Glory Days Football Writer

PAULSBORO — Championship games are made to create definitions, but in this one, on a beautiful autumn afternoon, it’s difficult to figure out just what words to use.

How do you define what it means when a kick sails wide and the pandemonium begins from a side that snaps a 99-year losing streak? And at the same time, claiming a sectional title for the first time since 1983?

What about when it comes on the heels of a stand inside the 5-yard line that forces the try after a miraculous 4th-and-17 completion? Or when it’s a team that wins a Group 1 title on the road for the first time since 2006 in the state of New Jersey?

Or, better yet — how do you accurately describe tears of joy from a team that just 2 1/2 short months ago sat in the balcony of the Shiloh Baptist Church and let out tears of sadness, supporting their coach as he mourned his mother who’d quickly died from COVID at age 55?

Well, the way to sum it up in the purest form is with a score.

Salem 13, Paulsboro 12.

The Rams (10-1) are the Central Jersey Group 1 champions.

A 23-yard kick attempt by Paulsboro went no good to the right with 8 seconds left to clinch it.

“I didn’t even look,” Salem coach Montrey Wright, in a shirt adorned with a picture of his late mother Veronica Santos, said. “Thank god, thank goodness he missed.

“It’s special. 2021 will definitely be a special year for me. Bittersweet. But I know my mom is proud of me. I know she’s shining on these guys. I know she got it done for us. I couldn’t be more blessed to have her with us.”

Wright broke down, surrounded by throngs of supporters who had rushed the field for the occasion. They were plentiful — his coaches who’d helped restore order and keep faith after many close calls in big games, his newly engaged fiancé, the fans, administrators and those tough-as-nails players.

While it took every member of that bunch, No. 12 saved the day. Nate Wilson knocked in a 31-yard kick with 4:05 to play to become the hero. He’d made one from 32 and missed one from 36 in the first half.

“Completely forget about the miss and just go back to my normal thing,” Wilson said of his approach. “I knew I could make my own history with this and start something new.

“This is a different Salem team than the people who’ve lost.”

That boot came after the Raiders (9-2) had been woken from the dead in the second half. They trailed 10-0, but backup quarterback Rocco Pellegrini got in touch with Keyshun Sanders and the benefits were bountiful.

They hooked up for 52 yards on a slant and then again on a 15-yard sluggo a few snaps later to make it 10-6 with 70 seconds left in the third. With 7:52 left to play, they connected again for a 63-yard score to make the anxious Rams fans slouch with déjà vu dread.

The run-first approach worked all day for Salem and Wright stuck with it. Quarterback Jahki Coates and tailback Jessiah Gildersleeve churned out the tough yards. To set up Wilson’s kick, the Rams marched 42 yards on eight runs, the highlight a Coates rush of 18 that dragged tacklers for the ride.

This, a change in theories compared to the pass-happy club that threw four picks and lost here on Sept. 25, 35-27.

“We knew we were the more physical team,” Gildersleeve, who scored a touchdown and recorded an interception, said. “Coach Wright has been telling us all week that pound-for-pound they can’t get with us, bully ball.

“I knew I was getting the ball a lot. I knew that’s what was going to happen.”

Wilson’s kick seemed to open the closet of past nightmares. First came a personal foul on the kickoff — penalties have always been a sore spot on Walnut Street. Paulsboro started at its 42-yard line.

The Raiders converted with a 5-yard pass on 4th-and-5. They hit for 15 on a 3rd-and-11. And on 4th-and-17, the patented Paulsboro magic created a play that came right off a movie screen.

Pellegrini threw into a group of players and a Rams defensive back intercepted the ball. However, Sharif Green came from behind and ripped it away, then ran down to the 4-yard line.

“That one play,” Wright said. “We always preach about being one play away. They came in and got that one play.”

Despite the miracle, the Raiders still needed four yards for sectional title No. 20. First down, a loss of two. Second down, incomplete. Third down, another huge play from defensive lineman Jayden Wright, this one a sack.

“I had to finish out the play,” Wright said. “I had to leave a mark for my senior day.”

Then the kick, one that needed quarterback Tyree Thomas — who’s also the holder — to be carried back on the field for an attempt. Thomas had been forced to leave the game in the first half with an injury. It all added up to make a wild scene.

It also created a happy finish for the royal blue for the first time in a long time.

“There were other things in the game that certainly played into the outcome,” Paulsboro coach Glenn Howard said. “It didn’t come down to the last kick.

“It seems like it did in everybody’s eyes, but we had a lot of other opportunities in other aspects to win the game and put points on the board … It’s one of those games. My hat’s off to Salem, they played a tough game and they got a very fine ball club. You know, it was just their day today.”

It had not been their day on this stage since A.B. Brown’s days.

The kick went up.

“My heart dropped,” Gildersleeve said.

To the right it went. Brown texted his son: “The curse is over!”

And how do you define relief?

Perhaps with movement.

The coaches and players rushed the entire field even with time still on the clock. After an emotional climb and so much heartbreak, they earned the catharsis and took it head on.

They were in a dead sprint, one far away from the wrong side of history. They were headed toward another type of history, all its own.

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 You can also take in Mark’s “Hat’s Off” podcast every Sunday at 9 a.m. at our Facebook page.