WEST DEPTFORD – Gio Gismondi went Beast Mode on Friday night, right down to the Skittles.
The West Deptford High School junior tailback bulled over defenders like the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch, rushing for 133 yards and three touchdowns to power the Eagle football team to a 21-10 triumph over Buena Regional in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals.
The top-seeded Eagles will take on No. 3-seed Cedar Creek at Rowan University with a sectional title on the line in two weeks. West Deptford lost to Haddonfield in last year’s championship game.
“It’s just a great feeling, I’m ready to go,” said the soft-spoken Gismondi, who was more interested in housing his Ziploc bag of Skittles than celebrating following the win.
“He’s such a beast,” quarterback Nick Diaco said. “That’s the only way to describe him. He doesn’t show any weakness, he doesn’t show anything. I don’t know how he’s not so fired up right now.”
Gismondi has been a big part of the Eagles’ offense all season, as he entered the game third on the team in carries (79), rushing yards (625) and touchdowns (7). However, he’s never had as much responsibility as he did Friday night, as West Deptford’s top ballcarrier, junior Quarn Dozier, missed the game with a leg injury.
Gismondi wound up carrying the ball 26 times against fourth-seeded Buena.
“This is definitely a record,” he said.
Gismondi got the Eagles (10-0) on the scoreboard first when he scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:04 left in the opening half, giving his team a 7-0 lead.
However, the Chiefs (9-2) took control from there, as Tyler Rainear connected on a 27-yard field goal with 5:37 remaining in the second quarter to close the gap to 7-3.
Buena’s defense then forced West Deptford into a three-and-out, and the Chiefs capitalized as Sam Crouch charged over the goal line from three yards out on the next drive to put his squad up 10-7 with 30.5 seconds to go before the intermission.
The Eagles made one last push for points before the half though, as Diaco completed his first two passes of the game, including a 42-yarder to Alex Malcolm down to the Chiefs’ 5-yard line with 8.1 seconds left. But a delay of game penalty set West Deptford back, forcing a field goal attempt, which Buena blocked to end the second quarter.
“We just had to adjust to what they were doing,” Diaco said of the team’s thoughts at halftime. “We never really lost any confidence. We obviously didn’t want this, but we kind of knew this was going to happen. We kept our hopes up, kept driving, kept pounding the ball and just followed the momentum.”
It was Gismondi’s running that really gave the Eagles life.
While neither team scored in the third quarter, West Deptford had 17 snaps to Buena’s nine and had clearly gained control. Gismondi, who rushed for just 26 yards in the first half, had 51 alone in the third.
The Eagles finally found the end zone in the fourth quarter when Gismondi punctuated an 8-play, 62-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 14-10 with 9:49 to play. The Chiefs had two personal-foul penalties on the march.
Buena put together a nice possession of its own following the ensuing kickoff, producing a fourth-and-2 on the West Deptford 37. However, a false start penalty pushed the Chiefs back five yards, and they were unable to convert the longer attempt.
The Eagles closed the book on the Buena’s upset bid the following drive, thanks to Diaco and Gismondi. Diaco kept the possession alive with a 14-yard run on a busted pass play on third-and-9 on the team’s own 43-yard line, and Gismondi punctuated the 11-play march with a 9-yard touchdown run, giving West Deptford a 21-10 lead with 2:52 left.
“The line had a great push,” Gismondi said. “That’s all to it. They do a great job, I do a great job, just works out.”
The Eagles hope everything works out against Cedar Creek, as West Deptford is seeking its first sectional title since 2012.
“It’s just awesome,” Diaco said. “There’s no way to describe that. I love being back.”
WEST DEPTFORD 21, BUENA 10
Player of the Game: West Deptford junior running back Gio Gismondi, who rushed for a game-high 133 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
Play of the Game: Gismondi scored a 9-yard touchdown with 2:52 to play to seal the Eagles’ 21-10 victory over Buena.
Well said: “It’s awesome (to win a close game). It’s just as great if not better (than winning a blowout) because we know we’re playing a great team. They were a great team and we did a good job.” – West Deptford quarterback Nick Diaco on winning a close game. The Eagles have only had two victories by 10 points or less this season.