Staff Writer
WOOLWICH TOWNSHIP — On 4th-and-5, the ball got stripped and a pile of black-clad Kingsway football players fell on it. By that time, the roars and jumps in the air from the home sideline occurred around the near hash from a group of tired, yet adrenaline-boosted Dragons in complete euphoria.
The events that led up to the final turnover fit every bit of the reaction.
After a frenetic, seesaw second half with two overtimes to boot, Kingsway (2-1) survived upset-minded Washington Township here on the turf at Tony Barchuk Field in the Game of the Week, 35-28.
“I had no idea it was going to be that kind of game,” Dragons coach Mark Hendricks said, “… it was just back-and-forth, it was a lot of fun to watch, wasn’t it?”
It sure as heck was, coach.
This one didn’t look like much through the first 24 minutes, with Glory Days Magazine’s No. 10-ranked Kingsway up 7-0 at halftime. The Dragons had missed two field goals. They’d had a turnover on downs. Their lone score came on a 77-yard seam route on 3rd-and-long from Ben Maiers to his brother, Steve.
Still, they allowed little to the Minutemen (1-1) and seemed free of threat. Then, Township showed up and brought an idea of why they’d earned such rave reviews from those who’d seen them take apart Shawnee the week prior.
The action began.
On 4th-and-3 in the first possession of the third quarter, quarterback Liam Friel found tailback Jo’Nathan Silver for a 32-yard touchdown to cap a 13-play drive that spanned more than six minutes.
The Minutemen forced a turnover on downs and went 65 yards in three plays to take a 14-7 lead. Friel found Quamir Land on a beautiful 24-yard toss.
Kingsway went three-and-out, punted and forced a turnover on the first snap of Township’s drive. De’andre Mitchell pounced on the pigskin along the sideline.
Three plays later, Ben Maiers found one of his trusted targets in Trevor Shorter — 36 yards, touchdown.
The Minutemen couldn’t get a first down on the next set of downs. They punted to Elias Collins who broke a big return to the 14-yard line. On the second snap after the return, Sly Van Morter caught a 10-yard touchdown. Collins ran in the conversion. The Dragons had climbed back and taken the lead at 21-14 with 4 minutes, 45 seconds left in regulation.
Kingsway sophomore Darrell Brown — who played a role everywhere in this clash — intercepted a pass on the third play of Township’s ensuing drive.
With 3:28 left, the home side seemed poised to try to run out the clock.
The Minutemen had other plans. They forced a fumble Dylan Sharkey found and recovered. In a flash, the scoreboard read 21-21 with 2:02 left after Nah’mere Graves’ 9-yard sprint for six.
To overtime we went. First play for Township, there goes Silver for a 25-yard score. Then Brown, in from five out to tie it at 28.
“There was a lot of adversity going on,” Brown, who took the starting job at running back this week, said. “We had to come back-to-back-to-back-to-back to win this game. We really had to play our hearts out.
“This is one of the best-played games I’ve ever played.”
It extended to double overtime. After two rushes by Brown, Maiers hit Collins for a clutch 10-yard completion and first down. D.J. DiPietro — who had carried the ball once all night — plunged in from two yards out a couple snaps after that Collins catch.
“He’s one of our linebackers but he runs the ball hard, so coach put him in,” Maiers said of DiPietro. “I told him, go right down. Power to the left side.”
The Minutemen had their shot next. They threw incomplete, picked up five on a pass, threw incomplete again. Fourth down brought the desperation scramble, the fumble — the end.
“This game, this just shows how Kingsway plays, honestly,” senior captain Zach Schneider said. “We’re bred to never give up and play our hearts out, no matter the opponent.”
The tough-as-nails Schneider had an interception on the night. He put himself on a list of impressive players who were almost lost in the shuffle with all the action. Township had Utah State commit Jaden Allen dominate at defensive end. Kiesan Simmons also showed his force at defensive tackle. Bryce Kraemer added some fine work at receiver.
“I think the difference between this year and the guys that we have and in years past, at least since 2011, is we would have folded,” Minutemen coach Mike Schatzman said. “We would have had our heads down, even at halftime in a 7-0 game.
“… I think that’s the most impressive thing and that’s what I look for, is how do we respond?”
Schneider was joined on his side by the Maiers’ (Ben, Steve, Nate). Kevin Pandorf forced the final loose ball. Arthur Stone, a basketball star, is who Hendricks wanted to run behind with the money on the line and the Dragons finished with power run after power run to end it.
“To go from good to great, you’ve got to go through those adverse moments,” Hendricks said of his speech to the team in the fourth quarter. “You cannot become great if you don’t go through those moments.
“That game could have gone either way.”
It did go either way, then back the other way again. Until Hendricks’ side finished it off. Then, everyone could take a deep breath for the first time since intermission.
Mark Trible is a former sports reporter for the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill and one of the most popular high school writers in South Jersey. Follow Mark: @Mtrible on Twitter;