MEDFORD – When Brett Koerner looked up at breakfast Thanksgiving morning, the Shawnee High School senior nose guard saw his stepfather, Tim McAneney, the head coach of Lenape.
“We sat at the counter and we just ate and we talked and then we said good luck and I left and he left,” Koerner said. “It was nothing special. We knew it was going to be a tough one.”
A few hours after breakfast, Koerner made a critical tackle to set up the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter as his Renegades defeated his stepdad’s Indians 27-14 on Thursday before a standing room only holiday crowd at Lenape.
“It’s a great feeling, it’s a great rivalry, it’s a great Thanksgiving,” Koerner said.
Truly, it was a feel-good game for both programs, even with a season-ending defeat for the Indians.
Lenape (8-3) could celebrate the senior class that delivered the program’s first playoff win this season and back-to-back division titles for the first time in over 50 years.
“I’ll be able to look back on it and say it was a great season,” Lenape senior quarterback Bryce Long said.
Shawnee (9-2) certainly could celebrate because the team has won eight straight after a 1-2 start. The Renegades also reversed a loss to Lenape last year and losing two of the previous three games to their school-district rival.
“This one was personal, just because we’re across the road,” said senior wide receiver/safety Anthony Mague after scoring the game’s first and last touchdowns. “So we really wanted this one no matter what the circumstances.”
The backdrop behind the game was Shawnee had a championship game yet to play while Lenape lost in the playoffs last week. Obviously, the Renegades didn’t want to lose a player to injury with another title on the line.
Instead, Shawnee – the two-time defending South Jersey Group 4 champions – won on both fronts going into the sectional title game against Timber Creek for the third year in a row Dec. 6 at Rowan University.
“It’s an awesome feeling to get this momentum going into the state championship,” said Shawnee senior quarterback Mike Welsh, who ran for two touchdowns, including the game-winner, and threw for another. “Last year we were a little down after this game. It gives us a ton of confidence going into the state championship.”
Shawnee, ranked No. 9 in the Courier-Post Mean 15, improved its series lead to 35-7-2 over No. 13-ranked Lenape with the West Jersey Football League interdivision win.
After taking a 14-0 lead early in the third quarter, Shawnee found itself in a dogfight with Lenape which rallied to tie the score.
But then Koerner dropped the Lenape punter after a low snap on the 4-yard line to set up a 1-yard plunge by Welsh. Rich Demko added the kick for a 21-14 lead with 3:42 left in fourth quarter.
“I was thinking I just have to get to the punter and I have to make the play,” Koerner said. “Coach always says there are five plays every game that are most important and I felt that was one of them.”
Welsh scored on fourth-down run when he kept the read-option to running back Mike Githens, who then threw a key block.
“I tried to fake a little bit and get the defense to think that think we were running a jet,” Welsh explained. “I just tried to pound it in for my team. I would do anything for my team. To get this meaningful win is awesome.”
The season was meaningful to Lenape, which won back-to-back championships for the first times since the 1962 and 1963 seasons by going undefeated in the WJFL Colonial Division.
“I’m sure when I look back, I will look back at that stuff,” said Lenape senior linebacker Conor Gaffney.
The Indians earned the No. 1 seed in the Group 5 playoffs and won its first-ever playoff game with a 7-0 win over Rancocas Valley in the first round, before losing to Toms River North 14-0 last week.
“As a team we came to a program that was at the bottom of the barrel,” said Indians senior cornerback Jered Erlanger. “As a senior class we got better every year and it ended up helping out this program.”
Shawnee junior linebacker Dan Wigley intercepted a pass to set up the first game’s first score, a 13-yard pass from Welsh to Mague in the first quarter.
There wasn’t another score until a blocked punt by Shawnee senior defensive lineman David Gajderowicz set up a 10-yard TD run by Welsh.
“You can’t just come out and give a game like this away,” Gajderowicz said. ”It’s all about momentum, too. You come out and lose this one and you lose all the momentum.
“Lenape is very good and we came out and gave it our all.”
Kevin Callahan; (856) 486-2424; kcallahan@GannettNJ.com
Play of the game: Shawnee quarterback Michael Welsh ran a read option on fourth and goal on the 1-yard line and kept the ball for winning TD.
Player of the game: Welsh, a senior, threw one touchdown pass and he rushed for two TDs.
Well said: “It’s very special be part of the team to win the first playoff game in school history and win back-to-back division titles.“ – Lenape senior quarterback Bryce Long
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