By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Every coach speaks confidently about his football team in the dog days of August, when official practice is just a week or two old and nobody has faced a 3rd-and-22 yet. But this past summer, when Egg Harbor Township coach Kevin Stetser talked about his squad, he knew his Eagles were going to be a team that competed for a state playoff spot.
That’s saying something, considering the last time EHT made the playoffs was back in 2010. But Stetser and his staff have been building the culture at EHT, brick by brick, for nearly a decade now, and this year’s senior class was going to be the one to end the postseason drought.
Why was Stetser so confident? Well, he had a pair of running backs, each of whom could make a run at 1,000 yards. Stetser favors the Wing-T style of offense, which means he loves to ground-and-pound, and having a senior duo like Rondell Vaughan Jr. and Mohamed Soumaworo meant Stetser could call about 50 running plays a game if he wanted to and let his big offensive line go to work.
The Eagles got off to a slow start, dropping their first two games — including a 46-14 whitewashing at the hands of Washington Township. But in the third week of the season, EHT got back to what it does best and grinded out a 13-7 win over Oakcrest on the road. The Eagles won their next two games, and after a tough loss against Ocean City, EHT ripped off four straight wins to earn a state playoff berth.
EHT finished up 7-4 with all of its losses coming against playoff teams, and the Eagles racked up more than 2,000 rushing yards, averaging 33 carries per game. Vaughan led the way with nearly 800 yards on 141 carries with 10 touchdowns, while Soumaworo added 721 yards on 101 carries with seven scores. That duo accounted for 17 of EHT’s 25 rushing touchdowns.
Stetser said the best part about Soumaworo and Vaughan was there never was any jealousy or complaining about who was getting more carries. The No. 1 goal of both players was to help lead this team back to the state playoffs, no matter what it took.
“It’s a great thing to have and it’s not tough to keep them happy. They are team-first guys. They are great kids that way,” Stetser said. “But they are both really good, so we tried to make sure they were both getting the appropriate amount of carries to be effective. If you look at this year, Rondell was really ahead but in the last few games Mo caught up. One might out-rush the other in a particular game, but they’ve both been highly effective for us. And we’ve never heard a peep out of them (about carries). When Rondell is going well, Mo is blocking for him, and when Mo is going well, Rondell is blocking for him.”
The beauty of the Wing-T offense is that there are specific plays designed for the fullback and others for the halfback, which means each guy was getting his fair share of carries. Soumaworo had at least 10 carries in seven of EHT’s 11 games, and rushed for 70 yards or more on seven occasions, including 153 in a 33-6 win over Atlantic City. Vaughan registered double-digit carries eight times and rushed for more than 100 yards four times, including a season-high 170 yards in a win over Cherry Hill West. He also had 138 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-0 win over Vineland.
“Last year, I was mostly injured the whole season, but this year we knew this was our year. We just had to step up and show what we could do. We always rely on each other, and that’s the most important thing. Knowing if I get hurt, he’s there, or the other way around, is big,” Soumaworo said. “He’s a tough runner. It’s good to have somebody you can rely on. Certain running backs get tired before the fourth quarter, but me and Rondell go back and forth so neither one of us gets tired.”
“Mo is a great back. We’ve been together since freshman year and it’s hard for teams to stop us. Sometimes we have bad games, but we bring each other back up and we’re always trying to better each other. We were waiting for this season. We knew the task that was in front of us,” Vaughan added. “His style, I love it. He fights for extra yards. Me, I try to get to the outside and use my speed. This was our last year, and we had to get to the playoffs. That’s something that’s been in my head since freshman year, that when I become a senior I want to compete in a playoff game.”
“They are great,” said senior offensive lineman Michelot Sine. “Mo is a really tough runner and he’ll get you those tough yards, Rondell is fast and if you give him the ball he’ll get you yards, too. We have two great running backs. Our goal was to get both of them to 1,000 yards. That’s what we worked for as linemen.”
Even when EHT faced passing situations, both running backs usually remained on the field and provided added protection for junior quarterback Christian Rando, who threw for more than 600 yards and seven touchdowns.
“With the type of offense we run they are playing two different positions. Rondell is playing the fullback out of the base Wing-T, where as Mo is running more of the halfback position. So, they are getting the ball on different plays. Rondell gets a lot of the trap plays where as Mo is hitting a lot of the power and sweep plays. Our offense is a two-back offense, so it was all within our game plan. What dictates it is who is going well that day, or are we able to hit a defense more inside the tackles, or outside,” Stetser explained. “They are both on the field together all the time. Even when we’re getting into our loose packages and gun packages, we have stuff where they are both still on the field. You won’t see too often when just one of them is on the field. That’s great, too, because you don’t know who is getting the ball. They are both highly effective and our offensive line did a great job this year. It made it difficult to game plan against us.”
It’s going to be difficult to replace this duo next fall, as Soumaworo and Vaughan accounted for nearly 75 percent of EHT’s rushing offense this season. But Stetser said what the team will miss most is their leadership.
“They have been leaders and they have moved this thing forward for us — really, this whole senior class has. This class played a lot as sophomores and took their lumps; last year we had a decent season but it was tough through covid. But this group, with these two leading the way, have taken this program in the direction we’ve been pushing toward,” the coach said. “This is a year when you’re really starting to see a difference. They are great kids, we coach them hard and they have responded. We have the type of kids we want in the program, and they are holding each other accountable. When you have senior leadership like this, it doesn’t have to come from the coaches. These guys know what we want, we believe in them and they believe in us, so we’re delivering the same message. There weren’t a lot of big talks at the beginning of the season about expectations because we’ve been living this together for the past four years with these guys.
“These guys deserve every bit of recognition they’ve gotten this year.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays