• Dan Russoman

Hammonton topples Shawnee

Blue Devils earn trip to South Jersey Group 4 title game


THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Kenny Smith, left, tries to elude Shawnee defender Joe Papa during last week’s playoff game.  Smith scored three touchdowns in Hammonton’s win.

HAMMONTON—Less than five minutes into last week’s South Jersey Group 4 playoff semifinal, things did not look good for Hammonton High School’s football team.


The top-seeded Blue Devils trailed perennial postseason nemesis Shawnee 10-0, and looked headed for a disappointing loss.


But, much like it has all season, Hammonton regrouped and fought back, pulling out a 27-16 win that sent the Devils into this week’s sectional championship game and erased nearly a decade of frustration against Shawnee.


“They’ve had our number, that’s for sure,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.


Prior to last week’s game, Raso gave his team a short history lesson about their history against Shawnee, a team that has ousted Hammonton from the playoffs many times in the last decade.


“I always like to give the kids a little history, so I went over some of the games the last few years,” Raso said.


“I reminded them that Shawnee knocked us out of the playoffs last year, but that we beat them in 2020 and in 2018, both games at home and both in even [numbered] years, like this game,” he said.


Raso’s lesson served as inspiration for his team, which even when down, never believed it wouldn’t win the game.


“Coach Raso told us about all the times we’ve played Shawnee and it got us going. They thought the game was over, but we knew we would come back,” Josh Camargo, who had a key reception in the game, said.


Few Hammonton players were as inspired as sophomore running back Kenny Smith, who Raso pulled aside a day before the game for a private conversation.


“On Thursday after practice, I had him [Smith] stay late and I told him this was his opportunity to make a name for himself. He’s been getting some attention, but I told him if he played well tonight, everyone in the state high school football community would know his name,” Raso said.


“Coach said some things. He told me that if I played well in this game, people would take notice,” Smith said.


Smith led Hammonton’s comeback with 184 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

“When you have a kid like him [Smith] back there, that’s something special,” Raso said.


“Shawnee is a great program, but we believed we were the better team, and our kids showed it tonight,” Raso said.


Shawnee looked like the better team for five minutes to open the game last week, as the Renegades opened up a 10-0 lead.


Ethan Kraus, who caught seven passes for 206 yards in the game, set up Shawnee’s first score with a 67-yard reception that led to Jimmy Potter’s 5-yard touchdown run.


After a Hammonton punt, Shawnee padded its lead on Darren Wu’s 37-yard field goal, grabbing a 10-0 lead with 7:31 left in the third quarter.


The Renegades were in control, but Hammonton clawed its way back into the game quickly, as Smith’s 57-yard kickoff return set up a short, 39-yard touchdown drive.


Na’Keem Powell had runs of 20 and 19 yards to set up Smith’s 2-yard touchdown run.


On its next possession, Hammonton drove 72 yards in five plays, including a 66-yard Smith run, and tied the game on Drew Fields’ 26-yard field goal.


The Blue Devils had the momentum, and after intercepting a Shawnee pass and stopping another Renegades drive, Hammonton took the lead late in the second quarter when Smith scored on an 8-yard run.


Shawnee fought back, with Joe Papa hitting Kraus for an 83-yard touchdown that cut Hammonton’s lead to 17-16 at the half.


Despite the late score, Hammonton controlled the second half, adding a pair of scores while keeping Shawnee out of the end zone.


“Our kids believed. They played their hearts out,” Raso said.


“Even with a one-point lead, our kids responded. I could see the determination in their eyes. They wanted to come out and put the game away,” Raso said.


The Blue Devils asserted themselves on the opening drive of the second half. A 23-yard completion from Billy Way to Josh Camargo kept the drive going and a few plays later, Smith scored his third touchdown of the game, a 2-yard run that put Hammonton up 24-16.


“Our line did a great job. They made me proud tonight. I love running inside and those guys open things up for me,” Smith said.


On its next drive Shawnee moved inside the Hammonton 10-yard line, but on third down, Camargo delivered a big hit on Kraus, who lost the ball and Elijah Church jumped on it to keep the Renegades from scoring.


“I was telling our guys the whole night to rip the ball out because their guys were carrying it loose. I saw him [Kraus] catch it and just tried to knock the ball out,” Camargo said.


The Blue Devils capped the win in the fourth quarter, driving 89 yard for a 37-yard Fields field goal that made the final score 27-16.


The victory sent Hammonton to the South Jersey Group 4 title game, where the Blue Devils will host Millville on November 11 at 6 p.m.


Millville beat Jackson Memorial 34-16 in the semifinals last week.