Millville rally stuns Hammonton
HAMMONTON—For the better part of three quarters, Hammonton High School’s football team looked ready to win the South Jersey Group 4 championship last week.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, there are four quarters in high school football games.
Millville controlled the last 12 minutes of the game last week, rallying for two touchdowns to beat Hammonton and take home its second-straight sectional title with a dramatic 18-16 victory that stunned both the Blue Devils and most of a large crowd that turned out on a damp night at Robert Capoferri Field.
“We came up one stop short,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.
“That’s football sometimes. We needed one more stop and we didn’t get it,” he said.
Hammonton was seeking its first sectional championship since 2019, and for around three quarters it appeared the Blue Devils would earn it, as they managed to outplay Millville for most of the game’s first 36 minutes, building a 16-6 lead.
But Millville, the defending champion, showed why it was considered one of the region’s top teams, fighting back to score twice in the final 10 minutes to pull out the win.
“We kept telling our kids, ‘we’re still in this, don’t give up,’” Millville coach Humberto Ayala said.
Heavy rain and strong winds were predicted for the game, but instead it was played in a light mist. The wet conditions impacted both teams, but appeared to hurt Millville more early, as the Thunderbolts struggled to move the football through the air.
“The conditions forced us to run more than we wanted to,” Ayala said.
That strategy played to Hammonton’s strength, as the Blue Devils controlled the line of scrimmage and kept Millville away from the end zone for much of the game.
Hammonton took an early lead after a high snap sailed over the punter on Millville’s opening drive and resulted in a safety and 2-0 lead for the Blue Devils.
The Thunderbolts answered back with a drive deep into Hammonton territory, but a missed field goal left the Blue Devils with the lead.
Following a Hammonton punt, Millville drove again, this time producing points when Jacob Zamot hit Lotzier Brooks for a 36-yard touchdown pass that gave the Thunderbolts a 6-2 lead.
The second quarter saw the teams trade punts four times before Kenny Smith gave Hammonton the lead when he burst through the middle of the line and sprinted past the Millville secondary for a 66-yard touchdown run. Drew Fields’ extra point put Hammonton ahead 9-6 with 2:21 remaining in the half.
Smith would stretch Hammonton’s lead to 16-6 three minutes into the third quarter when he ran over a pair of defenders, cut back across the field and sprinted to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown.
The sophomore back finished the game with 207 yards on the ground.
“He [Smith] is a special player and he’s done so much for us this year on both sides of the ball,” Raso said.
The lead seemed secure heading into the fourth quarter, as Hammonton’s defense had been able to hold Millville’s strong offensive attack in check.
Kye Pressley and John Smith had pressured Zamot into several poor throws, while linebackers Andy Wehner and Joey Gillen were holding Millville’s backs to little more than short gains.
Brooks, one of the state’s top wide receivers, was well covered for much of the game by a Hammonton secondary led by Deandre Clemons and Josh Camargo.
“I thought our defense did an outstanding job,” Raso said.
Millville’s comeback began late in the third quarter. Taking over at their own 35-yard line, the Thunderbolts mixed a few short passes with some long runs to drive 65 yards in 12 plays, the last a 9-yard touchdown run from Na’eem Sharp that cut Hammonton’s lead to 16-12 with 9:08 left in the game.
The Blue Devils tried to use their ground game to run out the clock, but after converting once on fourth down, Hammonton was forced to punt, and Millville took over at its own 17 yard line with 2:55 remaining in the game.
Needing to score, Millville was able to make a few plays and drive for the go-ahead touchdown in just a minute and 40 seconds.
Hammonton looked to have stopped the drive early, but on fourth-and-5, Zamot hit Brooks on a screen pass that gained 26 yards.
Zamot underthrew his next pass, headed to a wide open Thomas Smith III, but his throw to Brooks on the following play kept the drive going and moved Millville to the Hammonton 25.
After an incompletion, Zamot fired a pass across the middle to Smith, who juggled the ball before reeling it as he was hit at the Hammonton 11-yard line than battled his way to the four before being brought down by several Blue Devils.
From there, Sharp scored to give the Thunderbolts the lead, 18-16 with 1:40 left on the clock.
Hammonton tried to battle back, but on its third play, Kyon Conyers intercepted a Billy Way pass, ending the game and the season for the Blue Devils.
“We needed to get a stop, we had them on fourth down. We came up one stop short and that’s football. We were trying to hold the ball as long as we could, and we needed one more first down. That’s a great football team, they’re the defending champs. They came up with a stop, we didn’t. They made one more play than we did,” Raso said.