HAMMONTON - Not known as a vocal leader, Malachi Winters looked his teammates in the eyes and told them he had it.
“Big players make big plays in big games,” Hammonton High School football coach Jim Raso said. “Everybody’s eyes came up, and he came up big.
“We needed guys to step up, especially against a program like that.”
On the first play of overtime, the junior quarterback raced 24 yards around the right side. Two plays later, Winters scored the game-winning touchdown as Hammonton held off Timber Creek 24-17 on Nov. 6.
“I told them that we had to believe in each other,” Winters said.
Josh Bevan secured the victory as well as the West Jersey Football League National Division title with an interception to end the game.
“The whole game he was throwing the ball kind of low,” Bevan said. “I knocked two passes down, so when I saw the ball low I just went for it. I had to make a play. It was unreal. The ball just went into my hands.”
Timber Creek (5-3) rallied from a 17-0 halftime deficit to force OT. Sophomore quarterback Devin Leary engineered a game-tying drive with 25 seconds left in regulation.
He connected with Ezra Archie on a 1-yard TD pass, capping a 9-play, 86-yard drive that started with 1:49 left and no timeouts to work with. He completed 5-of-9 passes for all 86 yards.
Leary finished 20-of-36 for 270 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
“We were up big and they battled back,” Raso said of the Chargers. “It didn’t shock me that it happened, but it was unbelievable resolve to get into overtime, get that touchdown and then have the defense step up like that.”
With the Chargers clearly having momentum in their favor, Hammonton (8-1) went to its leader to open the overtime.
Winters had been successful two other times running the same play, scoring on a 81-yard run in the first quarter and later picking up 57 yards to keep a drive going. He just missed crossing the goal line, but would score two plays later.
“Coach called a quarterback sneak,” Winters said. “I really had to push to get in there. It was tough.”
“That’s one of his bread-and-butter plays,” Raso said of Winters’ run to the right side.
“He’s a pure leader. His actions speak louder than his words. He stays calm back there. Not at any point does he panic.”
Raso, in his first year as head coach, praised his team for its resiliency and ability to get the job done when facing adversity.
“You have to give the credit to the kids,” he said.
Winters finished with a career-high 197 yards on 10 carries. Zac Barnard, who had 20 carries for 69 yards, scored on a 1-yard run to help give the Blue Devils their halftime advantage.
Jon Ryker also chipped in with a 32-yard field goal.
Timber Creek would score on the first possession of the second half, as Harold Coleman capped a 10-play, 68-yard drive with a 2-yard run.
The Chargers cut their deficit to 17-10 on Tyler Coluccio’s 29-yard field goal with 8:39 left in the fourth quarter.
“They made a lot of big plays. We just had to answer,” Bevan said. “The whole second half, we kept telling each other that we had to come together as a team.”
Said Winters: “The difference was that we kept fighting. We always pushed to win.
“We had to look each other in the eye and tell each other that we were going to win no matter what.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org