GLASSBORO – The pregame speech was different than any other this season.
Some tears were shed, an emotional beginning to what would be an emotional day culminating a season unlike any other.
“No matter how hard, no matter how tired, we had to push through no matter what,” said junior tight end/defensive end Robbie Saulin.
With its inspirational leader – No. 7, Kyle Pszenny – in attendance, the Pennsville High School football team completed a journey of monumental significance Saturday, one that began last June under tragic circumstances.
Setting the tone with a 12-play, 74-yard scoring drive on the first series of the game, the Eagles immeditately seized control and went on for a convincing 28-6 victory over Clayton in the South Jersey Group 1 final at Rowan University.
It was the third title in school history for Pennsville (11-1) and first since 1981.
“I’m fumbling for words because I don’t know how to put it into words,” Pennsville coach Ryan Wood said. “You couldn’t have written the story any better – for the way it ended, for Kyle being here and being able to share this with us. … I love Kyle and love our kids. I’m proud of everybody.”
It was in the early hours of Sunday, June 7 when Pszenny was the victim of a hit-and-run. Riding his skateboard, he was headed home from his girlfriend’s house when he was struck.
Pszenny was taken to Christiana Hospital in Delaware, where he was treated for a severe leg injury, mid-section trauma and head injuries. Although he needs 24-hour care, Pszenny came home Monday and was brought behind the Pennsville bench at halftime by family and friends.
He remained there throughout the second half and was wheeled out to join teammates for the postgame celebration.
Fittingly, teammates put him front and center. The championship trophy was placed in his lap.
“Everything we did this season, we did for No. 7. We did it all for Kyle,” said senior Jeremy Boucher, who had five catches for 124 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown.
“We were 11 guys who came together as a team. Our only goal was to bring back a championship for our brother. We did that.”
Said Wood: “It means everything. We set a goal in June when it happened. We set the same goal every year, but with Kyle’s injury this year it just heightened everything. The boys worked hard for a long time.”
“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Saulin noted. “We came together after that and had a long talk about putting 100 percent out there because we knew he would. We needed to play as hard as we could.”
The team talked about Pszenny all season, but Wood never made him the focus of the pregame speech. It was understood how important he still was to the team, someone who would remain in their hearts every day.
Friday’s team dinner was held at Pszenny’s house.
And this time, Wood’s final speech Saturday morning would carry more meaning than any other this season.
“It was important that Kyle was included in the pregame speech and the boys responded very well,” Wood said. “When you’re on the field and hurting, and your elbow’s banged up and your foot hurts and knee hurts, nothing we could possibly go through on the field today even compares to what this young man is doing.
“When this game ended, he needed to be on the field with the trophy in his lap. We needed to do that for him. That was important for us.”
Closing out the season on a seven-game winning streak, Pennsville scored the first 21 points. Brennan Rieco hit Logan Johnston for a 31-yard touchdown on a halfback option to open the scoring, while Nicholas Bard (19 carries, 88 yards) added a 16-yard TD run. Boucher’s TD catch came with 3:05 left in the second quarter.
Clayton (9-3) scored its only points on Tyreek Jackson’s 2-yard TD run with 18 seconds left in the half.
Rieco collected the game’s final TD on a 1-yard run in the fourth.
And after a goal-line stand, Pennsville put the finishing touches on its title by running out the final 8:52.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” Wood said.; “There are no words. You couldn’t write it any better.
“Our kids have handled this … better than adults. I can’t put it into words. They’ve been so mature and handled it so well all year long. Today was just another byproduct of that.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org
Player of the game: Jeremy Boucher had five catches for 124 yards and a touchdown for Pennsville.
Play of the game: A goal-line stand on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter helped seal the outcome.
Well said: “I went out and did my job. I think I did better than I ever thought I would.” – Boucher
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