By MARK TRIBLE
Glory Days Football Writer
WOOLWICH TOWNSHIP — The final pass soared downfield from Lenape and to no one’s surprise, a Kingsway defender came away with it.
This stood the routine throughout Friday’s South Jersey Group 5 semifinal here between the fourth-seeded hosts and the plucky No. 8-slotted Tribe.
An 11-man unit put the capital ‘D’ in Dragons. With six forced turnovers on the night, Kingsway held strong throughout and took a 20-17 victory that made the crowd hold its breath for much of the second half.
“I give our defensive kids a lot of credit,” coach Mark Hendricks said. “They just play next play.
“We’re young. We don’t really know the swings (of momentum) like that. They’re trying to get a feel for how to go win games.”
It’s a good thing they weren’t concerned with any of the ups and downs, because the hosts took some blows when the game seemed out of reach with a 13-0 edge at half. Specifically, Kobi Ray Reed’s 67-yard dash that pulled the Tribe within three right after Darrell Brown’s run made it 20-10.
After the offense got stopped on 4th-and-short with 6:48 to play, the defense stepped out on the field again. Lenape moved from its own 6-yard line into Dragon territory and chewed up clock.
Around the 3-minute mark, a quarterback run to the right ended up with a pitch to Reed, who reversed field. The pursuit of relentless lineman Carter Williams drew a block in the back. Immediately after, the ball got stripped and Roman Kuzmick pounced on the pigskin.
Kingsway (6-4) took its turn to milk the seconds, then Nate Maiers — the quarterback and backup punter who took the snap just in case of a poor snap or potential block — booted the Tribe (4-6) down to its 8-yard line with a minute left.
After a handful of plays, Kuzmick came up with the final dagger.
The junior finished with two picks and a fumble recovery. In less than four game minutes, he turned into a hero for the red-and-black.
“Last play of the game, I got the pick and no time left on the clock,” Kuzmick said. “That was the best feeling I could ask for.
“I saw double zeroes (on the clock) and chucked it up in the air.”
A mass of red-helmeted teens swarmed Kuzmick and celebrated near midfield.
While Kuzmick came up huge late, perhaps no player made a bigger impact than Williams. A soft-spoken junior, he racked up a strip and recovery on a kickoff in the first half, plunged in on a fullback dive for a touchdown. He also grabbed a key fumble recovery in the final frame.
“I work hard all week just so I can get these moments, you know?” Williams said. “It means everything. We work all week at practice to get better.
“We just had to keep fighting adversity and making big plays, that’s all.”
Many other rosters would find that more difficult than Williams made it sound. Alas, Hendricks knows defense and his young club embodies that.
Now, the fire breathers are headed back to a sectional final. In 2019, the Dragons fell to Cherokee in the Central Jersey Group 5 title game.
This year, they’re the last Group 5 team from the West Jersey Football League left alive.
“We said the same thing two years ago with that ball club, that we were young,” Hendricks said. “And if we were going to make noise, last year was our team.
“We feel cheated … A lot of our players have a little chip on their shoulders because they weren’t able to finish the season last year.”
And while the dew fell down here to chill an otherwise ideal night, the thought began to be more than just a sectional final.
Hendricks mentioned that his opportunistic defense returns 11 starters in 2022. The offense will return eight.
Perhaps Friday night offered another stone which this program can step across. Next, however, is the chance at a trophy to help create a standard.
Kingsway will head to Toms River North. The third-seeded Mariners rolled Edison, 52-7.
They’ll need another sturdy effort.
“That’s what I really echoed to the kids is, ‘The best team is going to come out of this one, guys,’” Hendricks said. “It’s going to be a physical game, you’re in for a war.
“…Our kids played together tonight. The fact that those guys were able to force six turnovers on defense, I think, is the story of the night.”
Couldn’t agree more.
Mark Trible covers high school football for Glory Days Magazine. Check out his weekly Facebook Live show every Wednesday at 7 p.m. The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show can be seen at facebook.com/acglorydays. You can also take in Mark’s “Hat’s Off” podcast every Sunday at 9 a.m. at our Facebook page.