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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Devils won unexpected title last season

Quarterback Ryan Barts helped lead Hammonton to a sectional title in 2019. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Encouraged by the development of a large group of returning starters, Hammonton High School’s football team entered the 2019 season confident that it would not only improve on its 3-7 record from the previous year, but also contend for a South Jersey title.

Few outside the Blue Devils program shared that confidence, but by the end of the year, Hammonton had proven all the doubters wrong with an unexpected championship run.

After shifting between several approaches on offense the season before, Hammonton’s focus when it had the ball in 2019 went back to a traditional, run-first approach. A talented backfield, led by junior Jaiden Abrams made that an easy decision, as Abrams teamed with senior Caleb Nartey to give Hammonton a strong inside/outside combination in the backfield.

The run game was powered by a vastly improved offensive line. The five starters up front had struggled as sophomores the year before, but the experience gained in 2018 paid off the following season, as Joe McIntosh, Johnny Scibilia, Michael Dogostino, Brock Beebe and Luis Rodriguez gelled into one of southern New Jersey’s best units.

At quarterback, senior Ryan Barts seized the job in preseason and became an outstanding duel threat, completing many key passes during the season while rushing for more than 500 yards, adding another dimension to Hammonton’s offense.

Defensively, the unit was led by linebackers Dalton Cheney, Brock Weissman and Kyle Vandever, who sparked a tenacious squad that gave up little ground and turned in several big plays of its own in 2019.

The season began with a lopsided 51-12 win against Oakcrest. Abrams ran for 193 yards and three scores, while Nartey added 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win. The Blue Devils faced a tougher test in their second game, going on the road to face a strong Timber Creek team. Hammonton played well for a half, but Timber Creek’s explosive passing attack helped the Chargers earn a 29-14 win. Hammonton was on the road again the next weekend, where it lost to perennial nemesis Shawnee 31-8. Playing without Abrams, the Devils struggled on the offensive side of the ball.

Needing a win to stay in contention for a postseason berth, Hammonton returned home to face a strong Holy Spirit team. Hammonton kept the ball on the ground, and combined with a strong defensive performance, dominated in an 18-7 win. Abrams ran for 236 yards and a score in the victory.

Following the win against Spirit, Hammonton cruised past Absegami 49-21 as Abrams rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Next came a hard-fought 14-0 win on the road at Kingsway where the defense was outstanding in posting a shutout. Hammonton continued to dominate on defense in its next game, a 29-0 win against Winslow. Abrams scored three times and topped 100 yards, while Barts added 87 yards rushing and a touchdown.

In one of the most exciting games of the season, Hammonton outlasted Eastern on the road for a 35-27 win. The Blue Devils broke open a close game with 21 second-quarter points, then held off a second-half comeback by the Vikings for the win. Barts completed four passes in the game for 120 yards and three touchdowns and Nartey had a pair of long touchdown receptions and Cheney added a score in the win. The Blue Devils capped the regular season with a 34-14 win against Washington Twp. as Barts scored twice and Abrams ran for three touchdowns.

Hammonton opened the playoffs against Brick Twp. and cruised to a 35-0 win. The ground game dominated as the line paved the way for three 100-yard rushers, Abrams (171), Nartey (150) and Barts (120).

In the semifinals, Hammonton hosted a strong Middletown South team and pulled out a 32-29 win. Nartey scored three second-half touchdowns as the Devils rallied from a seven-point deficit to earn the victory.

That sent Hammonton into the South Jersey Group 4 title game, where the Blue Devils took control early and posted a 28-12 win to capture their first sectional championship in a decade. Abrams ran for 103 yards in the victory and scored three touchdowns, leading an efficient Hammonton offense that mixed the run and the pass in a well-balanced performance.

The season ended a few weeks later at Rutgers, where Hammonton made too many mistakes in a 34-0 loss to Shawnee in a South Group 4 Regional Championship game.


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