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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Devils top Highland

BLACKWOOD—Two first half touchdown passes and a pair of Kenny Smith scoring runs in the second half helped lead Hammonton High School’s football team to a 26-12 win on the road at Highland last week.

The solid if unspectacular performance allowed the Blue Devils to bounce back from their 47-7 loss to Cherokee on September 7.

“We needed a win. At times we did some nice things and there’s also some stuff we need to clean up,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.

Penalties cost the Blue Devils at times last week, and as they had against Cherokee, a few mental breakdowns also hurt.

“There were a few things that we didn’t want to see, but a win is a win,” Raso said.

“A couple penalties on pass interference that extended some of their drives. It was pretty good coverage and sometimes they’re going to make a play,” he said.

Hammonton was in control early in the game, as Joey Gillen’s blocked punt set the Devils up at the Highland 29-yard line midway through the first quarter.

Five plays later, Drew Craig connected with Josh Camargo on a 16-yard touchdown pass that put Hammonton up 7-0.

“I told Drew, don’t worry, just throw the ball and I’m going to go up and get it,” Camargo said.

Camargo, a senior, is playing a bigger role for the Blue Devils this season, playing both wide receiver and running back as well as starting in the secondary.

“I told Drew, don’t worry, just throw the ball and I’m going to go up and get it,” he said.

The teams traded possessions into the second quarter, with a holding penalty hurting one Hammonton drive while the defense made some key stops to keep Highland out of the end zone.

With 2:16 left in the half, Craig found Gillen open in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown strike and a 13-0 lead.

The catch made up for a pass Gillen dropped at the goal line earlier in the game.

“Yeah, I have to do a better job at that [catching the ball]. I don’t have good hands,” Gillen joked after the game.

Leading by two scores, Hammonton stretched its lead to 19-0 on the opening possession of the second half, driving 50 yards in five plays capped by Smith’s 14-yard touchdown run.

The junior finished the game with 181 yards on 23 carries.

“Kenny does what he does. I’ve said it before, we’re blessed to have him,” Raso said.

Highland was down, but the Tartans fought back. Starting their next drive at their own 46-yard line, the Tartans drove for a score behind the arm of quarterback Connor Leary, who completed key passes to Elijah Thompson and Matt Tuttle to set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Mike Furlow to cut Hammonton’s lead to 19-6.

“They [Highland] came hard, they’re home, their first home game and they never gave up.

Every time we got on top of them by a couple scores, they came right back. And I told their coach that was a great way to see their team respond the way they did,” Raso said.

An interception ended Hammonton’s next drive, but after Highland’s possession stalled, a long Camargo punt return set Hammonton up at the Tartans’ 16.

After Smith’s 15-yard run, the junior punched in his second touchdown of the night to give Hammonton a 26-6 lead.

Again, Highland fought back, as a 79-yard pass from Leary to Thompson set up Furlow’s 1-yard score.

The Blue Devils kept the ball on the ground from there, running out the final 7:38 to secure the win.

The win was an important one for Hammonton as the Blue Devils rebounded from their poor performance against Cherokee.

“For us, we were looking to get back on track. And that was good to see. It was a rough week, the kids got through and we did what we had to do. Hopefully, we can start building off this,” Raso said.

Hammonton’s play was far from perfect, but Raso feels his team will only get better.

“It’s little things, and if it was huge things like we had in that third quarter [against Cherokee], I’d be very concerned. It’s coming off a block, or not wrapping up. It’s all coachable stuff,” Raso said.

Despite the concerns, Hammonton was pleased to grab a victory.

“We practiced hard all week, and we came out here and knew what we had to do. No one liked the feeling after the game last week and we didn’t want that feeling again. So, we came out and did what had to be done. A win is always nice,” Camargo said.

His coach felt the same way.

“It was good to see the kids respond. We’re happy for the win,” Raso said.

Hammonton’s next game will be its home opener on September 14 at 6 p.m. against Eastern.

“It’s been a long time and we’re excited to have a home game,” Raso said.


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