By MARK TRIBLE
Glory Days Football Writer
PAULSBORO — This had to be the time for Salem High’s football team. Recent history had frustrated the Rams, who got their lone win against Paulsboro in 1922.
Now, the squads haven’t played often, but lately the matchups have become more frequent. On Saturday, a spotlight seemed primed for the No. 10 team in The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show’s Best 11 rankings.
History repeated itself. Not just in regard to this matchup, but also in connection with the Red Raiders’ storied archives.
An opportunistic defense and an offense with plenty of tailback Ameer “Manny” Bateman turned the home opener into a celebration. Paulsboro turned in an all-around effort in a 25-17 victory over the Rams.
“We knew it was going to be a good game, so we just kept our heads up and kept pushing,” Bateman said. “We know Salem, they always bring it, so, we just came prepared.”
Bateman led the way on offense for the Red Raiders (3-1). He rushed 21 times for 231 yards. The senior also crossed the goal line on a 24-yard run up the middle with 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
It proved the eventual winner as it pushed the score to 19-17 in favor of Paulsboro.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Bateman said. “It was a good game from start to finish.”
The Rams (4-1) scratched the scoreboard first with Nate Wilson’s 35-yard field goal. Those points, scored midway through the first frame, stood alone until Rocco Pellegrini found Keyshun Sanders for a 14-yard score to make it 6-3 in the Red Raiders’ favor.
Jahki Coates led a drive of his own for Salem and closed the half on a quarterback sneak for six as time expired.
Paulsboro trailed 10-6 at intermission. The action became lively in the third stanza.
It took all of 1:46 for Tyree Thomas to find Brion Hardy for six and make it 13-10. With 7:45 left in the quarter, Amare Smith plucked an interception and ran it 75 yards for a score to put Salem back ahead, 17-13.
Bateman’s score capped the frenetic period. Hardy grabbed an interception to stop the next Rams’ drive. After a punt, Sanders hauled in his second pick of the game to halt the next set of Salem downs.
“He’s got a tremendous knack for the ball,” coach Glenn Howard said of Sanders. “He’s like a ball hawk.
“That’s probably his fourth or fifth interception this year … He’s got a good nose for the ball, he breaks well on the ball and he tracks the ball well. If it hit his hands, he’s got glue for hands.”
A nine-play drive that lasted almost six minutes ended with Thomas’ plunge in the end zone from a yard out. Bateman ran seven times on that series for 51 yards.
It stood at 25-17 when Preston Moore pilfered a pass on the Rams’ final march. It marked the fourth interception of the game for the Red Raiders — three of which came in the final quarter.
This one put Paulsboro near the catbird’s seat for the West Jersey Football League Diamond Division title. The Red Raiders’ lone loss came out-of-division, to Woodbury. They’ve already topped Penns Grove in addition to Salem.
They host Woodstown (3-1) on Oct. 23 in another huge tilt.
Yet, that’s too far away for coach Howard and Co. They are interested in one game at a time. After a COVID-related postponement last week against Sterling, the boys in red were eager to hit the field.
It marked the first home game since 2019 where the fans were allowed in at whatever number the capacity would allow. They supported in full throat, as per the usual.
“It felt good playing back home,” Thomas said. “It’s a great atmosphere.”
An atmosphere that has been the stage for many a home victory. There’s always that level of determination and pride to continue the traditions here.
One of them is not to lose to Salem.
“They were trying to break the curse and we didn’t let ’em,” Hardy said. “We didn’t want to be the team to let them break it.”
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.