From a coaching perspective, it's the least preferred teaching tool, but one that nevertheless becomes invaluable.

No coach wants his team to learn from a loss, but the alternative isn't any better.

So with that in mind, Delsea football coach Sal Marchese Jr., decided that after a 34-0 defeat to a talented Hammonton team, the pasting his team took wouldn't go in vain.

Entering the game, Delsea was 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in South Jersey by The Inquirer.

Marchese had felt for a few weeks that his team was reading its headlines, but now he clearly had the players' attention.

The great coaches take advantage of all situations, and this was Marchese's time to pull his team together after it was thoroughly dismantled.

"When we played Hammonton, not only did we lose, but the kids got dominated in that game," Marchese said. "We were warning the team about complacency for a while, but it wasn't getting through."

It did after that.

Marchese gave a simple message to the players: Get back to playing Delsea football.

What does that mean?

Simply, playing every play as if it is your last. Take no opponent for granted and outwork the player on the other side of the ball.

Delsea football returned after that loss and the coach showed once again that he can navigate a team through the rigors of the postseason.

Delsea didn't lose after that game and stood in its accustomed spot when the South Jersey Group 3 trophy was presented at Rowan University after a 21-12 win over Camden in the sectional final.

The Crusaders were champions.

Again.

This marked the fourth straight South Jersey Group 3 title, earning the Crusaders a place in history and Marchese the award as The Inquirer's South Jersey coach of the year.

Delsea became the first public school in South Jersey history above the Group 1 level to win four consecutive sectional titles since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974.

Make no mistake, Marchese would rather teach his team the lessons of commitment, dedication, and focus off a win. But all he had at his disposal was that Hammonton loss, so he used it as an unwanted, but needed teaching device.

"Sometimes a loss isn't a bad thing, especially when we have had the kind of success we had in the last three to four years," said Marchese, now 184-61-1 since taking over at his alma mater in 1993. "You get kids believing they are kind of invincible and things will just happen because they happened in the past, but it doesn't work that way."

Marchese clearly got the Crusaders' attention after that defeat.

"We were getting kind of comfortable, reading into that whole No. 1 thing," said Delsea's bruising fullback, Rashaad Williams.

Marchese then got the team back on course. If ever a team takes on the personality of its no-nonsense coach, it is Delsea.

"Delsea is a power team that runs hard, and that is the type of coach he is," Williams said. "He likes to grind, and he is basically Delsea."

There is no more apt description than that.

Marchese grew up living next door to the man he replaced, John Oberg, who retired as South Jersey's winningest coach, with a 230-67-15 record. Sal Marchese Sr. was a long-time assistant coach under Oberg and still offers his son advice.

"He says I am too tough on the kids," Marchese said. Then laughing, he added, "He must not remember the way he was as a coach."

Yet Marchese said that his father and Oberg were great role models. He remembers being 4 or 5 years old, watching film with the veteran coaches, being hooked at a young age. His success sure hasn't surprised the person he replaced.

"He's a great coach with a great football mind," Oberg said.

This Group 3 crown was the 13th in school history, the eighth under Marchese, who also won two as a player.

"I don't know anything else but Delsea football and that Delsea is supposed to win," Marchese said.

In the rare instances of a loss, the coach showed he has the ability to take a negative and turn it into a championship.

@sjnard