By MARK TRIBLE
Glory Days Football Writer
CARNEYS POINT — Another chapter in top-tier Group 1 football happened down here on Jim Devonshire Field on Saturday.
With less than minute to play, the hosts in Penns Grove High School’s football team lined up for a two-point conversion. Down one, the Red Devils sought the exclamation of a late rally, one born out of an almost score on a goal-line stop moments prior.
Paulsboro on the other side of the line meant it wouldn’t be easy. As most clubs in this neck of the woods can tell you, Paulsboro on the other side of the line meant it wouldn’t be converted either.
True to form, the Red Raiders held strong on Preston Moore’s tackle along the right boundary. The play preserved a 21-20 triumph.
“It felt really good,” Moore said. “It was probably the best feeling I’ve had this season. A lot of things like that, you see the touchdown happen, but our defense is strong. We can make plays like that.
Eight days after a 6-0 loss to rival Woodbury, coach Glenn Howard’s collective took a step forward.
“I told the guys, we don’t have any cakewalks on our schedule,” the legendary coach who improved to 309-69 all-time said. “You’ve got another team this week in a really, really good Penns Grove team.
“You’ve got to go on their field and you’ve got to play good ball. You’ve got to go out and earn a victory. They aren’t going to give it to you, you have to earn it. And I think that’s what they went out and did today.”
Moore’s heroics proved appropriate for Paulsboro (2-1). Young in areas with new faces on the field, the Red Raiders looked for some heroes few outside the tiny town would know.
Sure, Tyree Thomas at quarterback delivered a touchdown pass. Ameer Bateman ran for 88 yards and a score. Keyshun Sanders hauled in a score.
But when the money sat on the table, a slightly less familiar name in Devon Horton stopped a 4th-and goal try at the 1-yard line just outside the pylon with a few minutes to play.
“I saw the quarterback start rolling up and I had trust in my defensive backs that they would be locking up there,” Horton said. “I knew I had to win the race to the pylon and do my job.”
Two runs and an incompletion came in the shadow of the end zone. Paulsboro punted back to the Red Devils (2-1).
Penns Grove mounted a drive that ended in Jaleel Patrick’s 25-yard catch from quarterback Curt Gould. A timeout came prior to the climactic snap.
“My defensive coach told me, ‘If they come outside you need to make a big play, but make sure you stay home because they might try to boot out,’” Moore explained. “When the play started, I sat there and watched the quarterback fake handoff.
“Coach had told me I needed to beat the block, too. So, I shed the block, moved him, made the tackle and you know, won the game.”
Howard spoke at length to his troops in the postgame huddle. He harped on one word — pride — to his bunch.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys who are good athletes and good players, they just don’t have a lot of varsity experience,” Howard detailed. “They’re only into their third game. We’ve got to just keep coaching them up, working with them and developing them.”
Many kids have earned varsity letters on championship winners for the Red Raiders over the years. And while the reputation of success is clearly defined and well known, it is days like this in season starts that helps the maturation process.
Goal-line stands for green defenders are what build confidence. Those moments allow coaches to use that simple advice — “You’ve been here before” — in the cold months and playoff battles.
Howard is hopeful for more of that through the autumn of 2021.
“Hopefully as the season progresses, we’ll continue to get better and better and better,” he said. “That’s our goal.
“I think you’re going to see as the year goes on, each game a different one of these young guys will pop up and have a breakout game and the next week another guy will pop up and then another guy. It’s like a spark, a smoldering fire. Hopefully we can get enough of those sparks going where we get a nice wildfire.”
Moore added his spark on Saturday. It would only be usual for Paulsboro to begin to heat up.
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