By MARK TRIBLE

South Jersey Glory Days Senior Football Writer

CAMDEN — Ray’Mir Johnson became the portrait of a cliché football coaches spout day after day in every locker room across the country. It happened right here at Eastside High on Saturday afternoon.

A 4th-and-short conversion at the hosts’ 44-yard line gave his Willingboro Chimeras a first down with 9 minutes and change to play. They led 18-14 and sought to milk the clock. Johnson took the next handoff.

He fumbled. The Tigers recovered.

A next-play mentality so many gridiron bosses preach came true for the senior tailback and linebacker.

On the ensuing snap, Johnson picked off a pass across the middle and returned it to the 4-yard line. His pilfer set up Lamar Best’s 4-yard score that proved the eventual winner for Willingboro in a 24-20 triumph in the South Jersey Football Frenzy Show Game of the Week.

“That’s the definition of a Chimera,” senior tight end and linebacker Terrill Yankson said. “When we make a mistake we come right back and bounce back. We’re gonna do it every single time.

“That’s the way to be the Boro.”

Johnson’s quickly become an example of the toughness needed on coach Steve Everette’s roster. He played last season at Cherokee before a transfer to Willingboro. With starting back Derrick Bryant lost for the year due to a knee injury suffered in practice, Johnson stepped in.

And, he stepped up. His 18-yard touchdown run combined with Terrance Knighton’s two-point conversion made it 18-14 with 21 ticks left in the third stanza.

Johnson ran for 93 yards on 21 carries. Fittingly, his second interception came on the game’s final play to extinguish any Tiger hopes of a miracle.

“I was shocked (when I fumbled) but my team kept me up and they said, ‘Next play, best play,’” Johnson said. “I told myself I had to get the ball back from my team. I can’t let them down like that.”

Best, the sophomore star quarterback for Willingboro (4-2, 2-0 West Jersey Football League Liberty), said as much.

“When he fumbled, everybody tried to talk to him and I was like, ‘Let him rock,’” Best said. “When I was talking to him, I could tell, ‘oh he’s okay he’s not going to make that mistake again and he’s going to get it back.’

“… Ray’Mir is a dog. He fit in instantly when he got here.”

At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Johnson’s body proved well-suited for this clash. There were plenty of big hits and even bigger plays. It went back and forth with five lead changes. The final score of 24-20 seemed usual enough — but neither team attempted an extra point or field goal.

The last three tilts between these two programs have been decided by 10 total points.

“Definitely one of the better rivalries in South Jersey,” Everette said. “Hopefully with the new schedule alignment (in 2024), it doesn’t go away.

“… We love playing this game. We know a lot of guys on their side, they know a lot of guys on our side and it’s nothing but respect. I think this game gets us both ready for the postseason if we both get there.”

They both should. Willingboro looks to be one of the best Group 2 teams in South Jersey with narrow losses to Group 4 Northern Highlands and unbeaten Timber Creek of Group 3.

Eastside’s offense has begun to come alive behind quarterback Nazir Flack. To pair with a solid defense, the Tigers (3-2, 1-1 WJFL Liberty) appeared plenty game for postseason action in Group 3 as well.

Each will need what Johnson displayed in crunch time — willingness to forget a mistake and replace it with a big play — and the fist-sized organ such action requires.

“They may consider us a little team, but I think we’re tough enough,” Johnson said. “We’re stronger, we’re tougher.

“We’ve got heart.”

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.