By MARK TRIBLE
South Jersey Glory Days Senior Football Writer
TABERNACLE — There are dreams made for Friday nights in the fall, ones that are made of heroic plays and lesser knowns who step up when the opportunity calls out.
Those names are remembered in lore long after the scores go final and trophies are handed out. Seneca High now has one of those names.
It’s Colin Walsh.
After do-it-all star quarterback Brayden Davis went down with an injury late in the third stanza, Walsh stepped up. He engineered the game-winning touchdown drive, capped with a 9-yard toss to Kyle Stickel here on Friday night with 6 minutes, 23 seconds left to play.
The result — a 29-28 win in the Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals for the top-seeded and unbeaten Golden Eagles (10-0) over fifth-seeded Highland. Also, a date in the sectional title game for just the second time in school history.
“We’re family, we’re brothers and when one of us goes down, someone just steps up and that’s what I had to do,” Walsh said. “That’s what I went out there and did for my brothers. We fight together.”
There is no doubt about that last sentence. It gained more weight in the third quarter of the TurnersvilleJeep.com Game of the Week.
With 5:16 left in the frame, Seneca recovered a fumble and held a 22-14 lead. With a chance to put away the Tartans (6-5), the hosts opted to run Davis on 4th-and-short.
Not only did the star quarterback get stopped, he injured his AC joint on the play. Two plays later, Connor Leary found Avant Stewart for a 52-yard touchdown. Highland got the two-point conversion to tie it, 22-22.
The next snap for the Golden Eagles came on a halfback pass. Zac Fearon’s attempt — “a duck,” in his words — got intercepted.
Five plays later, Angelo Rodriguez surged 16 yards for a touchdown. The extra point sailed wide right.
In just four minutes, an eight-point lead evaporated into a six-point deficit with Highland now in front, 28-22.
Seneca started at its own 32. Walsh found Fearon on a 28-yard pass to convert a 3rd-and-10 early on the fourth quarter’s first snap. On 4th-and-8, Walsh hit David Vacca for 10 yards.
Walsh eventually used a 16-yard scramble to set up the Golden Eagles at the 1-yard line. They lost a yard on the next snap. Then seven on the snap after that.
On 3rd-and-Goal from the 9, Walsh made his major play. He rolled out to the right.
“(Stickel) was on the back side and he was running across, so I knew I had to let it develop,” Walsh explained. “I was just waiting for him and I saw that guy come up, I stepped up and dumped it right to him.”
Coach Bill Fisher said Walsh had plenty of reps in the offseason due to Davis’ absences due to his baseball prowess.
This wasn’t a moment he felt would be too big for his backup.
“He’s just a calm, cool kid,” Fisher said. “Nothing bothers that kid ever … In that situation, to be thrown in a game like that and all the pressure on you and to make all the plays like that?
“Oh, my goodness. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Fearon wasn’t surprised either. He knows Walsh well. The two are cousins.
“I knew he’d step up,” Fearon, who ran for an 88-yard touchdown to make it 22-14 in the third quarter, said. “He’s a beast. He goes through the progressions. He’s a hard worker. We all knew he’d step up and he wasn’t nervous at all.”
The Tartans had a final drive to respond. It looked like they had. On 4th-and-short, Rodriguez broke through the line, but the play was blown dead.
Coach Brian Leary said he didn’t get an explanation on the 5-yard penalty that forced a 4th-and-7. Walsh broke up the next pass and put the ball back with the hosts.
Leary was miffed at the penalty discrepancy, which tilted in the hosts favor.
“Seneca’s a very good football team, they played their hearts out,” Leary said. “Our kids did, too. There’s a couple calls there at the end … I don’t know what to say.
“Our kids had a good year, they fought to the end. It just hurts. You just look at our kids, look around at them. They’re heartbroken.”
Highland’s players laid all over the turf, sobbing in pain.
Fisher, too, broke down and choked back tears as he tried to describe what this magical season has meant.
“We told these kids from Day One, it was a special group,” Fisher said before he paused to collect himself. “You have great senior leadership.
“I’ve been coaching here for 20 years and I’ve coached teams that when your two star players get hurt, there’s your built-in excuse to lose a football game right? To kind of roll over. Our leadership has been so great and it’s been such a special group that in that situation, we weren’t rolling over. We were going to play and play hard all the way until the final whistle.”
Walsh helped lead that effort when it all hung in the balance.
“It’s indescribable,” he said.
Next week, the Golden Eagles will host second-seeded Camden for the sectional title.
Mark Trible is a senior 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, and his “Hat’s Off” Podcast every Sunday at 9 a.m.