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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Blue Devils edge Ocean City

Dan Russoman/THG. Drew Craig throws a pass during Hammonton’s win against Ocean City in the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs last week.

HAMMONTON—Three Kenny Smith touchdown runs, including one in the final seconds of the game, helped Hammonton High School’s football team edge Ocean City 23-22 in a thrilling Central Jersey Group 4 quarterfinal playoff game on Oct. 27.

Smith’s 2-yard run and Gavin Kovacs’ extra point with 26 seconds left in the game gave Hammonton the win, avenging a last-second loss to Ocean City a week earlier in the finale of the regular season.

“We have a lot of respect for their staff and program. They did an excellent job. I told our guys that Ocean City was in a similar boat in terms of the schedule and how they got beat up a little bit, we got beat up a little bit, and it was all about coming out here and seeing who was going to have the resilience. Not too many times in life do you get a do-over. That was the message this week: now you have a chance to have a do-over. [We told our players] ‘if you didn’t like the way the game ended last week, you have another opportunity. Change the ending. You’re writing the story now. Don’t let them write the story, you write the story,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.

The story the Blue Devils wrote was a dramatic one.

Last week’s game had five lead changes, including three in the third quarter, with the last coming with less than 30 seconds left in the game.

Smith, an All-State running back who had struggled to gain yards during a regular-season ending three-game losing streak for Hammonton, looked like a star, gaining 130 yards on 25 tough carries, scoring all three Blue Devils touchdowns.

With the game on the line, Smith wanted the football and he delivered, driving in for a 2-yard score that gave Hammonton the win.

“I wanted the ball. You have to find a way to win games this time of year, and that’s what we did today. I was just trying to show some leadership. We have a lot of seniors on this team so people have to step up, and I just tried to take accountability tonight. [The offensive line] mean the world to me. They work hard, day in and day out. That’s why we do all those workouts and lifting, so we can win games like this,” Smith said.

Hammonton threw the football more than usual on its game-winning drive, but with the season on the line, Raso turned to Smith.

“In the end, you want to give it to the guy. He [Smith] didn’t even need to call for the ball at that point, we were going to give it to him. I commend [DeAndre] Clemons because he went in there and did a great job on their linebacker, which allowed Kenny to get that little big extra umph to get in there and get the score,” Raso said.

The winning drive came after Ocean City had turned the tables on Hammonton late in the third quarter.

Trailing by a point, 14-13 after Duke Guenther had caught a screen pass and sprinted 28 yards for a touchdown that gave Ocean City a 14-13 lead, Hammonton drove 65 yards in nine plays to go back in front on a 28-yard Kovacs field goal.

The Red Raiders immediately responded, as John Moyer returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards to put Ocean City back on top 22-16 with no time left on the clock in the third quarter.

After trading possessions to start the fourth quarter, Hammonton took over at it’s own 30-yard line with 3:39 left in the game and its season on the line.

The Blue Devils, who had leaned on Smith and the run game for much of the game, went to the air, as Drew Craig connected with tight end Joey Gillen on consecutive first down plays, gaining first 31 yards and then 19 to set Hammonton up at the Ocean City 20.

After a nine-yard run from Smith, a false start penalty and a loss on second down, Craig hit Clemons for a 16-yard gain that put Hammonton at the Ocean City 2-yard line. Two plays later, Smith scored and Kovacs nailed the extra point to give Hammonton a 23-22 lead with 26 seconds remaining.

The passing early in the drive was uncharacteristic of Hammonton and caught the Red Raiders by surprise.

“That’s something we’ve been working on and the coaches saw from the alignment upstairs, they were saying, ‘it’s there, it’s there.’ Gregg Silvesti is our offensive coordinator and I said, ‘let’s go, run it!’ We were running out of time. They made some adjustments in the second half in stopping the run so we knew we were going to have to throw the ball, mix it in. I thought Drew did an outstanding job tonight. He made some really good reads and some really good throws. We’re proud of him,” Raso said.

Ocean City had one final drive, but despite starting at their own 43, the Raiders failed to move the ball, throwing four-straight incompletions to end the game.

The last-minute drama ended a well-played game that saw Ocean City take an early lead on a Guenther 3-yard run before Hammonton tied it, 7-7, when Smith punched it in from 4-yards out.

Smith’s 36-yard touchdown run gave Hammonton a 13-7 halftime lead, setting up the wild third quarter and then the Blue Devils late heroics.

The win sends Hammonton into the semifinals, where the Blue Devils will visit Winslow on Nov. 3 at 6 p.m.


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