By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
SEWELL — Hopefully no fans attending Friday night’s game between Winslow and host Washington Township paid full price for their admission tickets.
They needed only the edge of their seats for this one.
Somehow, miraculously, Washington Township — ranked No. 10 in the South Jersey Glory Days/South Jersey Football Frenzy Show Best 11 rankings — knocked off No. 5 Winslow in the most unbelievable fashion. The Minutemen won, 27-25, on a walk-off Hail Mary that was batted down into the diving arms of receiver Dashawn Long. Pandemonium ensued in the end zone as Washington Township pulled off maybe the most exciting win in school history.
Making the comeback even more mind-boggling is the fact that the Minutemen had to drive 99 yards in less than two minutes — with only two timeouts and a sophomore quarterback who wasn’t even the starter when this season began. Cole Aquino — all 5-foot-9, 165 pounds of him — took over as the starting quarterback from Jared Dzierzgowski, who was moved to halfback and who also plays linebacker and rarely comes off the field on defense.
“Cole is polished. He’s been preparing for this since he was 5 years old. He’s been a quarterback in our youth program, so it’s not like we didn’t know he was capable of these things. Between him and Jared, there’s not a quarterback controversy because they are so different and unique in their own ways,” said Minutemen coach Mike Schatzman. “When Giuliano Scavetta went down last week we knew we needed to have both those guys on the field. We have all the trust in the world in Cole. He’s been in these situations as a younger player and he’s prepared himself for that. He works his butt off, he’s a football junky and just a tough kid. He’s short in stature, but he can sling it.”
“Every day at the end of practice we’re working on the two-minute drill, backed up,” said Dzierzgowski, a senior. “We were prepared for it, we just had to go out and execute it, and we did. We ended up executing it perfectly.”
Washington Township (5-2, 2-1 West Jersey Football League Continental) jumped out to a 14-0 lead but Winslow cut the deficit to 14-6 by halftime as freshman quarterback Jalen Parker came off the bench and threw a 41-yard touchdown strike to NaKeem Powell. The Eagles then owned the third quarter, scoring twice on a pair of Parker touchdown passes, to Cam Miller and Jalen Hornsby, as Winslow rallied to take an 18-14 lead.
The advantage swung back in Township’s favor early in the fourth as Aquino scrambled for a 13-yard touchdown run on a third-down play inside Winslow’s 15-yard line. Josh Franchi’s extra point put the Minutemen ahead, 21-18, with 7:18 to play but the Eagles (5-2, 3-0 WJFL Independence) stormed back again behind Parker. He came up with big play after big play and guided Winslow on a 66-yard scoring drive capped by Kameron Brown plowing his way into the end zone from five yards out. Timothy Bright’s extra point made it 25-21, meaning Township would need a touchdown to win.
The Minutemen turned the ball over on downs, but the defense held up, forcing a Winslow punt. Powell’s punt was downed inside the 1-yard line with 1:53 remaining, meaning Township would have to drive 99 ½ yards in less than two minutes.
The rest is history.
The game was nearly over with 23 seconds left when a fourth-down pass was broken up, but Winslow was whistled for roughing the passer, keeping the drive alive. Aquino was then sacked by Malachi Brown a few plays later and Township called its final timeout with five seconds left.
Aquino got enough time to get the pass off from about 40 yards out, Perez went up for it with three Eagles defenders draped all over him, and somehow the ball ended up in Long’s hands for the game-winner.
“That might have been THE craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of. I really don’t have any words. I saw (the Hail Mary) go up and there were a bunch of Winslow defenders, but Logan Perez went up, flipped it up and as it was coming down all I see is Dashawn come sprinting across. He laid out and made an unbelievable catch. I really don’t even know what to say about that. That’s like something you draw up in the sand — you’re really just playing backyard football at that point. You can’t teach that. That’s just Dashawn going out there and being a dude. Unreal,” Dzierzgowski said. “Props to Winslow, but this shows how good we are and when the times get tough, we don’t give up, we keep going and we fight. We really needed (this game) to show how good we are and how much we fight. This is easily the best win we’ve had since I’ve been here. It feels better than any win I’ve ever had.”
“I have mixed emotions because it’s something you don’t practice all the time, it just happens at the right time. It was all just the week of preparation and how we prepared. We worked so hard this week. We weren’t going down without a fight, and this win was just pure heart,” Aquino said. “As a sophomore, going against those guys for the first time — you dream of a play like that, and it happened so quickly. The hits I took, they hurt, but stuff like that happens for a reason. It was just courage, from not only me, but all my teammates and brothers. I can’t thank the big boys up front enough. Especially being a smaller quarterback, them giving me time is more important than anything.”
“It’s right up there (with our best games ever), just because of the environment with it being homecoming and Winslow being a powerhouse team — it’s a signature win for us and our program, and one we haven’t had in a little while. Two years ago we won at Cherokee in overtime and that gave us a big lift, but this was a situation where our back was against the wall, the last play of the game, how it all unfolded — it was unbelievable,” Schatzman said. “I’ll be honest, probably 95 percent of people didn’t think we would win tonight. That’s just the reality. That’s not knocking us and what we do, but Obviously Winslow is very talented and has won five straight games, they have star power all over the place. On paper, sure, they probably had the upper hand, but we played them last year and we wanted to make sure we started fast this year. That was a huge part for us.”
Schatzman said his players started believing they had a chance to win this game — and beat such a formidable opponent with outstanding athletes all over the field — when they went into halftime with a 14-6 lead and having dominated much of the first half.
“The belief there after the first half was, ‘OK, we’re up. Maybe coach isn’t full of it. We have an opportunity to win this game.’ These kids are young kids and they needed some confidence (that the lead gave them),” the coach said. “I’m sure their mom didn’t pick them to win, their girlfriends didn’t pick them to win. That’s the reality of sports, but that’s why you play. That’s why you lace them up.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Washington Township travels to Shawnee on Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. Winslow hosts Burlington Township on Oct. 13 at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays