NEWARK – Woodbridge quarterback Troy Haynes rolled out to his right and saw one man to beat.
Better yet, he saw offensive lineman Shymere Vessels coming to beat him.
Vessels delivered the key block, and Haynes scampered into the end zone for the go-ahead 21-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. Then the Blue Raiders’ defense made it stand up for a 14-9 victory over Wilmington Friends in the DIAA Division II championship game on Saturday night.
Top-seeded Woodbridge made two huge defensive stands in the fourth quarter to complete a 13-0 season and win the school’s first state football title.
“13-0. Who would have thought that?” Blue Raiders coach Ed Manlove said. “Wow.”
It was a wow kind of game, on a cold night at Delaware Stadium. Defense ruled most of the way, but a couple of huge plays kept the crowd rocking on both sides.
The Woodbridge defense had been stellar all season, allowing only 59 points through 12 games. That ‘D’ was needed immediately, as the Blue Raiders fumbled on their first play from scrimmage and Friends’ Daniel Adebi recovered at the Woodbridge 17.
The defense answered the call, stopping the fifth-seeded Quakers (11-2) on downs at the 8. Then the Blue Raiders hit the first big play, as Haynes found Gabriel Wescott behind the Quakers for a 75-yard gain to the 4. Terrique Riddick scored on the next play, but the kick failed to leave the Blue Raiders with a 6-0 with 6:23 left in the first quarter.
It stayed that way until midway through the third quarter, when Woodbridge was closing in on another score. But on fourth-and-10 from the Quakers 18, Friends’ Owen Sheppard intercepted a pass and screamed 88 yards for a game-changing touchdown. The PAT failed, leaving it tied at 6.
The Blue Raiders responded with their best drive of the night, covering 62 yards in eight running plays. On second-and-8 from the 21, Vessels leveled a defender and Haynes cruised in.
“I saw one man to beat, so I ran as hard as I could to score a touchdown,” Haynes said. “I couldn’t ask for a better lineman [than Vessels]. He works as hard as he can in practice and in the offseason, and it all paid off tonight.”
When Vessels heard the play call – the bootleg to the right – he knew what to do.
“Every time he runs that little bootleg, he always wants me to pull because I’m a faster and stronger guy,” Vessels said. “It’s amazing that he believes in me like that.”
Manlove said the play worked to perfection. Richard Massey added the two-point conversion run to push the Woodbridge lead to 14-6.
“Those are plays we have in for [Haynes], for those special situations, and we had it that time,” Manlove said. “The corner was all the way up in the backfield, so we knew we were going to get it as long as we got the block.”
But Friends answered with its longest march. The Quakers moved from their own 30 to a first-and-goal at the 4, with Justin Beneck completing a couple of key passes to Devonte Church. The Blue Raiders stood tall, and Friends coach Bob Tattersall elected to try a 23-yard field goal. Jacob Jaworski split the uprights to pull the Quakers within 14-9 with 6:19 remaining.
Then Friends got just the break it needed, as Sheppard pounced on a fumble at the Woodbridge 13 two plays later. But the Quakers couldn’t cash in.
Beneck was sacked twice, Jamon Kane limited Church to a 5-yard gain on a third-and-21 pass, and James Kane deflected Friends’ fourth-down throw in front of the end zone. The Blue Raiders took over on downs, then grinded out two first downs to run the final 3:22 off the clock.
“We kicked the field goal, and we had plenty of time to get a turnover or stop them,” Tattersall said. “We got it, and we couldn’t score. We just missed. That would have been the difference.”
Manlove saluted his defense, which held the Quakers to 93 total yards.
“When it came to crunch time, we got it done,” the Woodbridge coach said. “Those kids were just tremendous all year long. It’s only fitting to have those stands to win the championship.”
It was a rematch of a Sept. 23 game at Woodbridge, won by the Blue Raiders 35-7. This one was closer, but the outcome was the same. Woodbridge was the only team to defeat the Quakers this season.
“It was two good, defensive teams,” Tattersall said. “These were the two best Division II teams in the state. They proved they’re the best. They beat us twice.”
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.