REALLY, for quarterback Chris Jackson, orchestrating the Delsea offense all season has pretty much been a no-brainer.
When you have a backfield with three stud runners in Sean McPherson (933 rushing yards coming into the game), Austin Medley (925) and Casmir Okoro (803), it's pretty much handoff left, handoff right, shake hands with the other team and celebrate another win.
In the week leading up to last night's Group 2 final against visiting West Deptford, Delsea coach Sal Marchese knew things would be a little more cerebral for Jackson. And for his team to take the title, he would need a straight-A performance.
It happened. And thanks to a 23-yard field goal by Mike Straubmuller as time expired, the Crusaders took a thrilling, 17-14 victory over West Deptford (9-2).
"I didn't think it was high enough to get through," Straubmuller said of his line-drive kick, moments after getting mobbed by teammates. "This was such a good game. I knew something crazy was going to happen to decide it, but I didn't expect this."
What was expected was a ton of running by both teams and few mistakes. There was a lot of running, and the few mistakes proved costly. But, thanks to Jackson, Delsea captured the school's sixth sectional crown.
"All week, we told Chris that West Deptford was going to make him beat them," said Marchese, whose team improved to 8-3. "We knew that they were going to concentrate on stopping our three running backs, and the game was going to fall into his hands. He's such a heady kid. He's been good at reading and making decisions all year long. We knew tonight he was going to have to be on top of his game. And he was."
Particularly on the game-winning drive. The Crusaders started on their 11-yard line with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left after a fumble recovery by Dan Walker, as West Deptford quarterback Ryan Ritchie lost the handle on a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1.
After a false start moved Delsea to its 6, Jackson oversaw a 15-play drive in which he ran for 17 yards and completed four of six passes (one incomplete was a stop-the-clock spike) for another 37 yards. His biggest throw came came on a third-and-9 from the West Deptford 27 with 12 seconds to play.
Jackson calmly dropped back in the pocket and lofted a floater that was nabbed by Darius Convery down the right sideline. Convery stumbled down at the 6, and, after Jackson spiked the ball, Straubmuller became the hero.
"Passing isn't something we do a whole lot of," said Jackson, who finished with 107 yards on 12 carries and threw for another 72. "We have so much success with our running game, it would be stupid to pass the ball a lot. But on that last drive, we had to. It was fun. It was like playing out in the backyard."
This one was a backyard brawl from the beginning, with bone-jarring hits and those costly mistakes.
Delsea's game-opening drive was stalled when Medley (21 carries, 96 yards) coughed it up at the Eagles' 1, and it was recovered by Carone Maxwell. But after a defensive stop, Delsea took a 7-0 lead late in the first, when, after 13 consecutive runs to start the game, Jackson threw a strike to a wide-open Okoro down the right sideline for a 35-yard score.
On the next possession, West Deptford lost the ball on a fumble at the Delsea 22, but tied the game on its next possession when Jimmy Owens (21-76) went in from 11 yards with 4:42 left in the half.
West Deptford went up, 14-7, late in the third, following a botched punt that gave the Eagles the ball at the Delsea 27. Six plays later, Ritchie scrambled in from the nine.
Delsea answered immediately on an 11-play, 74-yard drive that Medley ended with a 1-yard burst. It wasn't the last Medley was heard from.
With 6:09 left in the game, he fumbled a punt return, which was recovered by West Deptford's Cody Mroz on the Delsea 21. Medley quickly made up for it with a crunching hit on Owens from his linebacker spot on a third-and-three play, limiting him to 1 yard. Ritchie fumbled on the next play, setting up the championship drive.
"After that fumble, I just knew I had to get in there and make some plays on defense," said Medley, who was also in on 11 tackles. "The game was on the line in those last few minutes. Whether I was on offense or defense, I had to do the job."
He did. They did. And then Straubmuller finished it.
"When we were trying for the field goal, I was planning for the worst, getting ready for overtime," Marchese said. "When Mike made it, I went crazy, I lost it."