For a second, it looked as if Josh Toner might take it to the house. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive lineman was being double-teamed when he reached out and snatched the ball away from a Winslow running back early in the third quarter.
He rumbled 12 yards before being dragged down at his own 23-yard-line.
No, he didn’t score — every lineman’s dream — but the Cherokee junior accomplished what he set out to do at halftime.
“We needed to make a play. I have to make a play there. I kept telling myself we needed a play. We were tied at halftime, and that was unacceptable,” said Toner, whose strip on the first drive of the second half set up the go-ahead field goal in Cherokee’s 13-3 win at Winslow Friday night.
Toner’s big play was one of many in an impressive defensive performance by the Chiefs.
As Cherokee’s offense struggled to find a rhythm, the team recorded six sacks and caused four turnovers.
“We just wanted to play aggressive and play relentless,” said sophomore Thomas Nigro, who recorded two sacks, including a strip sack in the fourth quarter that all but sealed the win for Cherokee.
Winslow (1-2) only attempted one punt in the second half, but each of its other five drives ended in either a loss of downs or a turnover.
The one punt it did attempt was a botched snap that gave Cherokee a first-and-10 at its own four-yard-line.
Jackson McIntyre punched it in on the very next play for the game’s only touchdown, giving Cherokee a 13-3 lead with 6:27 left in the third quarter.
And while Winslow running backs Dimell Reid (12 carries, 71 yards) and Jimel Quan (14 carries, 71 yards) were solid, Cherokee managed to stop them at every big moment.
“We had a good week of practice defensively. I’d like to see us tackle a little bit better, but part of that is their (talented) running backs,” said Cherokee coach Brian Glatz. “We just took advantage of some of the opportunities we had out there. And we kept fighting.”
Glatz said he was pleased with the way his Chiefs (2-1) bounced back from a tough loss to Shawnee last week.
It re-established momentum for one of South Jersey’s proudest programs, hoping to bounce back after a 1-8 campaign last season.
“This is week-to-week,” Glatz said. “We have a lot of good character kids on this team.
“But we’re a work in progress. We have to continue to tighten up and continue to get better.”
One of the player’s helping to generate excitement for Cherokee is 6-foot-5 junior quarterback Billy Osborn, who missed all of last year with an injury.
In a game that was largely played in the trenches, Osborn was quiet most of Friday night, finishing 4 of 10 for 22 yards passing. He also had a couple deep balls that missed by a matter of inches.
But he helped manage his team to a win.
Winslow was ahead 3-0 before Cherokee worked its way to a 24-yard-field goal before the half.
The Chiefs took the lead for good with Nick Siranni’s second field goal of the night, set up by Toner’s strip.
Cherokee 0 3 10 0 -- 13
Winslow Township 0 3 0 0 -- 3
W: John Purvis 24 field goal
C: Nick Sirianni 24 field goal
C: Sirianni 25 field goal