MONROE TWP. – On his team’s first offensive drive, the transfer from Washington Township helped give his opponents a touchdown.
On the last meaningful snap of the game, the kid had one of his own.
Williamstown senior cornerback/quarterback Richie Stanzione’s 80-yard pick-six pushed Hammonton into the loss column for the first time this season.
The No. 6 Braves (7-1) took the West Jersey Football League Interdivisional matchup, 36-21.
“Unbelievable, isn’t it?!” Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola shouted incredulously after the wild win. “It’s high school football, what can you say?”
In a game where both team colors of black and blue were appropriate, Friday’s contest proved riveting from the start. The Blue Devils (7-1) took a 7-0 lead just three minutes and 50 seconds into play on a touchdown pass from Malachi Winters to Josh Bevan.
Three plays later, Stanzione looped a pass into the seam and Winters snatched it from the defensive backfield. The speedy star returned it for six.
The home crowd’s war chants went quiet.
“As a leader it was my fault,” Stanzione said. “Against the No. 2 team in South Jersey, down 14-0, my teammates brought me back.”
It started on the next drive when Joe Early busted runs of 11, 13 and 29 – the last for a score – to trim the deficit to 14-6. A bad snap ended with a conversion on the extra point when holder Victor Ruggiano smartly ran it in on the left side.
But, Hammonton displayed why it had hammered Delsea a week prior with a relentless run game on the next possession. Bruising rusher Zac Barnard carried 14 times on the drive that ended in his 1-yard score.
After a Tyrick Glenn TD, the home team got the second-half kickoff down 21-15.
On a broken play, Stanzione found Glenn for a 47-yard toss on third down.
“I want to say the play was busted from the beginning,” Stanzione said. “It just let me roll out a little bit.”
The long play set up a Eriq Mercado TD from 10 yards out to take the lead at 22-21. Williamstown wouldn’t give it up.
Fucetola’s bunch made adjustments at halftime and started hitting the fullback. Suddenly, the three-yards-per-play machine didn’t exist.
In the first half, Barnard carried 19 times for 80 yards. The second 24 minutes provided six touches for 14.
The yells were louder with each carry for the road team. Williamstown smelled the upset. If Hammonton wanted to win, the Blue Devils would have to throw the ball.
Stanzione proved to be the one to put it in the air. A 30-yard pass down the seam to Glenn in the fourth set up a 7-yard quarterback draw to make it 29-21 with 5:50 left.
“That’s the difference,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said after his first loss. “Two really big passing plays they were able to connect and we couldn’t. They made the plays.”
The final one – the exclamation point to a type of game Stanzione had dreamed of playing in – came with two minutes left.
Blue Devils backup quarterback Josh Bevan aimed down field. Stanzione made it his. He took it back with speed, in-and-out weaves and a juke that put his final obstacle in Barnard on the ground.
“That’s just hours and hours of watching Joe Early play,” Stanzione said. “He’s got the shakes.”
After Friday night’s result, whatever team sees Williamstown on its schedule probably does too.
Mark Trible; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org
Play of the game: Braves’ QB/CB Richie Stanzione’s 80-yard interception return for TD in the final two minutes sealed the game.
Player of the game: Stanzione, who scored on an INT return, ran for a TD and completed two big passes in the second half and overcame an early pick six to get Williamstown the win.
Well said: “Unbelievable, isn’t it? – Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola