After the game, what stood out most was the raw emotion pouring from the Haddon Township players.
They looked drained, dejected. A few were in tears.
“This one will hurt forever,” coach Mike Sheridan told his players. He also looked as if he was laboring to keep his emotions in check after his Hawks fell, 8-2, to visiting Robbinsville in front of a packed crowd in a game that decided the West Jersey Football League Classic Division.
And when Sheridan talked about the makeup of his team after the game — about what led to a remarkable turnaround for a program that hadn’t finished with a winning record since 2012, including going 0-10 in 2015— Sheridan first talked about his team's reaction to the loss.
“I’m blessed,” he said, “to have players that really care.”
“You measure success incrementally,” he added, “and I’m just thankful for everything they have done. They just keep fighting and fighting and fighting.”
Even with the loss, the Hawks still sport a 7-2 record and have a solid chance to make it to the postseason for the first time since 1998.
“We built this program from the ground up. We’ve been grinding in the offseason every year since we were freshman,” said linebacker Matt Potter. “That’s what got us here.”
Potter talked about the big-time atmosphere Saturday night, the standing-room-only home section, and it made him think about how far his team has come.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this,” he said.
Just a junior, it does look like it won't be the last time Potter plays in a game or in an atmosphere like Saturday night.
Potter was a standout on defense all night. He laid a vicious hit on a Robbinsville running back in the first half, causing a fumble, setting the tone for the dogfight that followed.
There were enough big plays to make it feel like the game slipped through the Hawks' fingers.
Nearly every Robbinsville drive in the first half ended in some sort of calamity. The Hawks blocked a punt on the first drive. On the second, a snap went over the punter’s head and out of the end zone, resulting in a safety. The third ended in an interception by Shane Donlon. The fourth was Potter’s forced fumble. Finally, Robbinsville got off a clean punt on its last drive of the first half.
There were opportunities everywhere all night. Haddon Township just couldn’t take advantage.
“It’s disappointing because we were coming out here expecting to win. We’re having a great season,” Donlon said. “But we’re going to keep our heads up and keep pushing.
“I’ve been through it all with this team. Every year, we just keep pushing ourselves harder and harder, and we’re getting better and better.”
Robbinsville was able to sustain only one drive in the game, its first of the second half, a 70-yard march that ended in a two-yard score by Shane Martin.
But it was enough for Robbinsville, which improved to 9-0, to not just clinch the division but the second postseason berth in program history and first since 2007.
After the game, on the opposite side of the field from Haddon Township, Robbinsville players were in ecstasy. Water jugs were poured on coached heads, dog piles formed.
It was impossible for the Hawks not to notice. For a few, it sparked visions of what might be next year and what other steps this program might soon take.
“This team means everything to me,” Potter said. “It’s my family. We just have to keep grinding.”
Robbinsville 0 0 8 0 — 8
Haddon Township 2 0 0 0 — 2
R: Shane Martin 2 run (Matt Giordano pass from Danny Surtz)