PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Nate Summerville’s touchdown just before halftime left the two defenders in front of him shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads.
They thought they had Summerville covered. By normal high school football standards, maybe they did.
But the 22-yard throw to the corner of the end zone was perfect.
And Summerville’s airborne catch — elevating his 6-foot-5 frame over the much smaller defensive backs — should be a poster somewhere soon.
There was nothing Hammonton could do to stop it.
It’s a snapshot that defined the game. Shawnee was bigger and stronger, and Hammonton was baffled and beaten as the Renegades walked away a 34-0 winner over the Blue Devils in Saturday night’s Group 4 regional championship at Rutgers University.
“Coming back from losing this game last year — and knowing Hammonton wanted us again — we worked hard all week. We wanted this bad,” said Summerville, whose Renegades atoned for a three-point loss in last year’s regional championship to Long Branch.
The win was a cherry on top of a year in which Shawnee finished 10-3 and won a South Jersey title.
“This win just feels really good. We knew coming in they were going to pound the ball on us, and our defense just played really well,” said senior defensive lineman Matt Papa, who recorded 19 tackles and an interception in a relentless defensive effort by Shawnee.
Tom Rebstock finished with 15 carries for 94 yards for the Renegades, and running back Evan Welsey was strong through the air, finishing 9-of-15 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Renegades really stood out defensively. They forced five turnovers, including one by Matt Suriano that was returned for a touchdown in a decisive third quarter that had Shawnee outscore Hammonton, 20-0.
“They’re the better team, and they played like it,” said Hammonton coach Jim Raso, whose team lost to Shawnee, 31-8, on Sept. 20. “But you can’t make those kind of mistakes against them. They’re too good of a program, too good of a team to be doing that. … And once the wheels started coming off, they really came off.”
The Blue Devils finished with a 9-4 record en route to a Central Group 4 championship.
“From where we came from to where we are now and what we accomplished, I’m very proud of this team,” Raso said.
Hammonton was actually moving the ball effectively against the Renegades through much of the first half, and the first quarter ended scoreless.
But things turned quickly in the final two minutes of the second quarter. Summerville intercepted a pass with 1 minute, 48 seconds left to set up his touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with 31 seconds left.
It took something out of Hammonton that didn’t return for the rest of the game.
“At that point, we felt like we wanted it more than them,” Summerville said.
Even beyond the acrobatic plays and highlight-reel turnovers, Shawnee’s biggest feat on defense might be the way it bottled up star running back Jaiden Abrams.
Abrams, who wasn’t active when the teams met earlier this season, finished with 21 carries for 90 yards — a solid game, but far from the 288 yards he rushed for last year when Hammonton upset Shawnee.
“We set a goal for ourselves to come back here and win it,” Papa said. “Everyone did their job. Everyone was doing what they were supposed to do. That’s what allowed me to make our plays.
On the Shawnee defense, Papa added: “It’s just a brotherhood we have. We know what we’re supposed to do, and we show it on game day.”
Shawnee 0 14 20 0 — 34
Hammonton 0 0 0 0 — 0
S: Dalton Short 9 run (Oliver Stern kick)
S: Nate Summerville 22 pass from Matt Welsey (Stern kick)
S: Welsey 1 run (Stern kick)
S: Mike Giunta 44 pass from Welsey (kick failed)
S: Matt Suriano 32 fumble return (Stern kick)