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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Hammonton falls short in playoff opener

A.J. Ryker heads for the end zone late in Hammonton’s opening round playoff loss at Shawnee last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

MEDFORD—Costly penalties and a few defensive breakdowns proved too much for Hammonton High School’s football team to overcome last week against Shawnee, as the Blue Devils were ousted from the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs with a 34-15 loss to the host Renegades in a quarterfinal game last week.

Hammonton was able to keep the game close for most of the first half, but the Blue Devils were hampered by several penalties that thwarted drives and a breakdowns in pass coverage that led to three first half scores for Shawnee.

“We came out swinging and gave it everything we had. We kind of reverted back to making penalties. At halftime, we had three or four times when we had fourth and short and hurt ourselves with penalties. Against a team like them, you have to convert those,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.

A false start penalty, one of four Hammonton committed in the first half, halted the opening drive of the game for the Blue Devils at midfield. Following a Hammonton punt, Shawnee drove 69 yards in 14 plays to take a 7-0 lead.

A key play on the drive came on third-and-nine at the Hammonton 26 when Shawnee quarterback Matt Welsey hit an open Avery Cohen across the middle for a 14-yard gain. The Renegades then moved to the Hammonton 3-yard line where Welsey scored on a fourth down run.

Hammonton then used some trickery to put its first points on the board, scoring on a gadget play with 42 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Faced with a fourth-and-12 at the Shawnee 26-yard line, quarterback Dennis Wyers tossed to Jaron Hill on what appeared to be a reverse. Hill pulled up in the backfield and fired a pass downfield to a wide-open Justin Doughty, who raced into the end zone for a 26-yard score. Hammonton then went for two, and took an 8-7 lead when A.J. Ryker ran in the conversion.

Hammonton’s defense fed off the momentum of that score, stopping Shawnee’s next two drives. The Renegades finally broke through with 2:51 remaining in the half, as Welsey connected with an open Cohen for a 35-yard touchdown strike that put Shawnee back in front 14-8.

A holding penalty hurt Hammonton’s ensuing possession and the Blue Devils had to punt from their own 28-yard line. Taking over at their own 49-yard line with 1:07 to play in the half, the Renegades struck again, as Welsey’s heave into the end zone with 1.5 seconds on the clock was caught by Luke Anderson near the end line for an 18-yard touchdown and a 21-8 halftime lead.

“We had some breakdowns that hurt us. Their quarterback [Welsey] is a four-year starter and their receivers are too good to leave open,” Raso said.

Holding a two-touchdown lead, Shawnee broke the game open in the third quarter, adding touchdown following an odd series of events.

On third down at his own 35-yard line, Welsey hit Dean Bialous for what appeared to be a 65-yard touchdown pass. A penalty against Shawnee disallowed the touchdown, but set the Renegades up at the Hammonton 13-yard line. Two plays later, Welsey was intercepted in the end zone by Paul Kalani.

Hammonton’s ensuing drive ended when Wyers was intercepted by Cohen, and starting at the Blue Devils 39-yard line, Shawnee drove quickly for a score, this time when Bialous scored on a 2-yard run.

Early in the fourth quarter, Bialous scored again on a 1-yard run to put the Renegades ahead 34-8.

Hammonton’s final drive ended in a touchdown, as Ryker’s 2-yard run around the left side capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive that was aided by three personal foul penalties on Shawnee, making the final score 34-15.

The loss left Hammonton with a 5-6 record for the season. The Blue Devils finished the year with wins in three of their last four games.

“The season could have gone sideways on us, it was getting a little dark there for a while, but the seniors held it together for these guys and showed them that we had enough to come together and win. We had guys in and out of the lineup all year. You want to be able to go into game full boat. I hope the younger guys learn from this,” Raso said.

Hammonton featured a young roster this season and played last week’s playoff game without Billy Way, a midseason transfer who had started three late-season games at quarterback. The addition of Way, a junior, and the experience the underclassmen gained this year, have Raso excited about next season.

“We have a lot of work to do in the weight room, but I think this is only the beginning for some of these guys. If they commit themselves this offseason, with the experience that we’ll have going into next year, and with Billy [Way] being able to play a full season with us and having an offseason, we’ll see what winds up happening,” Raso said.

Earning a playoff berth this season will also help next year’s team build confidence.

“That was the biggest goal to have these young guys see what this is all about and they got their feet wet. We made a lot of young mistakes tonight, the moment might have been a little big for these guys, but that’s something that they’ll learn from and it will be a little bit of motivation for the offseason,” Raso said.

As for this year’s seniors, Raso was quick to praise their contributions to the program.

“The guys that played all four years, they gave us everything they had. What [A.J.] Ryker does with his body, pound for pound he’s one of the toughest to come through here. Luis [Rodriguez], being that three-year starting lineman, coming in this year with an inexperienced group, he held it together this year and was a true captain. [Neil] Curcio got a chance to play this year and was one of our most consistent players, and Austin [Hudak]who was a two-year starter and just a great player for us. The others [seniors] all contributed and were a big reason we were able to get here [to the playoffs],” Raso said.


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