With a starting offense lineman down and a facing pesky opponent who wouldn’t go away, the West Deptford High School football team elected to go with its bread and butter in the second half against rival Haddonfield Friday night.
It hadn’t failed them all season and didn’t fail them again as the Eagles dialed up a physical running game that helped put away a 25-12 win over the Bulldawgs and clinched a Colonial Conference Liberty division title.
Connor Smith and Gerald Owens combined for more than 375 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, while quarterback Alex Hilbmann threw for a score in a rematch of last year's Group 3 championship.
“We knew it was going to be a battle all game, we just had to win it physically,” said Smith. “They know us real well, what we do. Our O-line stepped it up big time today. We had a big injury with (tackle) Julian Downing, who was a key player, but Pat Ennis stepped it up. G. Owens had a great influence blocking today and I especially thank him for that.”
Smith finished with 200 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Both scores came in the second half, when the Eagles built upon their 6-0 halftime advantage.
The Eagles’ first score of the game came through the air when Hilbmann threw a perfect 15-yard touchdown pass to Herb Snyder on third-and-14. Snyder has been on of the Eagles top receivers all season, but has limited receptions in a run-first offense.
“I didn’t expect to get the ball, but (head coach Clyde Folsom) threw me in there and I somehow pulled it in,” said Snyder. "It felt great.”
The rest of the first half success belonged to the West Deptford defense, which limited Haddonfield to 41 yards of total offense. Haddonfield had its best drive of the half midway through the first quarter when it opened the series of the West Deptford 41 and drove it down to the 3-yard line for a first-and-goal. On the next play, Adam Augugliaro was stripped of the ball and Connor Smith recovered it.
Then, in the second quarter Haddonfield had a golden opportunity when Hilbman was sacked and fumbled deep in West Deptford territory, setting the Bulldawgs up at the Eagles’ 6-yard line. Haddonfield was unable to take advantage though, as a run for a loss, a sack and a penalty doomed the drive.
“We had our opportunities,” Haddonfield coach Frank DeLano said. “…We couldn’t capitalize, but credit them.”
“In the first half, our defense stepped up and we had two goal line stands,” said Folsom. “It really kind of kept us in the game. In the second half we started to wear them down a little bit. Certainly G. (Owens) had some big runs and Connor Smith played big for a senior. He really stepped up and had some big runs and got some critical first downs.”
Haddonfield was able to reach the end zone early in the third quarter when Mike DeFeo broke off a 37-yard touchdown run on the second play of the half to tie the game at 6-6. After each team produced points on their next possession, Smith broke off his first touchdown run—a 29-yard effort down the near sideline that featured a cutback that left a Bulldawgs’ defender on the ground. A missed extra point left the Eagles ahead 12-6 with 2:38 left in the third.
The West Deptford defense forced another stop and Smith extended the lead to 18-2 when he broke free for a 52-yard score with 6:56 left in the game.
The performance was made sweeter for Smith due to the fact he missed last year’s state final.
“I didn’t play in the state championship last year because I broke my collarbone and the last two times I played Haddonfield it was a loss, so it feels great to finally beat them being on the field,” Smith said.
Haddonfield (5-3) kept fighting and got the game back within a single score when junior quarterback Mike McLaughlin tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Robinson.
The Eagles received a squib kick and attempted to run out the clock, but Owens wanted even more, breaking several tackles on a 54-yard touchdown run that sealed the deal with 3:36 left. Snyder added an interception in the game’s final moments to spark a celebration.
“It’s huge; I can’t even explain it,” Snyder said. “I feel on top of the world right now.”
The Eagles (8-0) will be the No. 1 seed when the Group 2 playoffs start next week as they attempt to repeat as champions.
“It’s a tribute to our kids to be able to go through the first eight games undefeated and be the high seed and be able to host,” said Folsom. “Now we have to do something with it. It’s a new season now and we have to take it one at a time. I’m not sure who we are going to draw, but we have some work to do.”
Meanwhile, the loss appears to have eliminated the Bulldawgs from playoff contention. The Bulldawgs entered the night in eighth place in power points, but were passed by Cinnaminson. Official Group 2 power point standings were not updated at time of publication.