By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

HAMMONTON — Jim Raso, head coach of the Hammonton High football team, said he likes what quarterback Drew Craig can do when he runs the ball. But he’s not about to let No. 8 carry the ball 30 times per game. Because those carries need to go to all-state junior running back Kenny Smith.

Smith carried the ball 31 times on Friday night, racking up nearly 300 yards, and scored all three touchdowns as the host Blue Devils erased an early 6-0 deficit and ran their way to a 21-6 victory over Rancocas Valley in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week. The win put Hammonton (4-2, 3-0 West Jersey Football League Memorial Division) a half-game ahead of undefeated Timber Creek (5-0, 2-0) in the race for a division title, and they’ll meet up next Friday night in Sicklerville.

Rancocas Valley (4-2, 1-2, WJFL Memorial) jumped out to a 6-0 lead by scoring on its first possession of the game, as sophomore running back Jameer Bellamy capped off a 75-yard drive with a 45-yard touchdown run down the right sideline.

But after that it was all Hammonton — and more specifically, Kenny Smith.

Josh Camargo, left, and Kenny Smith break up a pass intended for a Rancocas Valley receiver. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

The teams traded interceptions and punts before Hammonton took the lead for good when Smith scored from 39 yards out. He broke through the middle, juked a defensive back at the 20-yard line, cut back to the left and was gone. Gavin Kovacs added the extra point to give the Blue Devils a 7-6 lead, and Hammonton never trailed again.

“We were trying to find the right formations and the right play calling. That’s a great football team, so it was tough sledding in the beginning,” Raso said. “They are a 4-1 team that possibly could have been 5-0 — they let one get away (a 21-18 loss to Timber Creek in mid-September) — so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But it was nice to see us step in the right direction. At times we stopped ourselves with the penalties and little things going on, so we have to get that stuff cleaned up moving forward because that’s the kind of stuff that is slowing us down right now.”

“In the second quarter the rain started picking up, and when the rain started picking up I knew it was ‘go’ time,” Smith said. “We’ve had trouble finishing in the second half in other games, so we just wanted to buckled down and get this one done. I was just in my zone. I felt like I could do anything out there, and the guys blocking for me did a great job. I was just going with the flow.”

Hammonton turned the ball over on downs to start the third quarter, but on its next possession got things going as Craig found a wide-open Joe Gillen, a senior tight end, to convert a big third-down play and bring the ball to the Red Devils’ 32-yard line.

Said Craig, “it was just a counter-bootleg and our guy slipped out the back of the formation and it was right there, wide open.”

Craig then ran a keeper that picked up another first down at the 21.  

“Last week, Drew was showing that ability to run the ball. We’re not going to let him run the ball 30 times per game, but if he can mix it in there enough to keep teams honest and not just fast-flowing to Kenny, that’s going to help us out down the road,” Raso said.

Hammonton senior tight end Joe Gillen celebrates a Kenny Smith touchdown run during the Blue Devils’ win over Rancocas Valley. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

On the next play, Smith ran left and scampered 21 yards for his second touchdown, virtually untouched. That put the Blue Devils up 14-6 with 3:29 left in the third quarter.

“Whenever Kenny Smith gets going, watch out. That’s all I can say,” Craig said. “It’s an honor to hand the ball off to a guy like that. He’s hands-down the best back I’ve ever handed the ball off to. He does his thing out there. I love him. He gives us great confidence. Kenny Smith puts us on his shoulders sometimes and just gets us through.”

“He does a little bit of everything for us. We’ve been blessed to have some good backs over the years and we’ll put him up there with the best of them. He’s still got some road to go, but for what he’s been doing so far (in his career) we’ll definitely take it,” Raso said. “The offensive line got together — we had to clean up a little bit of the schemes with what they were doing up front — and I thought we made some good adjustments on both sides of the ball. What I’m really proud about is our special teams. The kickoff coverage did a great job because they have two really good returners back there.”

Hammonton scored again on its first drive of the fourth quarter as a couple of big runs by Smith set up his own 33-yard touchdown run down the right side. That put the Blue Devils up by 15 points with less than seven minutes to play and effectively iced the game.  

“We’ll take a win any way we can get it, and to get a win against a Group 5 school with a lot of power points at stake and put ourselves back in that playoff picture, that’s big for this program,” Raso said.

“Because we have a tough schedule I feel like we need to be one of the toughest teams,” Smith added. “We have to come out here and prepare and work every day so we can get the job done. Our defense has been doing a great job all year. We had a couple of hiccups, but when we’re firing on all cylinders there’s nothing that we can’t achieve.

Said Craig, “this gives us great motivation going up against a good Timber Creek team next week. We’re just going to push hard in practice every day next week and we’ll be flying around next Friday. Our defense held up, it was a great job by the coaches and an even better job by the players out there.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Hammonton travels to Timber Creek on Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. Rancocas Valley travels to Delran on Oct. 6 at 6 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays