By MARK TRIBLE
Glory Days Football Writer
PAULSBORO — Yet again, an opponent came in here with a great record, momentum and high hopes.
Yet again, they went home with a loss.
Welcome back to Paulsboro High, where so many of those dreams take hits and, sometimes, wither into nothingness.
Saturday offered up a Homecoming celebration that the kids in red will enjoy as victors — like this program normally experiences come autumn afternoons.
Courtesy of a 35-8 win over Woodstown, the Red Raiders (6-1) took the West Jersey Football League’s Diamond Division title and further cemented their case as a pick to win South Jersey’s Group 1 crown.
“Coach (Glenn Howard) preaches getting better each week and that’s what we’re doing,” senior quarterback Tyree Thomas said.
Thomas didn’t get voted as Homecoming king. Perhaps that’s because the ballots were cast prior to the game. After the way he performed against the Wolverines (5-2), he’d have been the odds-on favorite.
The senior completed 15 passes on 23 attempts for 243 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a score as each of the trips across the goal line had Thomas’ fingerprints on them.
“Playing quarterback, you’re not supposed to go into a game hyped up,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to go into games prepared mentally and physically.
“I studied really hard on the film and knew exactly what the weakest links were on their defense and I just attacked them.”
How prepared was he?
Thomas started the game a perfect 8-for-8 in the first quarter for 139 yards and two scores as Paulsboro jumped out to a 14-0 advantage.
His first five completions came on an inaugural drive that ended with a perfect 38-yard strike to Keyshun Sanders down the right sideline. In just 93 seconds, the hosts had an edge.
Sanders’ second touchdown grab of the day swung the game entirely to the Raiders. After an Austin Leyman run trimmed the score to 14-8, Paulsboro chewed up the last 4:48 on a drive that faced a 4th-and-goal at the 9-yard line with 2.2 seconds left.
Thomas rolled left and bought time. Sanders worked his way back across the middle for the touchdown as time expired.
“That’s just a scramble drill, to be honest,” Thomas explained. “The original play wasn’t open, I had to use my legs and make something happen and he got open.”
The play deflated the visitors.
“That one really put a little dagger into us as we went into halftime,” Woodstown coach John Adams said. “… we were really hoping to get 14-8 into halftime and that put us behind the 8-ball.”
The Wolverines are known for their heavy ground attack. Down 20-8, even that approach became more difficult due to the loss of James Hill to injury.
It wasn’t a recipe for success.
“We know Paulsboro is used to winning these big-time games and that’s where we need to get our program,” Adams continued. “We’re winning games and putting together some decent seasons, but we need to be able to win big games like this and we just haven’t figured that out yet.”
Again, the campaign has allowed for growth out of coach Howard’s bunch. Thomas played in a rotation at the season’s start and saw mixed results. While the Raiders still use Rocco Pellegrini at times, Thomas firmly holds the starter’s role and has found a way to thrive.
“I think we saw him take a big step forward in that he’s rolling around, extending plays and not forcing the ball,” Howard said. “When you don’t have it, throw it out of bounds.
“He did that several times today and I was happy to see that. He was also extending the plays, scrambling and keeping his eyes downfield and making some plays. He threw some really nice deep balls on the point. I’m glad to see him having that success and having the breakout game today on his Homecoming.”
Sanders attributed the team’s development after a 6-0 loss to Woodbury on Sept. 3 to the way they approach each rep prior to Game Day.
“That loss gave us a lot of determination and focused in to come harder at practice and all that,” Sanders said. “Every practice, we go out there and give it 110 percent and if we give it that in practice, it’s going to show in the games.”
It’s shown thus far. It gets more and more difficult to believe this is the same team from earlier in the season.
“I’m proud of my quarterback, I love him,” Preston Moore, who caught one of Thomas’ touchdown tosses, said. “I think we’re pretty good right now.
“But, we haven’t played to our full potential yet.”
That’s a scary thought around Group 1. Especially to any club that has to come here and find a way out alive.
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.