There were 20 seconds left in the first half, with Haddonfield leading fellow undefeated Hillside 7-0 and Bulldawgs coach Frank DeLano called timeout.
Many coaches would have played it safe, let the clock run out, not risk a fumble, but DeLano and Haddonfield didn’t get to unprecedented heights by taking the easy way out.
“I though we had to be aggressive and in attack mode,” DeLano said in explaining his decision.
So DeLano made Hillside punt, Haddonfield’s Davis Smith returned it 53 yards for a touchdown with five seconds left and the Bulldawgs capped a 13-0 season with a 17-7 win last Saturday.
For DeLano, every second counts whether in a game or on the practice field or building a program.
That play changed the game, just the way the coach, who just completed his 17th season, has changed the direction of the program.
The win over Hillside was the first year of a bowl game between the South and Central Jersey champions. Earlier, Haddonfield won its fifth South Jersey Group 2 title, all since 2010.
This year, Haddonfield did something it hasn’t accomplished before – finishing No. 1 in the final Inquirer South Jersey Top 25 ratings.
Haddonfield was challenged, with 12 of its 13 games against teams that qualified for the postseason. The Bulldawgs had many big wins, including a 22-15 victory at St. Joseph, which was last year’s unbeaten No. 1 team and was in the same spot when facing Haddonfield.
Three of the wins came over teams that finished in the final Top 10.
For guiding Haddonfield to the very top, DeLano has been named The Inquirer’s South Jersey football coach of the year.
The young whiz kid who took over at the age of 25, has now become one of the accomplished veteran coaches, with a career mark of 133-55.
A former quarterback at Gloucester Catholic and King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, DeLano’s best strength has been designing offenses suited to his quarterback.
He doesn’t have one system that everybody is forced to adapt to. DeLano adjusts to his personnel. This year and last, which also ended with a sectional title, Haddonfield prospered with senior quarterback Jay Foley. The 5-foot-9 Foley may not pass the tape measure test, but has a gun for an arm, and an innate ability to play the position.
Foley said he benefited from his father, former Cherry Hill East and NFL quarterback Glenn Foley, teaching him the fundamentals, but also credits DeLano with providing an extensive education at the position.
“My dad taught me how to be a quarterback mechanics-wise, but coach taught me how to decipher defenses, run an offense and be a leader,” said Foley, who threw for 1,702 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.
And so even though Foley wasn’t the biggest quarterback, DeLano devised a system where there were plenty of rollouts, often giving him a pass-run option.
“I knew my height was an issue, but coach worked on my footwork and quickness and putting me in a good position to make plays,” Foley said.
Another of his admirable traits is DeLano’s inclusiveness.
“He incorporates everybody, makes everybody feel part of the team,” said junior running back-cornerback Alex Kadar, an all-conference choice on defense. “He is an all-around great guy, great coach.”
In two of his first three seasons, Haddonfield had losing records, the only sub .500 campaigns in his 17 years.
“We were 3-2 that first season and it looked like we would make the playoffs and we didn’t win another game, going 3-7,” DeLano recalls. “I had no idea how hard it was to win a game and that is what drives me.”
It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, or what their record is, the preparation never varies.
No opponent, or potential win is taken for granted. The coach who learned at an early age how difficult winning was, has spent most of his career delivering that message to countless opponents.