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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Big Plays help Hammonton stay perfect.

THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Nakeem Powell (20) races past several Highland defenders late in last week’s game.

HAMMONTON—Big plays, strong blocking and a relentless defensive effort fueled Hammonton High School’s football team in its 40-7 victory against Highland last week, as the Blue Devils improved to 3-0 this season and took control of the West Jersey Football League (WJFL) Memorial Division race.

Running behind a powerful offensive line, sophomore running back Kenny Smith gained 165 yards on just eight carries, scoring three touchdowns and leading a Hammonton offense that gained 351 yards on the ground.

Unlike its win against Cherokee a week prior when the Blue Devils methodically worked the ball downfield with short gains, last week Hammonton was able to break several big runs that either found the end zone or helped set up scores.

“It was good to see some big runs and Kenny does a great job and we spread the ball around. When we’re able to do that, it makes us even more dangerous. And give a lot of credit to the offensive line. With all the fronts that they (Highland) put up and we were trying to emphasize communication up front and they did a great job all night. I’m very proud of the offensive line tonight,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.

That offensive line, tackles Cameron Broadnax and Elijah Church, guards Christian Medina and Ryland Smith and center Mike Ryan, were able to open holes all night against a solid Highland defense.

The Blue Devils were able to set the tone for the game on their first offensive play when Smith took a handoff and broke through the middle for a 59-yard touchdown run.

A fumble recovery by Kye Pressley, who was a constant presence in the Highland backfield, set up a five-play, 28-yard drive that was capped by Smith’s 14-yard touchdown run around the left side.

“We ran that play all week in practice and we knew we’d come out and punch them in the mouth and get some yards. On that touchdown, Joe Gillen made a great kick around block on the outside,” Smith said.

Early in the second quarter, fullback Lucas Goehringer pushed Hammonton’s lead to 20-0 when he slipped through the line and outraced Highland’s defense for a 75-yard touchdown run.

Andy Wehner’s interception on Highland’s next drive set up a dazzling 37-yard touchdown pass from Billy Way to freshman NaKeem Powell.

Powell was covered tightly by Highland’s corner Asa Miller down the right sideline, but Way’s pass was perfectly placed and Powell made an over-the-shoulder, one-handed catch, managed to stay in bounds and raced into the end zone to give the Blue Devils a 26-0 lead.

“He [Miller] kind of locked me up, I’m not sure how to explain it. I was running down the sideline and the quarterback threw an amazing pass,” Powell said.

Powell finished the game 114 all-purpose yards, and impressive performance by a freshman in just his third varsity game.

“We had the freshman [Powell] step up and we wanted to get him going and see what he could do and he did a lot of great things for us,” Raso said.

Following a halftime break that saw Hammonton honor former head coach Joe Cacia (see story Page 68), the Blue Devils quickly stretched their lead to 33-0 when Smith broke loose for a 66-yard touchdown run.

Later in the third quarter, the Blue Devils added a score after Powell’s 67-yard run set up his 8-yard score.

Highland managed a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but the game was over at that point and Hammonton used its backups to close out the victory.

The 3-0 start is Hammonton’s best since the 2015 team began that season 7-0.

“We’ve got a good thing going here. I don’t know how many people had us here, not sure we really knew what we had going into the season and our mindset was that we wanted to get off to a good start. We had a good week of practice. You’re always wondering, talk about having a full belly vs. a hungry belly, that’s our motto. The guys at the top are doing a great job being leaders and keep reminding these guys there’s still plenty of football out there and it’s going to be a fight every week,” Raso said.

Hammonton begins three-straight road games this weekend at Eastern, a stretch that will require a different approach than the last three matchups, all at home.

“Different routine now, different challenge, get on the bus and are we going to be ready to go? So, it’s going to be about our mindset, will we continue to do the little things right and can we keep this thing going,” Raso said.

Hammonton plays at Eastern on September 16 at 6 p.m.


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