Camden High School’s football team made a detour on its way to Lincoln Financial Field on Wednesday for the resumption of a playoff game that was interrupted Friday night by deadly gunfire.
The Panthers’ team bus stopped in front of Cooper University Hospital, where the youngest victim of the shooting, 10-year-old Micah Tennant, was pronounced dead earlier in the day.
"That was something special,” Camden junior quarterback Darian “Duce” Chestnut said. “That was us paying our respects.”
The death of the fifth-grader shrouded the game at the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium in sadness, as players from Camden and Pleasantville locked arms in a moment of silence in Tennant’s honor before action resumed on a field that normally is home to NFL athletes.
Camden players and coaches described the team’s 22-0 victory as bittersweet, an unforgettable experience for reasons ranging from the thrill of seeing their names embossed on their lockers and playing in an NFL stadium to the heartache of learning that Friday’s shooting had claimed the life of a boy who had come to watch them play.
“It was devastating to me,” Camden senior linebacker Tirek Austin-Cave said. “I wish I could change it, but I can’t. All I can do is pray for his family.”
Chestnut, who ran for a touchdown and ran and passed for a pair of two-point conversions, said the players tried to use the news of Tennant’s death as motivation.
“It was like, all we could do was go out and play as hard as we could for him,” Chestnut said. “He won’t get the chance to do something like this.”
Pleasantville senior Ernest Howard, who normally wears No. 2, wore a No. 10 jersey as a tribute to Tennant. Several other players from both teams wrote “10” or “Micah” on their faces, socks, or undershirts.
“Micah was 10 years old, he was shot at our game, I wanted to represent him,” Howard said. “I wanted to show off for him. It was hard, it was motivating, but we all had one thing in mind, and that was about Micah.”
On Friday, Camden led the Central Jersey Group 2 semifinal game at Pleasantville, 6-0, when gunfire erupted in the stands with 4 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Six people have been arrested in connection with the shooting.
The Eagles’ offer to host the resumption of the game created an unusual scene on a cool, overcast, and windy Wednesday afternoon, as about 500 relatives and friends -- the game was not open to the public -- sat behind the benches in the lower section of the 68,000-seat stadium.
Before the start of play, several Eagles players, including quarterback Carson Wentz, defensive end Brandon Graham, and defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, walked on the field, talking with players and fans and posing for pictures.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson spoke in a recording shown on the video screens, telling both teams that the football community “stands united” with them in the wake of the shooting.
“First class all the way,” Camden coach Dwayne Savage said. “I can’t thank the Eagles enough for everything they did.”
The players were pleasantly surprised to run on the field through a smoke-and-fireworks show with blaring music, as the Eagles do for their games.
“That was really cool,” Chestnut said. “It made us feel like we were in the NFL.”
Austin-Cave said playing in a the stadium was a special experience.
“A lot of us have visions of playing in the NFL, and this gave us a taste of it,” he said.
Camden took a 14-0 lead when senior DaShaun Harris ran 21 yards for a touchdown and Chestnut threw a two-point conversion pass to junior Alijah Clark with 5:53 remaining in the game.
The Panthers made it 22-0 with 1:06 on the clock when Chestnut ran 9 yards around left end for a touchdown, then ran around the right side for the two-point conversion.
After scoring the touchdown, Chestnut knelt and pointed to the sky, a gesture in Tennant’s memory.
“We played Camden High football,” Austin-Cave said.
The victory advanced Camden to the Central Jersey Group 2 final on Nov. 30 at Cedar Creek High.
But even as Camden’s spirited band, the Mighty Marching Panthers, played, and athletes, coaches, and fans mingled on the field under the bright stadium lights early Wednesday evening, the memory of the detour at the start of the strangest, saddest road trip of the season was not far from Savage’s mind.