MONROE TWP. - When Zac Barnard plowed in from a yard out on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter on Oct. 30, it seemed clear Hammonton’s perfect season would continue.
Williamstown had other plans. With a stout second-half run defense and key plays from senior quarterback/cornerback Richie Stanzione, the Braves prevailed.
Stanzione scored the game’s final two touchdowns. His 80-yard interception return for score sealed the Blue Devils’ fate in a 36-21 loss.
“Unbelievable, isn’t it?!” Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola shouted incredulously after the wild West Jersey Football League inter-division win. “It’s high school football, what can you say?”
In a game where both team colors of black and blue were appropriate, the showdown of South Jersey powerhouses proved riveting from the start.
Hammonton (7-1) took a 7-0 lead just 3 minutes, 50 seconds into play on a touchdown pass from Malachi Winters to Josh Bevan.
Three plays later, Stanzione looped a pass into the seam and Winters snatched it from the defensive backfield. The speedy star returned it for six.
The home crowd’s war chants went quiet as the Blue Devils celebrated.
“As a leader it was my fault,” Stanzione said. “Against the No. 2 team in South Jersey, down 14-0, my teammates brought me back.”
It started on the next drive when Williamstown’s Joe Early busted runs of 11, 13 and 29 – the last for a score – to trim the deficit to 14-6.
A bad snap ended with a conversion on the extra point when holder Victor Ruggiano smartly ran it in on the left side.
But, Hammonton displayed why it had hammered Delsea a week prior with a relentless run game on the next possession. The tall, bruising Barnard carried 14 times on the drive that ended in his 1-yard score.
After a Tyrick Glenn TD, the Braves (7-1) got the second-half kickoff down 21-15.
On a broken play, Stanzione found Glenn for a 47-yard toss on third down.
“I want to say the play was busted from the beginning,” Stanzione said. “It just let me roll out a little bit.”
The long play set up an Eriq Mercado TD from 10 yards out to take the lead at 22-21. Williamstown wouldn’t give it up.
In the first half, Barnard carried 19 times for 80 yards. The second 24 minutes provided six touches for 14.
The yells were louder with each carry for the road team. Williamstown smelled the upset. If Hammonton wanted to win, the Blue Devils would have to throw the ball.
Stanzione proved to be the one to put it in the air. A 30-yard pass down the seam to Glenn in the fourth set up a 7-yard QB draw to make it 29-21 with 5:50 left.
“That’s the difference,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said after his first loss. “Two really big passing plays they were able to connect and we couldn’t. They made the plays.”
The final one – the exclamation point to a type of game Stanzione had dreamed of playing in – came with two minutes left.
Backup quarterback Josh Bevan – inserted in the game to get Winters out at receiver for “as much talent on the field,” Raso said – aimed down field for the Blue Devils. Stanzione made it his. He took it back with speed, in-and-out weaves and a juke that put his final obstacle in Barnard on the ground.
“That’s just hours and hours of watching Joe Early play,” Stanzione said. “He’s got the shakes.”
Mark Trible; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com