By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ABSECON — Throughout this COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, the Winslow Eagles displayed one of the toughest defenses in South Jersey, starting with a big-time win over Camden in the season opener in which the high-powered Panthers offense was limited to just 12 points. Winslow then shut out Seneca and Woodrow Wilson before limiting Washington Township to just two scores.
It turns out Holy Spirit has a pretty good defense, too. Maybe the best in the West Jersey Football League.
The Spartans’ defense brought the thunder on Friday night and pitched a shutout against Winslow in the WJFL’s top “Playoff Pod”, and senior running back Patrick “Cheeks” Smith did his thing — as usual — to send Holy Spirit to a convincing 34-0 victory in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week. Spirit, the No. 2 seed in the four-team pod, advances to the de-facto South Jersey championship game next week against either No. 1 Cherokee or No. 4 Lenape, who battle on Sunday at Cherokee in the other “semifinal.”
All Smith did was rush for more than 250 yards and two touchdowns, most of which came in the first half when Holy Spirit (6-0) built up a 21-0 lead on Winslow (5-1). The Spartans faced a 4th-and-1 at Winslow’s 44-yard line on the game’s opening drive and Smith ran to the right side, burst through the line and was gone to give Spirit a 7-0 lead. He made it 14-0 on Spirit’s next drive as runs by himself and Devin Lee set the ball up at the Winslow 3-yard line, where Smith punched it in on a third-down play.
“I’m just glad I’m not on the other team’s defense. All year he’s played like a Division I athlete, and that’s what he is. He is our life source. He’s the heart of our team, and we know every day he’s going to come out and perform,” said senior defensive back C.J. Egrie. “It makes me want to play offense, watching him play. It gives our defense so much more confidence coming on to the field and knowing we’ll have a lead. It hypes our D-line up, it hypes our DBs up. It’s the way to go.”
“During practice, I have my voice, but when Friday night comes I lose my voice screaming for him, that should tell you everything you need to know,” added senior linebacker AiJohnnie Rembert. “He’s iconic, that’s all I can say.”
And when the Eagles keyed too much on Smith, Spirit’s other offensive stars made them pay. Quarterback Trevor Cohen hooked up with receiver Elijah Steward on a pair of touchdown passes and Devin Lee broke loose for a 54-yard touchdown run up the middle in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.
As big a story as Spirit’s offensive prowess was, however, the way the Spartans shut down Winslow’s talented offensive attack was just as impressive.
“All year, our defense has been so underrated. I get it, some of the teams we’ve played aren’t the greatest, but I think after the past couple of games we deserve to be known as the No. 1 defense in South Jersey,” Egrie said. “We have that mentality every week that this could be our last game. School after school has been getting shut down and it scares us. We just have to come together and play our tails off one more time.”
“It’s always been Cheeks, and he’s a great player, but (our defense) definitely comes to play, too. Every single Friday, or even if it’s on a Saturday, we practice all week really hard. We’ve had a lot of kids step up this year,” Rembert added. “One thing I can say about this defense, they’re driven. I don’t know what they are driven by, but they are definitely driven to hold that No. 1 defense in South Jersey title. I’m driven, too. I can’t wait until everybody around New Jersey wakes up and sees this.”
What’s next: Holy Spirit plays the winner of Sunday’s game featuring Cherokee vs. Lenape. Winslow’s next game is TBA.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays