By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
WOODBURY — There’s a different feel to championship football, and it takes a different level of commitment to be the team that hoists that trophy high overhead.
Anthony Reagan Jr., star running back for Woodbury High, showed on Saturday just how determined the Thundering Herd are to win a state championship this season. With his team holding just an 8-0 lead on scrappy Maple Shade in the South Jersey Group 1 championship game, Reagan Jr. took a handoff up the middle and seemed to be stopped after a gain of about six or seven yards. But the 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior just kept his legs pumping. He grinded his way through several tackles, broke another one in the secondary and was gone for an 80-yard score that put Woodbury up 14-0 with six minutes left before halftime.
That was the jolt the Herd needed, and they cruised from there, posting a 36-6 victory over the Wildcats and securing their second straight sectional title. This year, teams can play for an overall state title, which means Woodbury moves on to next week’s state Group 1 semifinals against rival Salem — the Central Jersey Group 1 champion and one of just two teams to have beaten Woodbury this season.
“I just wanted to keep running my legs, keep pushing and keep going hard,” Reagan Jr. said.
That run was part of a huge day for Reagan Jr., and the Woodbury offense. He rushed 16 times for 172 yards and quarterback Bryan Johnson put up 221 yards and threw for two touchdowns on 11-of-19 passing. In all, Woodbury racked up more than 400 yards of total offense.
“This is the standard now. This is what we’re supposed to do every year. It’s the standard at this point,” Johnson said. “Last year we had an amazing team, and this year we have an amazing team, too. We just grew from last year to this year and we know what to expect now. With the schedule we had, we played all playoff teams from the beginning of the year to now, so we’ve been preparing every week like it’s a playoff game.”
“We have great togetherness and we know we have to stay locked in with each other. I look to my left, I look to my right and I know I have a ballplayer next to me. So, even if I mess up, I know another player (on offense) or somebody on defense is going to make it right,” Reagan Jr. said. “I wouldn’t know how to stop us if I was a defensive coordinator. Jabron Solomon is one of the best receivers in South Jersey and I think he’s slept on; Bryan Johnson is one of the best quarterbacks in the state in my opinion. Dudes like that, you can’t control them, they do what they do and put the work in every week. Especially Bryan Johnson, what he does to lead this team, he’s our general out there.”
The first quarter was scoreless as Maple Shade (9-3, 4-1 West Jersey Football League Freedom) did a nice job moving the ball but couldn’t find the end zone, in large part because of how good Woodbury’s defense is. The Herd have allowed more than one touchdown in just two of their 11 games this season.
“Defense starts everything for us. We had a little hiccup in the beginning, but once we got everything together and everybody’s minds were rolling, we saw what we saw, ran a different defense and we were like, ‘you know what? We’re going to roll with this.’ We stifled them and got really stingy on defense to make sure they didn’t get anything,” said defensive captain Derron Moore, Woodbury’s standout middle linebacker. “We let up one touchdown, but it was just about finishing the game at that point. I’m glad everybody is out here happy because we’re back-to-back champs, and we’re looking forward to (the state semifinals).”
With the defense doing its thing, it didn’t take long for Woodbury’s offense to catch up. The Herd (9-2, 3-1 WJFL Diamond) ripped off 29 straight points in the second quarter to put the game out of reach before halftime. Freshman Ibn Muhammad caught the first of his two touchdowns off a Johnson scramble early in the second quarter to get the Herd on the board, and his second touchdown — which went for 62 yards — put Woodbury up 22-0 with two minutes to go in the first half. Johnson scored on a quarterback scramble from eight yards out a few seconds before halftime as the lead swelled to 29-0.
The second half featured just two scores, a 6-yard run from Woodbury receiver Jabron Solomon and Maple Shade getting on the board late with an Alexander Cintron 40-yard pass from quarterback Nate Veasey.
“I feel like it’s hard to key on somebody (on our offense),” Moore said. “You have Anthony Reagan, you have Jayden Johnson, you have Ja’Bron Solomon, you have Bryan Johnson who can run the ball, too. So when you’re playing against us you have to key on everybody. I’m blessed to be on this team.”
Now, Woodbury turns its attention to Salem, a team that beat the Herd 21-20 on Oct. 22. Woodbury had a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter in that game, and the Herd players know they are going to have to work even harder next week if they want to be playing for a state championship in early December.
“We just have to keep taking it one game at a time and one practice at a time,” Reagan Jr. said. “I’m trying to enjoy this. We’re not going to get these seniors back next year and I’ll really miss this year with the guys, so I want every day to go slowly so I can enjoy everything.”
Added Moore, “it’s going to take the Woodbury way, which is hard work, togetherness, grit, sacrifice and family. We live by that motto day in and day out, and we all bleed blue-and-gold. We’re all just going to keep moving forward and we’re going to keep raising the bar for ourselves.”
What’s next: Woodbury vs. Salem at Cherokee High School, Friday, Nov. 18 in the Group 1 semifinals, time TBD. Maple Shade’s season is complete.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays