By MARK TRIBLE

Glory Days Football Writer

WOOLWICH TOWNSHIP — It wasn’t pretty for a half, but after a dominant final 24 minutes, there couldn’t be anything more beautiful for the hosts than that polished silver football atop a wooden base.

The Coaches Trophy didn’t leave the campus of Kingsway High School on Wednesday night, thanks to a 24-6 Dragons win over Clearview.

“Zero thought,” coach Mark Hendricks replied when asked if he’d pondered backups in first-string roles for the clash. “I had someone in the teacher’s lounge (this week) say kind of like the same question.

“I was like, ‘Hell no.’ We lost to these guys three times (in a row).”

His approach didn’t waver, despite an NJSIAA South/Central Regional Championship game against unbeaten Hillsborough on Dec. 4 at Rutgers. The starters played and for a half, they couldn’t find their way past the motivated Pioneers.

That all changed on the first drive of the third frame.

Down 6-3, Kingsway (8-4) marched 60 yards on six plays and Darrell Brown capped the possession with a 10-yard run.

After a punt on their next drive, the Dragons took over downs with 61 seconds left in the third. They marched without quarterback Nate Maiers, whose hand had gone numb on that fourth-down defensive stop.

Faced with 4th-and-1 at the 31-yard line of Clearview (6-5), Maiers entered the game. He expected to sneak for the first down. But, the line had been told to move on sound. Maiers expected to go on “one.”

False start.

At 4th-and-6, Maiers made up for it with a 22-yard pass to D.J. DiPietro.

“On the pick I threw in the first half it was the same play,” the junior signal caller said. “The linebacker had hugged up on our tight end.

“So, coach Hendricks told me if the linebacker hugs up, you have the arrow route. So I took it and it was wide open.”

That play effectively sparked momentum the rest of the way in this Battle of Route 322. Maiers snuck it on a 4th-and-1 at the 5-yard line on the next set of downs. He scored from three yards out with 6:34 to play to make it 17-6.

The adjustments on that route — and in the half — demonstrated Hendricks’ and his staff’s acumen this season. Left as an afterthought as the playoffs began, they found different ways to continue their run.

Kingsway exploded offensively to beat Old Bridge in the South Jersey Group 5 first round, 51-49. The Dragons used six turnovers to down Lenape in the semis, 20-17. Last week, they hit on a fake punt early for six and found a wide-open pass to win the game in the final seconds at Toms River North.

That brought the hardware home.

It had been a whirlwind week.

“We should have been in control from the first play but coming off a short week, it’s tough and we battled,” Maiers said. “That’s a tough team.

“It’s crazy, honestly. I don’t think Kingsway’s ever done this. To get a game in December and beat our rivals in Clearview, it’s just awesome. I’m speechless.”

The action needed an exclamation point and what better player to put it on this holiday eve tilt than Brown?

An explosive player, he took an outside zone handoff and rolled 90 yards to put the game away with 2:46 left.

“When I was in the backfield, I knew I was going to score,” Brown said. “I was thinking about it. Ending the game with that score means a lot.

“We started off the first half low, and in the locker room the coaches talked to us and coach Hendricks’ speech, they got us up and ready, pumped for the second half and we go from there.”

It’s a formula that’s created an autumn to be remembered around here.

Mark Trible covers high school football for Glory Days Magazine. Check out his weekly Facebook Live show every Wednesday 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.