• Dan Russoman

Blue Devils cruise past Triton, into playoffs


A.J. Ryker (10) tries to avoid Triton defenders Ryan Morley (18) and Chase Foster (65) during last week’s game. Ryker ran for 146 yards and two scores in Hammonton’s win. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

RUNNEMEDE—Hammonton High School’s football team continued its strong late-season surge last week, trouncing host Triton Regional 43-0 in its final regular game before the start of the state playoffs this weekend.


Playing on a muddy field in a steady rain that grew worse as the game went on, Hammonton took control early and cruised to the win.


“If you’ve seen our practice field, you’d know that we were well-prepared for these conditions,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.


“Our kids take a lot of pride playing in a game like this. Historically, if you look back, our program has taken pride in playing in these conditions,” Raso said.


Led by senior A.J. Ryker, who finished with 146 yards on 14 carries, Hammonton dominated the game with its ground attack, outgaining Triton by more than 350 rushing yards.


“That was our game plan—to run the football,” Ryker said.


“Coach Raso told us before the game that there was only one question we needed to answer, who was going to control the line of scrimmage. I was talking to [offensive tackle] Luis Rodriguez before the game and he told me, ‘Ryker, I promise you I’m going to get you in the end zone at least twice.’ He kept his promise,” Ryker said.


Rodriguez and Hammonton’s offensive line paved the way for 366 rushing yards for the Blue Devils. On the defensive side, the Blue Devils held Triton to just 11 yards on the ground.


“We run behind our big guys, Big Lou [Luis Rodriguez] and Big E [Elijah Church]. We follow those two. Luis gave us a crazy speech before the game and got us all hyped up. Then we came out swinging,” Ryker said.


“We challenged the offensive and defensive lines up front. For a while there, we were kind of getting it during the season and it was, ‘let’s challenge ourselves tonight and be the ones giving it out,’” Raso said.


Along with Ryker’s big game, which included two touchdown runs, Justin Doughty added 92 rushing yards and a score, while Kenny Smith ran for 73 yards and a touchdown.


“We came out with the mindset that we had to fight, do anything we could to win. We’ve been fighting hard the last three weeks, so it was a good win,” Smith said.


Ryker put Hammonton on the board with 4:06 remaining in the first quarter, capping an eight-play Blue Devils drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.


After forcing a Triton punt, Hammonton wasted little time adding to its lead, as Ryker set up his own score when he lost the ball, caught it in midair and raced for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, he rumbled into the end zone on a 4-yard run to give the Blue Devils a 14-0 lead.


The game was Ryker’s third since missing four matchups with a broken leg.


“I never thought I wouldn’t be back,” Ryker said.


His return helped Hammonton snap a three-game skid and put the Blue Devils back on track to reach the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs.


“I’ll say it once and say it a million times, pound-for-pound he’s one of the toughest players we’ve had come through the program. He goes 100 miles an hour every single play. I’ll take that any day of the week and take him any day of the week,” Raso said.


Hammonton extended its lead to 21-0 at halftime when Doughty scored on a 9-yard run in the second quarter.


In the third quarter, Andrew Wehner blocked a punt for a Hammonton safety and Smith broke free for a 35-yard touchdown scamper that put the game out of reach.


By then, Triton looked disinterested and eager to get out of the rain.


In the fourth quarter, with mostly backup players in the game, Hammonton added a pair of touchdowns on runs from Nick Sorce, a 5-yard score, and a 20-yard touchdown rumble from Erik Pabon.


The win secured a postseason berth for Hammonton, which earned the seventh seed in the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs.


“We knew they [Triton] were a playoff team and we were going to treat this like playoff game. With these younger guys, hopefully they learn from an experience like this. We’ve kind of rallied together these last three games and hopefully we can carry some of this moving forward,” Raso said.


Hammonton plays at Shawnee on November 5 at 6 p.m. in a Central Jersey Group 3 quarterfinal game.