For as long as most can remember, the biggest game for the Clayton High School football team was always played on Thanksgiving.
This year, things are a lot different.
For just the second time in program history, the Clippers will be playing in December. They’ll face Pennsville for the South Jersey Group 1 title Saturday at Rowan University and it couldn’t be any more exciting for one of the smallest schools in the state.
“It’s crazy. Everyone is loving it, everyone is asking about it,” said senior Elijah Rehm.
“It’s nice to have a small town get ready for a big game like this and not worry about Thanksgiving.”
The annual holiday showdown against Pitman has always been the main attraction. But with Clayton sporting a 9-2 record and riding a five-game winning streak, the focus has clearly shifted.
The Clippers’ only other appearance in a sectional final was 1991 – a 37-20 loss to a powerful Woodbury team that captured its fourth consecutive championship.
This is the first winning season in coach Marvin Tucker’s five years at the helm.
“We all got together and ironed out our wrinkles,” senior Tyreek Jackson said. “We all got on the same page. If you’re not on the same page, there’s not too much you can do.
“We got together and played football as a team rather than individuals. We put in the work. We haven’t accomplished what we want yet, but it is a blessing that we got to the championship.”
Rehm noticed something different about this team during the summer.
“The way we practiced, the team bonding activities,” he said. “I always knew we were capable of it. It was just a matter of when we would come together as one and play as a family.
“The coaches have been calling great games and putting us in the right position to make plays. There hasn’t been any arguing. We’re playing as a family and everyone has the same goal.”
Hosting a playoff game for the first time, the Clippers defeated Gloucester in the first round. A second home game, a showdown with neighboring rival Glassboro, produced a 34-21 victory and a spot in the sectional final.
Needless to say, the atmosphere was unlike anything this team had ever experienced.
“We had our biggest crowd of the year, around 1,700,” Rehm said. “In my four years, Thanksgiving was always the biggest game, but nothing compared to this year’s game against Glassboro. Thanksgiving was small compared to that.”
Clayton comes into the final off a 27-8 victory on Thanksgiving.
“We were anxious and hungry to play (the final) but we didn’t look past Pitman,” Jackson said. “We still had to take it one game at a time.”
Now the Clippers find themselves on the verge of something special.
“We’re there but that’s not our main goal,” Rehm said. “We want to win it all. Coach has kept us humble and ready. We have everything we need. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org
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