Staff Writer

MEDFORD — In the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 football playoffs, Shawnee’s Joe Papa had just three incompletions in 19 attempts, threw for 234 yards and his receivers found the end zone three times.

And the guy isn’t really even a quarterback, if you can believe that.

Papa was the man all night long on Friday as he led his fourth-seeded Renegades through the air and on the ground to a convincing 42-7 win over No. 5 Ocean City. The victory puts Shawnee into next Friday’s semifinal round at top-seeded Hammonton (Friday, Nov. 4, 6 p.m.). The seeds held true on the other side of the bracket, too, as No. 3 Jackson Memorial edged No. 6 Manalapan, 10-7, and second-seeded Millville thumped No. 7 Lacey Township, 49-6. Jackson travels to Millville next weekend in the other semifinal.  

“We came out and started on defense and got a stop, then we came out on offense and scored two touchdowns. We were in the mood and ready to go,” said Papa, a junior and former running back who just started playing quarterback this season. “I know my receivers, and I know if my linemen give me time up front, our guys can beat (opposing defensive backs).”

Shawnee receiver Ethan Krauss (13) celebrates the Renegades’ first touchdown with quarterback Joe Papa in the win over Ocean City. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Shawnee (6-4) forced Ocean City to punt on the game’s opening drive, then started scoring right away. On the Renegades’ first possession, Papa hooked up with Ethan Krauss on a 20-yard scoring strike, and that combination hooked up again — this time from 46 yard out — on Shawnee’s second possession as the lead reached 14-0 quickly.

Ocean City (2-7) responded with an 89-yard touchdown pass from Riley Gunnels to Ricky Wetzel to shave the lead in half, 14-7, with 1:12 left in the first quarter, but from there it was all Shawnee.

Papa capped off Shawnee’s first drive of the second quarter by going 27 yards to pay dirt around the right side on a 3rd-and-2 play. That pushed the lead to 21-7, and after another Red Raiders punt, the Renegades struck again, taking a 28-7 lead on a 7-yard burst up the gut by Jimmy Potter.

“We’ve been working really hard. I thought the first half was really good. In the second we moved the ball but couldn’t convert in key situations. But give Ocean City credit — they never stop fighting. Kevin (Smith) does a great job, their kids and their coaches battle hard. But we’re excited and now we get an all-expenses-paid trip to Hammonton next week,” said Shawnee coach Tim Gushue. “We felt we had some matchup advantages (in the passing game) and Joe had an awesome game. This is his first year playing quarterback — he’s always been a tailback — and I think he has some huge upside. He has a bright future if he continues to get better.”

Jimmy Potter finished with more than 100 yards rushing during Shawnee’s state playoff victory. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Shawnee had a difficult stretch in the middle of the season that saw the Renegades drop four straight after starting the season 3-0, but they’ve bounced back nicely the past three weeks, beating Washington Township and Williamstown on the road to close out the regular season before topping Ocean City. In the past three games, the Renegades have scored 96 points.  

“It’s been the same (mindset) every week, it’s just been some close games, little things, and during the past three weeks we’ve been able to capitalize on those little things,” said Papa, who had a team-high 108 rushing yards. “We have to just play as a team and win as a team. We have to do this together and not just with a single person.”

Added Gushue, “our motto is ‘stay the course, stick together and keep believing in each other.’ And now they are getting some rewards with that. We’ve won three in a row. It’s great for the school, and the program.”

Potter finished with 102 rushing yards and Liam Gilmore (60-yard pass from Papa) and Josh Peluse (1-yard run) added touchdowns for the Renegades, who now turn their attention to Hammonton, a team that is 8-2 and won the West Jersey Football League’s Memorial Division title.

“Hammonton will be a formidable opponent. They run the ball really well and it’s always a challenge playing them,” Gushue said. “One of our assistant coaches, his son is the defensive coordinator over there, so we’ve known those guys forever. Jim Raso, their head coach, I was on his grandfather’s farm when I was a kid. So, we’ve know their staff for a long time, and they’ve had a really good year. We’ll have to be even better than we were tonight.”

What’s next: No. 4 Shawnee at No. 1 Hammonton, South Jersey Group 4 semifinals, Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. Ocean City travels to Pleasantville on Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving) at 10 a.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays