: You kidding? There were quite a few important freshmen this year – Kenny Smith of Hammonton, Mason Forte of Holy Spirit, Braswell Thomas of Lower Cape May, Remi Rodriguez of Middle Township, Daniel Russo of Vineland and Darian Blachewicz and Marcus Offer of Millville, among them. But it was Darian and Marcus’ teammate – Lotzeir Brooks – who had top college programs all over the country already measuring him for a uniform.

Lotzeir Brooks

TRANSFER OF THE YEAR: Ja’Quan Howard of Cedar Creek, who transferred from Pleasantville, certainly made a big impact. So did Aaron Bullock, who left Egg Harbor Township for Oakcrest; Dylan Simpson, who left Cedar Creek for Absegami; and Marlon Leslie, who moved from Pleasantville to Mainland. But the nod this year goes to Jahmeer Cartagena of St. Joseph, who was outstanding on both offense and defense after transferring from Atlantic City.

Jahmeer Cartagena

GAMES OF THE YEAR: There were so many. Cedar Creek’s 7-6 win over Holy Spirit. The Spartans’ 35-24 win over St. Joseph. St. Augustine’s 31-17 win over Millville and 24-7 win over St. Joseph. The 29-6 St. Joe win over Winslow Township. And Millville’s 45-35 win over Winslow in the Group 4 regional final. But the edge goes to Cedar Creek’s 35-34 win over Woodrow Wilson in Group 3 regional final. It went down to the last second and people are still debating which team actually won.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: There were a lot of players who were very valuable to a lot of CAL teams. But the player who did the most was Millville’s LeQuint Allen. He was a first team selection on Prime Events’ All-CAL team on both offense and defense and was the leader on both sides of the ball. When the Thunderbolts needed yards, despite their great passing game, they went to Allen. And when a big play on defense was needed, he usually made it. Check out the All-CAL football teams and the West Jersey League’s division all stars HERE.

LeQuint Allen

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: You’ve just read all the impressive stats compiled by an impressive group of athletes. There were so many who sparkled on offense. But JoJo Bermudez finished off his record-breaking career with an amazing season. It wasn’t just the number of times he caught the ball, the number of yards he covered or the number of times he scored. It was also the way he did it. Check out the 75-yard scoring play early in the fourth quarter of the playoff game with Delsea (the game is HERE) and you’ll see one example of why Bermudez was the season’s best offensive player.

JoJo Bermudez

FOOTBALL COACH OF THE YEAR: Dennis Thomas brought another title to Millville, Ocean City’s Kevin Smith and Middle Township’s Frank Riggitano had record-setting championship seasons. Kevin Stetser’s Egg Harbor Township team took a big step forward. And Paul Sacco and Pete Lancetta did what they’ve been doing for decades – produce winners. But the nod goes to a new guy – James Melody – who wandered down to Cedar Creek from North Jersey and, in his second year, produced the best record (13-0) in the 70 plus years of football at Cape-Atlantic League schools and the No. 1 ranked team in South Jersey.

James Melody

LOOKING TOWARD 2022: Though the all star teams are loaded with CAL seniors, there is lots of talent returning – Lotzeir Brooks, Ja’Briel Mace, Riley Gunnels, Nyjere Robinson, Marlon Leslie, Mekhi Harvey, Bryan Butkus, Kenny Smith, Tristan McLeer, Darian Blachewicz, Samir Miller, Naeem Sharp, Nick Wagner, Trevin DelGozzo, Jack Hoag, Lucas Goehringer, Marcus Offer, Daniel Russo, Gavin Roman, Hunter Ray, Archie Lawler, Patrick Lonergan, Mike Zarfati, Bricere Hunter, Sean Burns, Remi Rodriguez, Taron Haile, Kahlil Witherspoon, Aldrich Doe, Jon Moyer – just to name a few. Hopefully they will bring fans more of the excitement we experienced in 2021.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT: The year 2021 brought us a shortened winter season but successful efforts in the spring and fall. At this writing, winter sports have already seen some schedule adjustments because of COVID-19 exposure. The NJSIAA, the governor and almost every school administrator want high school sports to continue for winter teams. And we can all play a role in making that happen. If you didn’t care about high school sports you probably wouldn’t be reading this. So, wear a mask whenever you are outside your home. Stay 3-5 feet apart. Restrict large holiday gatherings with unvaccinated people. Sure, these things are uncomfortable. Of course you don’t like them. But if you don’t get vaccinated, wear a mask and follow the other instructions from the scientists, you might be part of the reason that high school sports faces cancellations in the next few months.
Stay safe – and keep others safe, too.

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