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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Miscues cost Hammonton in loss at Cherokee

Dan Russoman/THG. Hammonton’s Josh Camargo (7) eludes Cherokee’s Dylan Kolinsky (31) on his way to a short gain early in last week’s loss.

MARLTON—Six minutes was all Cherokee High School’s football team needed to turn a close game into a rout, as the host Chiefs embarrassed Hammonton 47-7 in a West Jersey Football League matchup on August 31.

Taking advantage of Hammonton miscues and misfortunes, Cherokee turned a 7-6 halftime deficit into a 33-7 lead just more than five minutes into the third quarter.

“Just an ugly game. I’ve never seen us play like that,” a stunned Hammonton coach Jim Raso said minutes after the game ended.

“[You] can’t turn the ball over, can’t make mental mistakes, and we just as a team did not play well,” Raso said.

Trailing 7-0 late in the first half, Cherokee twice hit field goals to cut Hammonton’s lead to a point at the break.

The game had been a tight defensive battle, but it quickly changed in the third quarter when Cherokee quarterback Ryan Bender broke through the middle of the line on the Chiefs’ first play from scrimmage and raced 74-yards for a touchdown that gave Cherokee a 12-7 lead.

The score set off a run of miscues by Hammonton that led to three more Cherokee touchdowns in a matter of minutes.

Turnovers, missed tackles and overall sloppiness cost the Blue Devils and frustrated Raso and the Hammonton coaching staff.

“I didn’t like what I saw tonight in terms of our leadership and that has to be better. You’re not going to show up in a place like this against this program [Cherokee], historically they’re always tough here and they took it to us tonight. They did, I give them all the credit in the world. We were not good in any phase of the game tonight, offense, defense or special teams,” Raso said.

Hammonton had started the game well. After stalling on their opening drive, the Blue Devils forced a Cherokee punt and then used a 55-yard run by Kenny Smith to set up a touchdown, as Smith plunged in from 3-yards out to give Hammonton a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Cherokee’s offense continued to sputter in the second quarter, but after a Hammonton punt the Chiefs drove to the Devils’ 14-yard line where Tommy Pajic put the Chiefs on the board with a 31-yard field goal.

Hammonton’s next drive stalled, and once again Cherokee drove for a field goal, this one from 35-yards to cut the Blue Devils lead to 7-6.

The kickoff following that score was muffed by Hammonton and recovered by Cherokee. The Chiefs failed to add any points before the halftime break, but the turnover set the tone for what would be a disastrous third quarter for the Blue Devils.

Bender’s early touchdown run put Cherokee in front, and a pair of penalties on Hammonton’s first possession of the second half forced a punt that was short and gave the Chiefs the ball at the HHS 16-yard line.

One play later, Murad Campfield broke two tackles and scored on a 16-yard run to give Cherokee a 19-7 lead.

The ensuing kickoff was mishandled by Hammonton and recovered by Cherokee, setting up a quick, three-play scoring drive for Cherokee, capped by Bender’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Luke Brown and a 26-7 lead.

On Hammonton’s next possession, quarterback Drew Craig was flushed from the pocket and lost control of the football, which was scooped up by Cherokee’s Leo Bluestein, who ran the fumble back 59-yards for a touchdown. With 6:51 remaining in the third quarter a once close game was all but over as the Chiefs led 32-7.

“We just came unglued. It started with the special teams and giving them extra possessions. You can’t give a team like that extra possessions. Even before the half, even though they didn’t score, they know they got one up on you at that point,” Raso said.

With plenty of time left to mount a comeback, Hammonton responded by driving to the Cherokee 33-yard line, but on second-and-seven, Craig’s pass was intercepted by Evan Bryfogle inside the 5-yard line.

Cherokee needed just one play to score, as Campfield broke free up the middle and sprinted 89-yards for a touchdown.

Early in the fourth quarter, Cooper Berti scored on a 20-yard run to seal the victory for Cherokee.

While the Chiefs hollered and celebrated after the game, Hammonton tried to regroup and focus on its next matchup.

“That’s as bad as I can remember. I told them [after the game], ‘You’ve got two choices. You can sit there, sulk and feel sorry for yourself or you can come in tomorrow, watch the film, try to see any positives that we can take out of it an try to get better.’ You can’t feel sorry for yourself. We have another game coming up,” Raso said.

Beyond the poor play, Raso was concerned about what he felt was a lack of veteran leadership during the game.

“It definitely concerns me because of some of the guys who didn’t play well tonight. We don’t expect that from some of our veterans and that’s on us,” Raso said.

Hammonton’s coach said he expects his team to focus on its next game but is worried that the loss to Cherokee could linger into this week’s contest.

“We’re going to see how we respond, what kind of team we are and how we respond next week. Will it linger? We’ll find out, I’m hoping that’s not the case. It won’t get any easier. Between the captains, the coaches and the leadership and we’re going to see what we’re made of. We’re gonna see,” he said.

Hammonton plays at Highland on September 8 at 7 p.m.


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