Hammonton defeated visiting Jackson Memorial 28-12 to win the NJSIAA Central Group IV championship game on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. Asbury Park Press
The Jaguars' senior class restored the program's fine tradition.
HAMMONTON -- The last words of a season are always hardest for a coach, but Vin Mistretta had a clear message for his Jackson High School football seniors late Friday night, after the Jaguars fell to Hammonton 28-12 in the NJSIAA Central Group IV final.
Thanks for changing the culture.
“You could tell these guys to run through a brick wall and they would do it,” Mistretta said. “We’ve had individual guys in the past who would do it. But never have we had a whole senior class that bought in like this.”
It got them to the brink of a championship, but the second-seeded Jaguars tripped over some bad luck at the start against top-seeded Hammonton (10-2). The Blue Devils ended the first quarter facing 4th-and-10 from Jackson’s 22 -- and scored on a tipped pass that was well-defended by Jabari Lofton but caromed into the arms of Jaiden Abrams.
“Right there you’re like, ‘uh-oh,’” Mistretta said. “Maybe this isn’t going to go our way.”
It didn’t, but senior quarterback Lonnie Cebulski put his team’s season in perspective afterward.
“I’ve never seen people work harder,” said Cebulski, who threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns. “It’s unfortunate it ended like this, but we came a long way.”
What it means
Jackson Memorial’s season ends just short of its sixth sectional title and first since 2015. The Jaguars finished 8-3 and had a seven-game winning streak snapped. The only other teams they lost to, Wall and Mater Dei Prep, are the last Shore Conference teams standing.
Hammonton advances to face South Group IV champion Shawnee in the Central-South “Bowl” Game.
Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, Jackson had a punt blocked deep in its own territory. Hammonton recovered on the 26 and scored a touchdown four plays later, converting a 4th-and-2 to go up 14-0. It never got any closer.
“That was probably the biggest momentum-changer in the game,” Cebulski said. “It took the life out of our sideline. It gave them a huge motivation.”
By the numbers
2,000 - Approximate size of the crowd, which was roughly 1,500 Hammonton fans. Several hundred Jackson fans made the trip.
55 - First-half yards from scrimmage by Jackson, on just 18 plays. By contrast, Hammonton ran 29 plays and compiled 153 yards.
2 - Fourth-down touchdown passes by Hammonton.
Zack Novak, Jackson: The senior wideout hauled in touchdown passes of 32 and 41 yards and finished with three catches for 79 yards.
Collin McCarthy, Jackson: The senior defensive end capped a superb campaign by recording two sacks.
Jaiden Abrams, Hammonton: The running back rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 22-yard touchdown pass.
They said it
Jackson Memorial coach Vin Mistretta, on whether he preferred home sites or a pro/college stadium for sectional finals:
“There atmosphere here was awesome for them. But I remember as a player and coach, when you’re at a big college stadium or MetLife, that whole experience is incredible. It’s not great when you have 2,000 people and it seems like nobody’s there, so there’s pros and cons to it. I wish my guys had the opportunity to play in one of those stadiums because some of them are not going to play college football. So as someone who’s been there, I wish they would have had that opportunity, but it is what it is.”
Hammonton 28, Jackson Memorial 12
Jackson Memorial (8-3) 0-0-6-6--12
Hammonton (10-2) 7-14-7-0--28
H: Abrams 22 pass from Barts (Ryker kick)
H: MacDuff 19 pass from Barts (Ryker kick)
H: Abrams 2 run (Ryker kick)
JM: Novak 32 pass from Cebulski (kick failed)
H: Abrams 30 run (Ryker kick)
JM: Novak 41 pass from Cebulski (pass failed)
RUSHING - JM: Towns 15-68, Cebulski 6-20, Ford 2-7; H: Abrams 21-101, Nartey 14-32, Rao 2-13, Barts 7-5.
PASSING - JM: Cebulski 7-15-1-161; H: Barts 4-6-0-67.
RECEIVING - JM: Novak 3-79, McKown 3-73, Lofton 1-9; H: Abrams 1-22, Rao 2-26, MacDuff 1-19.
INTERCEPTIONS - Vandever (H).