GLASSBORO – Tim Gushue shook his head.
“Beyond his years,” the Shawnee High School football coach said. “The real deal.”
In the biggest game of his young high school career, Devin Leary stepped up Sunday night and delivered a championship performance.
“He played like a senior,” Michigan State-bound teammate Cameron Chambers said after Leary led Timber Creek to a 28-24 victory in the South Jersey Group 4 final at Rowan University. “He has come a long way. He did a great job. I told him to relax and get into a zone.”
Timber Creek (9-3) picked up its third title after winning back-to-back crowns in 2011 and 2012. It was the team’s fifth straight championship appearance.
A sophomore, Leary was the engineer for a Timber Creek team in need of a victory. The Chargers lost the last two sectional finals, both to Shawnee, and didn’t want to leave the turf with the same feeling.
In his first title game, Leary played with poise and determination. If he was nervous, it surely didn’t show.
“We were only going to go as far as he took us and we put the game on his shoulders,” Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson said. “He stood up and did what he had to do.
“It feels great. That’s a super program. Winning is sweet because we needed it. But winning against those guys makes it a little more sweet.”
Leary completed 15-of-22 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Jason Butler on a 27-yard strike to cap the Chargers’ first possession and would connect with Chambers on a 44-yard TD pass with 4:34 left in the third for what proved to be the game-winning score.
The young quarterback also scored on a 1-yard keeper that helped give the Chargers a 21-3 halftime lead.
“Quarterbacks coach Durwin Pearson told me I had to play more excited than nervous and calm my team down,” Leary said. “As a younger guy I needed to step up, relax my nerves and let everyone follow me.
“I was really confident. I knew I had to step up big for my team.”
Harold Coleman led the ground attack, scoring on a 6-yard run in the first quarter and finishing with 84 yards on 18 carries. Shane Pease had 10 carries for 49 yards. Chambers had five catches for 94 yards in his final game.
Tyreek Williams had two huge sacks and a quarterback hurry in the second half.
“We stayed strong and got the job done,” Williams said. “We knew they’d pass and we had to put pressure on the quarterback.
“We knew we couldn’t win unless we played together. We knew the offense had our back.”
Shawnee (9-3) didn’t give up without a fight.
The Renegades cut their deficit to 21-9 on an 18-yard TD pass from Michael Welsh to Michael Johnson in the third quarter. After Chambers scored, they cut it to 28-17 when Shawn Levondosky hauled in a 53-yard pass from Welsh.
Ryan Parris then blocked a punt and Colin Wetterau recovered in the end zone to make it 28-24 with just over five minutes to play.
“They weren’t going to lay down and let us win,” Hinson said.
But even with momentum now with Shawnee, Leary wasn’t fazed.
“After Shawnee scored, I told them we were going to get this thing,” Leary said. “I could tell in the looks of their eyes that they wanted it. I had to lead them.
“Everything was mental.”
The Chargers would take the final 5:33 off the clock, picking up three key first downs. The biggest came with 1:05 left as Leary hit Noah Ellison on fourth-and-6 from the Shawnee 34.
He delivered a 22-yard pass just inches away from the sideline.
“He has just progressed; been so mature,” said Ellison, an Old Dominion recruit. “There are better things for him down the road.”
Said Hinson: “I’ve said all along that I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the state, not just for grade level but all around. Performances like tonight, like Hammonton … He’s backed up what I’ve said about him. He’s unflappable, he knows the offense and he executes it masterfully.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com
TIMBER CREEK 28
•Player of the game: Chargers’ QB Devin Leary threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns, while also scoring on a 1-yard keeper.
•Play of the game: Leary hit Noah Ellison on fourth-and-6 with 1:05 to play. The 22-yard pass put the game on ice.
•Well said: “I just knew that this was it. It was time to separate the boys from the men. No matter what age, this was the real deal. I had to step up.” – Devin Leary