For two long months, the West Deptford High School football team went about its business, thrashing whatever team showed up on its schedule, all the while thinking about a rematch that seemed inevitable.
Once West Deptford dismantled Barnegat in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 semifinals, the rematch had become official.
And now Saturday, the Eagles play for the right to not only take down an old nemesis, but also claim the biggest prize in the game.
At Rowan University at 1 p.m., West Deptford gets another crack at Haddonfield in a much-anticipated rematch of last year’s final, won by the Bulldawgs.
“We always know we are going to play them in the final,” said senior Tom Jakubowski. “From the beginning of the season we know we have 11 games, and we know we are going to get Haddonfield twice in the season–in the middle and then in the championship. We are ready to play them.”
The Eagles had their perfect season ruined by the Bulldawgs in last year’s Group 2 final, then lost to them again in the third game of the current regular season. West Deptford was haunted by a trio of turnovers that helped Haddonfield build a lead as grand as 17 points in the Sept. 30 showdown.
The Eagles have been a different team since then, shutting out five teams in a row at one point, while never allowing an opponent to get within 25 points of a victory.
“We knew after that Haddonfield loss, we had to make things perfect,” Jakubowski said. “We knew we had to be perfect on defense, and that’s what we did. We perfected things and didn’t let up a touchdown for 24 quarters.”
The Eagles are confident this meeting will end differently than the previous two. The noticed their flaws and fixed them. The players believe the championship is theirs for the taking.
“We need to control turnovers and just keep our composure, and go out and play the game the way we should,” said senior Phil Fisher. “We need to play some hard-nosed defense.”
Sophomore Gerald Towns, who has run for over 1,300 yards this season, is ready to take the battle to Haddonfield.
“It’s going to be a rough one, but we have to keep throwing punches back,” said Towns in a metaphorical sense. “If we get hit, we got to hit them right back.”
West Deptford head coach Clyde Folsom is excited about the opportunity that is in front of him and his players.
“To have an opportunity to play Haddonfield at Rowan is obviously a dream come true for us again, and we are going to make the most of it,” said Folsom.
Below, is a look at some of the key players and scenarios to watch for on Saturday. And remember, if you can’t make the game, you can follow along with our live webcast.
NO 1. HADDONFIELD VS. NO. 2 WEST DEPTFORD, at Rowan, 1 p.m.
Last game: Defeated Haddon Heights, 35-0.
Last game against West Deptford: Won, 31-21. The Bulldawgs forced a pair of West Deptford fumbles in the third quarter, returning one for a touchdown to pull away for the win.
Key player: Running back Chris Dengler. The Eagles held Dengler under wraps for the most part on the ground, limiting him to 58 yards on 12 carries. But the Bulldawgs halfback took care of business where it counted the most–scoring a pair of touchdowns. He also had a 78-yard kickoff return, and kick coverage has been one of West Deptford’s only soft spots this season.
Three keys to the game:
–Do a better job against the run. Even though they picked up the win, Haddonfield struggled in its attempt to limit West Deptford’s two best running backs. Gerald Towns rushed for 121 yards, while Josh Cornelius had 118–his highest output of the season. If the Bulldawgs do not do a better job limiting the West Deptford backs, a second victory will not be easy to achieve.
–Another big night from Perkins. Linebacker Robert Perkins has been a steady performer for the Bulldawgs’ defense this season, averaging 5.8 tackles a game. However, his performance against the Eagles went well beyond steady. Perkins racked up 14 tackles–nine solo–in the win. It was the only time all season Perkins reached double digit tackles. Haddonfield would love to see him once again elevate his game.
–Taking what is given. Quarterback Dan Ciemniecki did exactly that in the first meeting, completing 5-of-7 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Haddonfield will not ask Cimniecki to do a whole lot, but they do expect him to be smart with the football and get the ball out of his hands quickly. If Ciemnicki can do that, it will put a lot of pressure on the West Deptford secondary.
West Deptford (10-1)
Last game: Defeated Paulsboro, 40-14.
Last game against Haddonfield: Lost, 31-21. The Eagles had two rushers go over 100 yards and held the Haddonfield running game in check, but three turnovers proved too much to overcome.
Key player: Running back Gerald Towns: If it seems like an obvious choice, it is, but Towns is a much more complete runner than he was during the teams’ first meeting. Towns has gone from being a kid just looking to run through defenders, to a complete running back that sniffs the end zone every time he touches the ball. Haddonfield is also aware that the sophomore has a pretty good arm. All eyes will be on Towns.
Three keys to the game:
–Don’t turn the ball over. Everyone who saw the regular season meeting knows that the game was lost on the three turnovers committed by the Eagles. West Deptford has been much better in the turnover department in the second half of the season and if the eagles can continue that trend Saturday, then they stand a great chance of finishing the afternoon as champions.
–Be sound on special teams: Dengler is as good of a kick returner as there is, so the players on the kick coverage unit must stay in their lanes and remain disciplined. Dengler is shifty when he has the ball in his hands, so gang tackling is a must. On the other side, Arrin Bundy and the other returners must take what is there and not go backwards looking to make something out of nothing.
–Play with anger on defense. The West Deptford defense was embarrassed during the regular season game and took it out on every opponent it has faced since then. At one point the Eagles went 24 quarters without surrendering a point. The unit has vowed to show the Bulldawgs that the first meeting was a fluke. Expect the Eagles defense to set the tone early in this one and set up a much lower-scoring contest.