By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
WOODBURY — There are a lot of high school football players, and teams, who like to talk about going out and earning the kind of respect they think they deserve. But not all of them have the talent, drive and team chemistry collectively to actually go out and do all the things they believe they are capable of.
Woodbury doesn’t fit into that category. Not this year, at least.
Two weeks ago, the Thundering Herd got tripped up, 28-6, against Haddonfield and all of a sudden that sparkling 4-0 start didn’t look so impressive after all. Woodbury players knew they had to double their efforts if they wanted the rest of South Jersey Group 1 to take them seriously, and the Herd have done just that. They dropped 43 points on Gloucester in a win over the Lions, and followed that up with a convincing 28-6 win over Woodstown to take command in the West Jersey Football League’s Diamond Division.
Woodstown came in sporting a perfect 5-0 record, including 2-0 inside the Diamond Division, and was coming off a confidence-building 7-6 win over Salem, a regional champion last year. But on Saturday morning the Wolverines were no match for Woodbury, which came in under bright sunshine and cool fall temperatures intent on proving it could, indeed, be considered a sectional championship contender.
“I was extremely, extremely hyped to play in this game. This game was about respect. I feel like we haven’t gotten enough respect this season — and when somebody gets tired of something, they need to do something about it,” said Woodbury senior middle linebacker Derron Moore. “That was the case today, we were going to do something. You’re either going to lay down and let somebody punch on you or you’re going to get up and throw a punch back; and it doesn’t matter how many are coming at you, you’re just going to keep fighting. Today we won. I’m proud of my guys — all of them. They did their thing, I did my thing, and we’re moving forward.
“It was all about just being fast and efficient,” he added. “We’ve been putting in the work in the weight room and doing everything else. I’m so proud of my guys today, I don’t even know what to say. They work their tails off every single day. Making a statement like this — our offense was clicking. I hope we woke New Jersey up to the fact that Woodbury is coming.”
“We weren’t necessarily trying to make a statement, we just wanted to come out and play good football. We knew going in this was going to be a good team, and for us to be respected in Group 1 we have to play against Group 1 teams, and we knew today was going to be that way. We’re just excited we came out on top,” said Herd coach Anthony Reardon Sr. “We said we had the capability to be explosive on all levels, so it’s just whatever is clicking that particular day. We got the pass game going early, which I felt like led to getting our running game going later. Our offensive is explosive enough to be able to take us to where we want to go.”
Woodstown’s first possession ended in a fumble recovered by Woodbury’s Wilson Torres, and a couple plays later Herd quarterback Bryan Johnson found JaBron Solomon over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown, and a pass from Johnson to his brother, Jayden, on the two-point conversion gave Woodbury and early 8-0 lead.
The Wolverines (5-1, 2-1 West Jersey Football League Diamond) got within 8-6 with 2:47 left before halftime when James Hill Jr. capped off a short drive by punching it in from a yard out on a 3rd-and-goal. Woodbury (6-1, 3-0 WJFL Diamond), however, answered with 44 seconds left in the first half when Johnson eluded the rush, stepped up and fired a scoring strike of 34 yards down the middle to Solomon. Johnson then connected with Julian Shorts on the conversion to give the Herd a 16-6 lead.
The second half belonged to Woodbury.
Late in the third quarter, following Woodstown’s turnover on downs, Woodbury mounted a quick scoring drive that was capped off by a 37-yard run from Anthony Reagan Jr. He added another touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to put the Herd up 28-6 and salt the game away.
“I had to make one guy miss, and I knew if I could make that first guy miss and get to the secondary level, I knew they wouldn’t catch me,” Reardon Jr. said of his first scoring jaunt. “Solomon had a great game on the outside and I feel like he’s one of the best receivers in South Jersey and he needs some respect on his name. He really opened things up for me, as well as my QB1, Bryan Johnson, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the state. I really appreciate guys like them.”
“We were talking to each other on the sideline in the first half and I just told him to continue to be patient, it’s going to break open,” coach Reardon said of his son. “Sure enough, it was a nice run that continued to have our offense running well. He’s doing a great job replacing Teddy Lockhart, who was our primary running back last year. He’s really been filling that role for us.”
Woodbury’s defense was just as impressive in the second half, forcing Woodstown into three turnover on downs, an interception, and a punt that was returned 50 yards that set up Reardon Jr.’s second touchdown. It all started with Moore in the middle.
“He’s somebody who is going to be playing at the next level, and he showed that out here today,” coach Reardon said. “He’s a hard guy to block, but he’s also a great processor of information. He knows what’s going on out there on the field and does a great job getting us right on defense and making plays. We’re thankful to have him on our team and we’re sad that he only has a few more weeks left in his high school career. He’s the guy who stirs the drink for us on defense. He’s the middle guy, he’s been there for four years. He’s our quarterback on defense and does a great job of putting us in the right spot to where we can make plays.”
Woodbury has a bye week next weekend before returning to action on Oct. 22 at Salem, a big South Jersey Group 1 rival. The Herd hope to make a similar statement — even though they insist they are not in the business of making statements.
“We’re not really making a statement, we’re just proving ourselves right because we know what we can do,” Reardon Jr. said. “People have been sleeping on us, but we’re just going to wake them up now rather than later.”
Added Moore, “I feel like we’re the best team in South Jersey, and I say that in the humblest way possible. Everybody is going to find that out, whoever plays against us.”
What’s next: Woodbury has a bye on Oct. 14-15 and returns to action at Salem on Oct. 22 at noon. Woodstown hosts Haddonfield on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays