With several starters sidelined, the West Deptford High School football team knew it would take a team effort for the Eagles to return to the state title game.
West Deptford got exactly that, including a big game from one of its biggest leaders, in a 28-7 win over Woodstown that advances the Eagles back to the Group 2 title game for the second-consecutive season.
With leading rusher Gerald Owens sidelined with a mild head injury, senior Josh Cornelius stepped back into the fullback role, carrying the ball 22 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He also made several tackles for loss on the defensive side of the ball while resuming his role as the team’s starting kicker and connecting on a field goal.
“His leadership this week was amazing,” said senior Herb Snyder, who blocked a punt and recovered a fumble. “The whole team was looking forward to seeing what he was going to do this week and he played great. There was nothing that could stop him. We all looked up to him and he came through for us tonight.”
Check out photos from the game at Viewfinder: West Deptford Football Defeats Woodstown
West Deptford head coach Clyde Folsom praised Cornelius for working through leg injuries throughout the season and staying positive throughout any adversity.
“Josh set the tempo early in the week. He really provided leadership early in the week,” Folsom said. “He was very emotional before the game.”
Cornelius has been a pivotal part of the Eagles’ offense the last three years, but saw his workload reduced significantly after enduring a hamstring injury followed by nerve stuck in a bulged disk in his back that caused his right leg to go numb. There were a coupe games where Cornelius didn’t serve as a running back this season, but he said Friday he is feeling as healthy as he has in a long time. And with Owens out of the game, it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
“With G down I knew I had to step up and play,” said Cornelius. “I played fullback my sophomore year and I really tried to just do the best I could coming off this leg injury and give it my all.”
No. 5 Woodstown came out of the gates hot, taking a 7-0 lead on a 52-yard touchdown run by Semaj Thomas with 41 seconds left in the first quarter. The Eagles’ offense finally got going midway through the second quarter when running back Devin Bates broke off a 30-yard run down to the Woodstown 24. Cornelius followed with a 20-yard run and Connor Smith capped the drive out with a 4-yard touchdown run.
The ensuing extra point failed, but the West Deptford defense forced a three-and-out, giving the ball back to its offense at midfield. Shai Mumford opened the drive with a 25-yard run and the Eagles eventually advanced the ball inside the Woodstown 1 yard line. Cornelius gave the Eagles the lead for good with a 1-yard touchdown run. He would add a 23-yard field goal to put West Deptford up 15-7 at the half.
West Deptford kept dominating the ground game in the second half as Bates broke off an 11-yard run on the first series of the third quarter to give West Deptford a 21-7 lead.
“I had to put everything on the line,” Bates said. “I’m at a loss for words right now. Everybody stepped up and we had a team effort.”
Bates has seen a few carries a game over the last month but saw his workload increase with Owens out. He carried the ball 10 times for 58 yards.
“Devon is a really good football player,” Cornelius said. “When he makes that cut up field, he’s gone. He blocks well, does everything well. He’s a good kid and he takes well to constructive criticism.”
Snyder helped the Eagles seal the game with big plays on defense and on special teams. He recovered a fumble with Woodstown around midfield then blocked a punt on the Wolverines’ next possession.
To be back in the championship "feels great," Snyder said. “We wouldn’t have done it without a team effort like we had tonight. Everybody played great. Offensively, we really had it going on and defensively we stepped up and made everything happen to shut them down.”
Cornelius added a 12-yard touchdown run with 3:18 left in the game to seal the victory.
Snyder said the team never got down despite being down three starters from the week before and missing a total of six players who had made contributions during the season.
“We tried to ignore it and fill everyone in the best we could so we wouldn’t have distractions coming into the game,” Snyder said. “We performed perfectly.”
“It was more than just about what happened (Friday), it was our week leading up to the game,” said Folsom. “Our team had every right in the world to say, ‘We lost a couple of top players and lets just do the best we can,’ but our seniors and everybody stepped up tonight. Football is a great game. I think we learned a lot tonight overcoming the things we did.”
The Eagles will travel to Rowan on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. to take on the winner of No. 2 Cedar Creek/No. 3 Willingboro.