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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Smith scores five TDs as Blue Devils cruise

Dan Russoman/THG. Kenny Smith looks for room to run late in the first half of Hammonton’s season-opening win against St. John Vianney last week at the Battle at the Beach.

OCEAN CITY—On a weekend that showcased some of the best high school football talent in the country, Hammonton High School junior Kenny Smith left a huge impression, scoring five touchdowns and gaining more than 200 yards of offense as the Blue Devils routed St. John Vianney 35-0 at the Battle of the Bay in Ocean City.

Smith, one of the state’s top running backs, ran for 143 yards on 17 carries and added a 58-yard touchdown catch, turning in one of the top performances of the 12-game event hosted by Ocean City High School.

“He’s a special player,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.

“He did a little bit of everything, he caught some passes, ran the ball, did a lot of good things, and some of our younger guys stepped up on defense to give him breaks and keep him fresh. He works so hard, he dedicates himself in the offseason, and he was voted one of our captains. That’s saying something about him,” Raso said.

In addition to the touchdown catch, Smith scored on runs of 5, 21 and 2 yards before putting an exclamation point on Hammonton’s win with a dazzling 59-yard third-quarter touchdown run.

“I showed how versatile I was, I can punch one in from the goal line, I can break one free, I can catch a pass, any part of the game I can do. Hopefully only up from here. I set the bar high, and hopefully I can hold myself to that high standard,” Smith said.

Hammonton came into its season-opening game hoping to use a more balanced offense, but the Blue Devils were able to establish the run early and were never forced to throw the football. Junior quarterback Drew Craig completed 5-of-9 passes in the game for 93 yards.

“He [Craig] was good today. He adds that ability to get the ball downfield and open things up front for our run game,” Raso said.

While Smith was helping Hammonton dominate the game on offense, the Blue Devils defense came up with an excellent performance as well, forcing three of turnovers.

“The defense was outstanding today. We always say that when you can force two or more turnovers, you’re probably going to win and we did that,” Raso said.

Devaughn Colter recovered a fumble for Hammonton and A.J. Mento intercepted a pass for the Blue Devils.

“A.J. Mento, a sophomore, stepped in today because of an injury and had a great game for us,” Raso said.

Linebackers Andy Wehner and Joey Gillen spearheaded the effort for the Devils, making tackles all over the field.

“He [Gillen] is the juice behind everything. He motivates the whole team,” Raso said.

Wehner, one of Hammonton’s captains, was happy with the defense’s play, but saw room for improvement.

“We just want to keep winning and stay undefeated. We have to clean up some things. I know we made a lot of mistakes in this game. The scoreboard might not show that, but we made a lot of mistakes and we need to get that cleaned up at practice,” Wehner said.

Smith put Hammonton in the lead on the game’s first possession, capping an eight-play, 70-yard drive in which he carried six times with a 5-yard touchdown run.

On its next possession, Hammonton scored again, this time needing just one play as Craig hit Smith in stride across the middle for a 58-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 Blue Devils lead.

A St. John Vianney punt set Hammonton up at the Lancers’ 40-yard line and four plays later, Smith broke free for his third score of the day, a 21-yard scamper early in the second quarter.

Vaughn recovered a high snap on Vianney’s next possession, and Smith ended Hammonton’s drive with a 2-yard plunge through the middle.

The scoring ended following Mento’s interception, as Smith dashed through the line, broke two tackles and raced 58-yards for his last touchdown of the game.

Gavin Kovacs connected on his fifth extra point of the game to give Hammonton a 35-0 lead.

Hammonton lost to Millville in the South Jersey Group 4 title game last season and this year, the Blue Devils are aiming to win the sectional championship.

Smith knows he will need more games like last week’s to help Hammonton reach its lofty goals.

“Hopefully, it’s only up from here. We set the bar high, and hopefully I can hold myself to that standard,” Smith said.

Wehner added that the loss to Millville left a bad taste in the mouths of the Devils.

“We have a lot of kids back and we’re definitely competing for the state championship. We lost [to Millville] last year and that was heartbreaking for us, but now we have a chip on our shoulders,” Wehner said.

Last week’s win was the first step on the road for Hammonton.

“We’re 1-0 and that was the goal,” Raso said.

“We told the kids, this season is a brand new chapter in our programs history and this is page one. We wanted to set the tone for the season with this game,” Raso said.

Hammonton’s next game is August 31 at Cherokee at 6 p.m.

“We’ll enjoy this one tonight and then it’s back to work tomorrow for a tough game against a tough team on a short week,” Raso said.


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