By LARRY HENRY JR.
CINNAMINSON — The Maple Shade defense has risen to the occasion in recent weeks, conceding 14 points or fewer in each of its last four games. But Imion Powell’s squad took that effort to a new level on Friday night in a shutout victory over West Jersey Football League Freedom Division rival Cinnaminson.
Sean Loomis (four) and Thomas Kaliamouris (three) combined for seven interceptions on defense in a 14-0 road win over the host Pirates, earning the Wildcats their fourth straight win and the current top spot in the Freedom Division standings. Loomis also added 89 combined yards on offense and one rushing touchdown while quarterback Nate Veasey finished with 99 rushing yards and one score.
“I put a lot of what we do on the backs of our seniors,” Powell said. “There have been times in games this season where they have asked me to run a certain play and I let them because they are seniors and they’ve earned it. They are our coaches on the field, so anytime they see something that can help us on the field, we let them make the calls. They all did a great job tonight.”
The Wildcats took advantage of a fumble by the Pirates on the opening kickoff, eventually watching Loomis race into the end zone from 3 yards out. After that early score, it was a defensive slugfest for the majority of the night, with Maple Shade’s defense standing tall on numerous occasions.
Loomis had two interceptions in the first half, including one deep in Wildcats territory as Cinnaminson tried to tie things up before halftime. Kaliamouris also added an interception midway through the second quarter, jumping in front of Pirates wideout Michael Beers and adding more frustration to the Pirates’ night.
“We talked a lot this week about how we could pressure Cinnaminson’s offense and a lot of the credit tonight goes to the defensive line and the linebackers for getting in the quarterback’s face and putting the secondary in a good position to make plays,” Loomis said. “They did that tonight and we were able to have a really fun night on the defensive side of the ball.”
The Wildcats defense continued to pressure Cinnaminson in the early stages of the second half, forcing two additional interceptions on back-to-back Pirates drives. Cinnaminson’s defense made a huge stand on 4th-and-1 on its own 21-yard line, ending a promising Wildcats drive midway through the third quarter. Still, the Pirates were forced to punt on their next drive, before the Wildcats added the insurance touchdown they had been looking for.
Three-consecutive plays of 10 or more yards for the Wildcats was capped off by Veasey’s 20-yard run down the sideline that gave Maple Shade the 14-0 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish. Kaliamouris and Loomis continued their memorable nights with one additional interception apiece to end Cinnaminson’s hopes for a comeback, giving the Wildcats their first defensive shutout since Week 6 (Oct. 1) of the 2021 season.
“Our big motto this week was all about the next play and not letting the past play get to us,” Veasey said. “Cinnaminson had some success on a few drives, but we didn’t let that get to us and we kept pushing forward. Our defensive backs stepped up huge tonight and it was a great team win.”
“Absolutely,” Powell said when asked if his team has found its groove since a 1-2 start earlier this summer. “I give my hats off to them, they come to practice every day, they work hard every day, they deal with me yelling at them every day. Hats off to them because everything we have achieved so far is because of them. Since the Bordentown loss, we have approached every game like a playoff game. No one game is more crucial than the next so we’re going to approach next week vs. Clayton just like we did every other week this season.”
Maple Shade (5-2, 3-1 WJFL Freedom) will host Clayton for Homecoming on Oct. 14 before closing out its regular season schedule at Burlington City on Oct. 21. Cinnaminson (5-1, 3-1 WJFL Freedom) will aim to rebound against undefeated Seneca (6-0) before a final divisional showdown with Pemberton.
Larry Henry covers Burlington, Camden and Gloucester county sports for South Jersey Glory Days. Follow him on Twitter @lhenry019.