For a team coming off consecutive two-win seasons, there was every opportunity to cough the game up, to fall into old familiar habits.
But this year — according to the words and actions of the Haddon Heights football team — is decidedly different.
“We’re more together. This year, we’re a family,” said junior cornerback Noah Kearney, who was all over the field Saturday — mostly in Deptford’s backfield — helping Haddon Heights hang on for a 20-12 win over a Deptford team that went into the game with a 3-1 record.
“We’re starting to roll a little bit. We put it together a little bit today,” said Garnets coach Chris Lina, whose team won its second straight game to improve to 2-3 and match its season win total for the last two seasons.
“I was impressed by the fact that we had things go wrong today,” Lina said. “But we didn’t hang our heads. We have a lot of great senior leadership this year and even some leadership that’s younger than that.”
The laundry list of things that went wrong for Haddon Heights in the second half included an interception that Deptford’s Lee Chandler returned for a 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter and a host of penalties. Haddon Heights also allowed Deptford two trips to the red zone with a a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
The first of those trips to the red zone ended when Kearney recovered a fumble at the 10-yard-line.
On Deptford’s next trip to the red zone, Kearney forced a fumble that the Spartans recovered deep in the backfield. That drive ended on the next play when, on fourth down, Isiah Turner intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1 minute, 50 seconds left, ending a comeback attempt by a Deptford team that was also bogged down by a host of mistakes that included multiple botched snaps, penalties and turnovers.
“This was a great team win for us. We’re a brotherhood this year, and it showed today,” said senior running back Josh Harrielal.
Harrielal caught three passes for 22 yards and ran the ball 25 times for 83 yards and two touchdowns, including a 15-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to give Haddon Heights some breathing room and a bit of momentum following Chandler’s pick-6.
It was a sign of the role the Haddon Heights offense played on Saturday. Just like the defense, the offense came through when it had to.
In the game’s pivotal moments, Harrielal was able to grind out yards to control the clock.
And despite throwing two interceptions, quarterback Ryan D’Orio made several timely completions and recorded a final line of 11-of-20 passing for 168 yards.
“In year’s past we may have started pointing fingers or hanging our heads,” Lina said. “This year, it’s different.”
Deptford 0 6 6 0 — 12
Haddon Heights 0 14 0 6 — 20
HH: Josh Harrielal 4 run (Matt Van Istendal kick)
HH: Jackson Ferrante 3 run (Van Istendal kick)
D: Julian Pizzaro-Armor 4 run (kick failed)
D: Lee Chandler 26 interception return (pass failed)
HH: Harrielal 15 run (kick blocked)