By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — Justin Doughty, a junior do-everything back for the Hammonton High football team, came into the season opener nursing an MCL sprain in his knee, and the plan was to rest him up for next week’s big matchup against Cherokee.
Doughty begged and pleaded Blue Devils coach Jim Raso to get him into the game against Notre Dame, and the coach obliged for a handful of plays in the first half. That wasn’t enough for Doughty though, so he changed tactics. He recruited some of his buddies on the team to speak to the coach on his behalf, and that led to more playing time in the second half.
Doughty made some huge plays subbing in at quarterback at strategic times in the second half on Friday night, helping the Blue Devils overcome a 14-7 deficit against the visiting Irish to eventually win, 20-14, in a hard-hitting game that was delayed just before halftime by lightning in the surrounding area.
“Last Saturday, I came off an MCL sprain, so they held me back the whole first half. But when we went into the locker room (at halftime) they said, ‘Doughty, we need you,’ and of course I’m going to step up. I got into the game, did what I had to do, had some nice runs, had some nice tackles on defense. I think I had a good second half,” Doughty said. “The coaches have faith in me and I have faith in myself. I know I can do it, I know I can remember the plays and just go execute.”
Doughty made perhaps the biggest play of the game with seven minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter when he came in on first-and-goal at the 4-yard line after a big run by sophomore running back Kenny Smith. Doughty faked an inside handoff and ran around the right side, scoring untouched to tie the game, 14-14.
Then, on Hammonton’s next possession, he came in on fourth-and-4 at the Notre Dame 24-yard line, ran right again and picked up the first down. That kept the drive alive, and a few plays later teammate Lucas Goehringer punched it in from two yards out to give Hammonton a 20-14 lead with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Justin is a great kid. He sprained his MCL, barely even got a chance to practice but came in and did his thing,” Smith said.
Hammonton got on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter as a big pass play from Billy Way to freshman Nakeem Powell set the Blue Devils up inside the Notre Dame 20-yard line, and after a big run by Smith got the ball inside the 1, Smith capped the drive off with his first touchdown of the season to give Hammonton a 7-0 lead.
But Notre Dame answered back with a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes of the first half to take a 14-7 lead. Rasheen Young ripped off a 46-yard touchdown run down the left side with 2:59 left, then a missed tackle led to a short screen pass turning into an Irish touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 35 seconds left before halftime.
“When they scored the second touchdown I was like, ‘man, I want to be in there,’” Doughty said. “My guys talked to my coach for me because they were like, ‘Doughty, we need you on defense.’ Coach put me in and the rest is history.”
The second half belonged to Smith, and Hammonton’s defense, which withstood some powerful running by Young (5-foot-11, 230 pounds). Smith finished with 112 yards and a touchdown, and also had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown called back due to a holding penalty.
“This is a very resilient team,” Smith said. “We came in at halftime and knew we just had to draw up a couple plays and get it back on track. We were a little tired, but we pushed through. I just had to push through. We’re out here conditioning every day so we can play four quarters like we did tonight. We’ve been pushing. It was a great job by the offensive line getting a good push. (This win) says a lot about our team. We’re going to push through, get off the ball and get those tough yards.”
Hammonton can’t celebrate this win for too long, though, as up next looms Cherokee and All-State running back Brandon “Bam” Boria. The rest of the September schedule doesn’t get any easier, either, as Hammonton hosts Highland then goes on the road for three straight against Eastern, Mainland and Rancocas Valley.
“I think as a team we’re good. We can definitely play better. That was not our best game and we’re not at our full potential yet, but we’ll have to be at our full potential next week against Cherokee,” Doughty said. “As a team, though, I think we’ll be alright. This win gives us confidence. We got to 1-0 and that’s what coach was preaching all week. It gives us some momentum and more confidence going into the next game.”
Smith said the Blue Devils just have to keep building each week, and remember what they are working toward.
“There’s a date circled on the calendar, Dec. 3,” he said. “We want to be playing around that date (in a state championship game). We’ve been saying that since the beginning, ‘December 3rd.’”
What’s next: Hammonton hosts Cherokee on Friday at 6 p.m. Notre Dame hosts Allentown on Friday at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays