By LARRY HENRY JR.
South Jersey Glory Days Correspondent
PENNSAUKEN — Collingswood High kicked off a new Thanksgiving tradition on Thursday, and although the first half lacked the offensive execution the Panthers would have liked, coach Mike McKeown’s side eventually found its groove to end the season on a high note.
The Panthers used two touchdowns apiece from wide receiver Justin Pilla and talkback Isaiah Pepe-Magro to capture a 28-0 victory over the Bishop Eustace Crusaders, ending their season with a 4-7-1 record. Collingswood quarterback Tim Search threw for 200 yards on 18-of-35 passing, becoming the first quarterback in program history to eclipse 2,000 passing yards in a single season.
“It was a great way for our guys to end the season, especially with how well we finished the game,” McKeown said. “We weren’t at our best in the first half, but we responded and scored some important touchdowns to send our seniors off on a memorable note. Defensively, too, we made things really tough for Bishop Eustace and you could see that as the game went on.”
Neither team could find the end zone on the first five offensive drives of the game, but Collingswood eventually broke the deadlock with 8:11 remaining before halftime. A 30-yard run by Pilla set up a Panthers score two plays later, as Pepe-Magro scampered into the end zone from 13 yards out.
Collingswood (4-7-1, 0-4 West Jersey Football League Colonial) picked things up in the second half with Eddie Lopez intercepting Crusaders freshman quarterback Jax Mitchell inside Bishop Eustace’s 20 yard line. The Panthers benefitted from the short field and extended their lead to 14-0 just five plays later, watching as Pepe-Magro bruised his way in from 10 yards out.
“I think the interception really helped flip this game around,” Pilla said. “It gave us great field position and we were able to take advantage of that and add to our lead. Then the defense just continued to deliver and we tacked on some more points at the end.”
The Panthers’ defense stood firm on two additional Bishop Eustace drives as the third quarter came to a close. Search marched the Panthers down the field on a 9-play, 64-yard drive early in the fourth, which was capped off by the senior’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Pilla on 4th-and-goal.
Pilla added an 8-yard touchdown with 4:57 remaining, giving the Panthers’ offense their final scoring drive of the 2022 season. Collingswood’s defense was all over the field, limiting Bishop Eustace (5-6, 2-3 WJFL Horizon) to only 77 yards of offense while racking up five sacks.
“It was a total team effort and that is how we wanted to end this season,” Search said. “We know that we didn’t achieve some of our goals, but ultimately we had a really fun time this season and to end it with a Thanksgiving victory over our new rivals, it’s great. We have to give credit to everyone because we played a really strong game today.”
Although Bishop Eustace’s season ended with a frustrating result and a sub-.500 record, head coach Chris Pollard remains confident for what’s to come in 2023, especially with his starting freshman quarterback Mitchell and sophomore tailback Mekhi Simmons (1,458 rushing yards) returning next season.
“Our guys learned a lot from this season and I think that will only help them going forward with our program,” Pollard said. “Not many teams in South Jersey have underclassmen in their backfield so I am very proud of that and for what’s to come. I think if these guys can learn from the games this season, we could take it up a notch next year.”
Larry Henry Jr. covers Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties for South Jersey Glory Days. Follow him on Twitter @lhenry019.