By DON BENEVENTO
South Jersey Sports Digest
MEDFORD — It was only a couple of weeks ago that Matt Welsey was the starting quarterback on the Shawnee freshmen football team. He helped that squad complete an 8-1 record, but his hopes of contributing anything to the varsity team this season were nothing more than an optimistic dream.
On Friday, however, that dream came true.
In only the second start of his varsity career and his first-ever start in tournament play, Welsey engineered the No. 4 seed Renegades to a 25-7 win over No. 5 Mainland in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs.
Welsey was the centerpiece player in the victory. He completed 11-of-15 passes for 188 yards, ran for a touchdown and passed for another as the Renegades (3-6) broke a four-game losing streak.
If the situation unnerved him, Welsey didn’t show it.
“It was amazing,” Welsey said. “It was like a dream come true. My goal coming in here was to at least get some varsity time. My mindset was to always stay positive and look at the bright side. Even if I made a bad play, I wanted to stay positive.”
The victory moved the defending sectional champion Renegades into the Group 4 semifinal.
It was because Shawnee struggled so badly during the regular season — albeit their record was a product of playing a brutally tough schedule — that veteran coach Tim Gushue made a quarterback change.
First, Gushue had to tell senior Joe Dalsey of his intention to make the switch. To his credit, Dalsey was all for the idea.
“It was no problem at all,” said Dalsey who rushed for 178 yards and scored a touchdown on Friday as a running back. “He’s (Welsey) is a heckuva player and I don’t care where I play as long as I’m on the field. I just want to help the team out anyway I can.
“If I’m not the best person for that spot, I’d gladly give it up if they do what they need to do to win.”
In fact, Welsey said Dalsey served as mentor for him throughout the season.
“Every day I would sit down with him, and he would tell me where to look for passes,” Welsey said “Tonight, after every drive I would go to him and he’d say. ‘you’re doing great. Just look for the open receivers.'”
From the outset, Welsey did not disappoint. He seemed in command of the offense, and he ran and threw the ball well.
“He did all the little things that were necessary,” Gushue said. “I’m so proud of how he handled himself. The senior class has embraced him because they want to win. They’re selfless. They don’t care who’s playing as long as they win.”
Welsey got the Renegades on the board first in the second quarter when he ran four yards for a touchdown to give his team a 7-0 lead. Dalsey later tacked on a 25-yard field goal to put Shawnee ahead 10-0 at the half.
It seemed like Shawnee was in complete control of the game after Welsey threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Joey Moore on the first play of the fourth quarter. After Daley ran for a two-point conversion off a botched extra-point attempt, the Renegades led 18-0, and the Mainland offense was stagnant.
However, the Mustangs were not totally finished. Following a fumble recovery by Dennis Moreno, Zack Graziotto threw an 11-yard touchdown to Joe Massari with 7:47 to play. The Mustangs then picked up an on-side kick and seemed to be driving for another score when Shawnee came up with a big defensive play. Dom Carbone picked off a deflected pass near the 20-yard line and the Renegades were able to breathe at least a sigh of relief.
“It was great,” said Carbone. “It energized the offense. It completely flipped the momentum. I was just glad I could do that for my team, especially the seniors.”
If that interception didn’t clinch the win for the Renegades, Dalsey soon closed the door when he burst free for a 60-yard run that put the ball on the Mainland 5-yard line. On the next play, Dalsey covered the final five yards with a little more than two minutes to play to close out the scoring.
Freshman QB helps Shawnee bounce Mainland from state playoffs
By DON BENEVENTO