By MARK TRIBLE
South Jersey Glory Days Football Writer
MEDFORD — If there were any worries about Shawnee High’s football team after a two-point win over Northern Burlington in Week Zero, they quickly dissipated into the night on Thursday.
Thanks to a physical run game from quarterback Joe Papa, some tough and mean play added by Liam Gilmore, and two speedy scores from freshman Tyler Nickles, the Renegades showed they’ve got plenty to rely on in 2022.
Shawnee (2-0) used 27 unanswered points in the second half to blitz Eastside, 48-14.
Papa led the way with 185 yards on 22 carries. He ran for four touchdowns on the night and threw for another.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound signal caller continuously rushed between the tackles and off the edge, happy to see any contact that came his way.
“I knew what I had to do and I’m confident in my line and blockers,” Papa said. “If they’re in my way, I’m going to run them over.
“I’m not going to try to run around them, I’m going to go through them.”
Papa played fullback last season — easy to tell with the way he runs — as four-year starter Matt Welsey manned the helm. Welsey could scramble and throw at any moment, often in highlight-reel worthy sequences.
This fall, offensive coordinator Dennis Scuderi Jr. adapted his scheme perfectly to suit Papa.
“We’re thrilled with how he’s developed,” head coach Tim Gushue said. “Until you’ve played against other teams, you can do all the drills you want and things like that.
“He learned a lot from Matt Welsey, but he’s really still an infant as a quarterback experience-wise. His intangibles — he’s really tough and can lower his shoulder to get those extra yards.”
This marked the Renegades’ first win over the Tigers (0-1) — formerly Woodrow Wilson High of Camden — in limited matchups. The toughness Shawnee displayed set a tone early and often, even after Eastside grabbed 7-0 lead to start.
“We were all riled up,” Gilmore said. “We were the underdogs here, so we had to show them what Shawnee was about.
“We came out ready to play.”
Gilmore delivered punishment via the big hit a couple times on the night. None rattled the bones more than his blindside sack in the second quarter of Tigers’ quarterback Makhi Brunson.
The son of former Ohio Stater Jim Gilmore — who later played for the Dolphins and Eagles — Liam Gilmore looks the part of a big-time star.
He measures in at 6 feet, 4 inches and weighs 225 pounds. He’s ferocious.
As a blocker, Gilmore frequently got out in front of Papa’s run game. Despite how effective as the duo proved, no player had more efficiency on Thursday than young Tyler Nickles.
On two touches, he scored two long touchdowns. The first, a 44-yard throwback screen, made for an incredible moment.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Nickles said. “I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous.
“Freshman year, it was about my fifth time getting in on varsity. I was a little questionable about the play call because it was on the shorter side of the field but as soon as I got the ball in my hand, I just saw open field.”
The boundary side worked all night for the hosts, even if Nickles wasn’t sure it would on his touchdown.
This band of Renegades put it all to good use as the home opener turned into a party with the boisterous student body engaged throughout in their Hawaiian shirts.
While the mood remained fun for the navy and white, it started with a serious mandate.
“All we said was, ‘We need to come out and play really physical,’” Gushue said.
The veteran coach relayed the message. Papa and Gilmore made sure the club adhered.
Mark Trible is a special high school football writer for South Jersey Glory Days. You can follow him on Twitter @MTrible. Also, catch his high school football show (The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show) every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at facebook.com/sjglorydays.