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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Winslow blasts Blue Devils

Dan Russoman/THG. Kenny Smith (3) tries the break the tackle of Winslow’s Ethan Alexander (9) as Jalen McCain (58) closes in on the play in last week’s Central Jersey Group 4 playoff game.

WINSLOW—A season filled with missed opportunities and stretches of sloppy play came to an abrupt end for Hammonton High School’s football team last week, as the Blue Devils lost their Central Jersey Group 4 playoff semifinal 33-6 against top-seeded Winslow.

Hammonton knew it would have to play a near-perfect game to come away with a win, and the Blue Devils, as they have so often this season, failed to do so, as mistakes and poor execution were too much to overcome last week.

“Listen, it’s pretty much how it’s been all season. We had our chances, and we didn’t perform well. That’s been the story for us this year,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.

Looking to return to the sectional finals for the second-straight season, Hammonton failed to control an explosive Winslow offense that turned short passes into long touchdowns and were able to keep the Blue Devils off the scoreboard for most of the game.

“We didn’t execute. They made plays, you have to tip your cap to them. There’s times we do things well and times that the moment just gets too big for us,” Raso said.

Twice Hammonton drove deep into Winslow territory and came away without points. The most costly trip came late in the first half, when the Blue Devils had the ball at the Eagles 2-yard line trailing 7-0 and failed to score.

“We got down there, and we didn’t punch it in and that was a big chance for us. A big turning point in the game,” Raso said.

The failure to score on that drive added to Hammonton’s first-half frustration as a potentially game-changing play earlier in the half was halted by the officials.

Hammonton sacked Winslow quarterback Deante Ruffin deep in Eagles territory and he appeared to fumble the football. Blue Devils linebacker DeAndre Clemons scooped up the loose ball and raced to the end zone, but the play had been whistled dead by a side official, allowing Winslow to maintain possession.

“A fumble for a touchdown would have helped. You can’t make excuses, but it’s things like that we needed in a game like this,” Raso said.

Hammonton struggled to move the ball early in the game, stalling on its first two drives. The Blue Devils defense made stops when it had to in the first quarter, but late in the period, Winslow put points on the board when Ruffin sent a short pass to Cam Miller who broke a tackle and went 65-yards for a score and a 7-0 Eagles lead.

Hammonton responded with one of its best drives of the game. A 22-yard pass from Drew Craig to Clemons and a few tough runs from Kenny Smith set the Blue Devils up at the Winslow 5-yard line. Two plays later, Hammonton was the Eagles’ 2-yard line, but a delay of game penalty cost them five yards and after a seven-yard loss on third-and-goal, Craig’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete to end the threat.

“We got down there, and we didn’t punch it in and that was a big chance for us. A big turning point in the game,” Raso said.

Despite the lack of offense, Hammonton only trailed by a score at the half. That changed quickly in the third quarter, as Winslow used its speed advantage to score 19 points and take control of the game.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Eagles used two passes from Ruffin to Jaylen Hornsby to set up an 11-yard touchdown run from Kameron Brown and a 13-0 lead.

Hammonton answered with a drive to the Winslow 20-yard line, but once again, a penalty and poor execution left the Blue Devils without any points to show for their efforts.

Taking over deep in their own territory, the Eagles quickly scored, as Ruffin sent a short pass to the left side to Miller, who slipped down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown catch.

“There’s a lot of speed over there and they’re turning a 1-yard pass into an 80-yard touchdown,” Raso said.

Hammonton’s next drive ended with an interception and again Winslow quickly capitalized, as Ruffin capped a three-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles ahead 26-0.

Hammonton finally put points on the board on its next possession, driving 57 yards in eight plays, ending with Smith’s 5-yard touchdown run.

Once again, Winslow answered, as Ruffin found Hornsby for a 17-yard touchdown pass that closed out the game’s scoring.

Hammonton was quickly ushered off the field after the postgame handshake and as he boarded the bus home to begin the offseason, Raso reflected on his team’s performance.

“It’s not a lack of effort, it’s just sometimes they have a little more than you. When we had opportunities we weren’t able to execute well. That was the story for us this season. We were never able to put together four strong quarters and you need to do that to beat good teams,” he said.

Hammonton wraps up the year with a 5-6 record.


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