With the quality of football teams Hammonton High School faced at the tail end of the regular season, the Blue Devils already felt like they were in the playoffs.
A battle-tested and confident Hammonton squad had little trouble in the opening round of the Group IV South playoffs, thumping visiting Toms River South, 30-7, on Nov. 13.
The 9-1 Blue Devils, who are the top seed, advance to the semifinals where they will face No. 4 Timber Creek (6-3) on Nov. 20 in what will be a rematch of arguably Hammonton’s most exciting victory of the season.
Hammonton edged Timber Creek, 24-17, in overtime after relinquishing a 17-point lead on Nov. 6.
The Blue Devils had a much easier time with the Indians this past week, using a balanced offense and contributions from defense and special teams to score the game’s first 30 points.
“We did play well at times, but I was hoping it would be more consistent,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said. “We got a touchdown from our defense and our special teams were good for the most part. Offensively, we were able to mix things up, throwing the ball a little bit.”
Hammonton starting quarterback Malachi Winters opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 46-yard run. Later in the quarter, Winters went to the air to find Josh Bevan for a 20-yard touchdown.
Blue Devils placekicker John Ryker, who made three extra points in the game, booted a 23-yard field goal to extend the Hammonton lead to 17-0 before the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, running back Zachary Barnard found the end zone from 32 yards out to pad the Blue Devils’ lead. The Hammonton defense then got into the scoring, as Ron Gibson recovered a fumble in the end zone for the team’s final touchdown of the game.
“Our defense played very well as a unit,” Raso explained. “It wasn’t just one player that stood out. We knew we had to keep our integrity as a unit and we did.”
The defense will probably have to be just as good against Timber Creek, which beat Mainland 10-3 in the opening round.
“It’s been a tough stretch here starting out with Delsea, playing Williamstown, playing Timber Creek then having our first playoff game, and now we have to play Timber Creek again,” Raso said. “That program does a great job. They are big, physical and fast.
“The last game turned out to be one of the classic games for us. It was a great game. We have to get ourselves ready. We have to realize they want it bad, but we have to want it more.”