Hammonton slips past Eastern to stay perfect
VOORHEES—Playing on the road for the first time this season, Hammonton High School’s football team avoided its first loss of the season, driving for a late score to defeat host Eastern Regional 21-14 last week.
The host Vikings took a 14-13 lead with 2:46 left in the game, but Hammonton was able to move the ball quickly downfield and win on Kenny Smith’s 4-yard touchdown run with only 54 seconds on the clock.
Eastern outplayed Hammonton for much of the game, keeping the Blue Devils strong run game in check while advancing the ball well throughout the matchup.
“It was ugly. The main thing is always to win the game. [I’m] happy we were able to find a way at the end. We didn’t panic,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.
Hammonton came into the game with a perfect 3-0 record, while Eastern was seeking its first win of the season. Early in the game, it looked like the Blue Devils might cruise to a win, as they drove 50 yards in seven plays on their first possession, taking a 6-0 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run from Kye Pressley. It was Pressley’s 25-yard run that helped set up the score.
Eastern blocked the extra point attempt, and that may have been a signal of the troubles to come for the Blue Devils.
On its ensuing drive, Eastern punted, but Hammonton was unable to gain any momentum, as the Vikings forced a Blue Devils punt before driving to the Hammonton 11-yard line. From there, an Eastern field goal attempt was blocked, but the Vikings had gained some confidence and stopped the Blue Devils on their next two possessions.
Vincent Coleman intercepted a Billy Way pass, setting Eastern up at the Hammonton 17 yard line with 2:23 left in the first half. Facing a fourth-and-four at the Hammonton 11, Vikings quarterback Logan Dawson hit a wide-open Jordan Masino down the left hash mark for a touchdown and a 7-6 Eastern lead.
Smith quickly put Hammonton back on top, however, as on the first play of Hammonton’s next drive, he broke loose for a 75-yard touchdown run that gave the Blue Devils a 13-7 halftime lead.
“He [Smith] really gave us a boost when we needed one,” Raso said.
The run was Hammonton’s biggest play of the night and marked one of the few times the Blue Devils were able to get the ball around the edge of Eastern’s defense.
For most of the game, the Vikings were able to force Hammonton to run between the tackles, where the Blue Devils enjoyed mixed success.
“They were making plays, they did a great job defensively. Give them all the credit in the world. I don’t think it was our best day up front blocking. We made big plays when we had to, but we also let up big plays which is not good to see. You have to be able to put that game away and we didn’t do it. And hopefully moving forward we learn something from this,” Raso said.
Despite giving up the lead, Eastern continued to frustrate Hammonton’s offense in the second half. The Blue Devils opened the third quarter with a stalled drive and Eastern reached the Hammonton 38 before punting midway through the period. After the teams traded punts three times in the fourth quarter, Eastern put together a late scoring drive to take the lead.
Taking over at their own 40-yard line, the Vikings score when Dawson hit Chris Diggs for a 61-yard touchdown pass and a 14-13 lead with 2:46 left in the game.
Hammonton’s final drive began at its own 29-yard line. On their first play, Blue Devils quarterback Billy Way found Na’Keem Powell for a 28-yard pass completion. Lucas Goehringer followed with his longest run of the night, 21-yards, setting Hammonton up at the Eastern 22-yard line. Two more Goehringer runs put the moved the ball to the Vikings’ 11, and after runs by Pressley and Justin Doughty moved the ball to the 4-yard line, Smith scored up middle to give Hammonton a 19-14 lead. Way found Smith for a two-point conversion with 54 seconds left in the game.
Eastern’s final drive ended with three incompletions and a sack by Joey Gillen before Hammonton knelt out the final seconds for the win.
After the game, Raso hoped his team learned a lesson from the close game.
“If they don’t wake up from this then I don’t know what to tell them. Records are out the window when you’re playing a Group 5 school, hungry for a win. You know you’re going to get their best shot, it’s senior night, the whole nine yards. You can’t just show up sleep walking, and I don’t know if we did that, but this was definitely not our best football game,” Raso said.
Hammonton’s coach chalked some of his team’s poor performance on having to be on the road for the first time this season.
“First time on the road, we’ve been at home, everything’s been going our way. This is what happens. A change of environment and hopefully we learned a lesson tonight because it’s not going to get any easier from here. We have a lot to clean up, but the main thing is the goal was to be 1-0 this week and we found a way to get it done. Sometimes the character has to be tested,” Raso said.
One positive for Raso was his team’s ability to overcome some adversity.
“That part is good to see, they’re rallying together, but we can’t be putting ourselves in that spot. Guys are seeing it, first time on the road. I was worried about it after three games at home. Hopefully this is out of our system and moving forward, we just have to do a better job next week,” he said.
Hammonton’s next game is at Mainland, a team that is 3-1 this season. The Blue Devils know they cannot continue to play games like the one at Eastern.
“Sometimes you have to win ugly and that’s what it was tonight. You live to see another day now, but we have to make some improvements because I do believe we took a step back today,” Raso said.
Hammonton plays at Mainland on September 23 at 6 p.m.