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Phil Anastasia: Woodbury QB Purnell runs on emotion

On the greatest run of his life, Brian Purnell carried three things. One was the football. Another was a white towel.

On the greatest run of his life, Brian Purnell carried three things.

One was the football. Another was a white towel.

The third was the heaviest, but it also was the source of all that speed, all that determination, and all that exuberance as the Woodbury quarterback crossed the goal line in the South Jersey Group 1 championship game.

"He plays with such emotion," Woodbury coach Zack Valentine said. "He's such an emotional leader."

Purnell did more than cheer and cajole and inspire his teammates in a 16-0 victory over Paulsboro in the rain and snow yesterday on the Thundering Herd's quagmire of a home field. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior also made plays.

Purnell ran 78 yards for the game's first touchdown. He ran for three other first downs. He was 4 for 7 passing for 71 yards.

He kicked two extra points. He kicked off. He punted. He was the safety on a defense that held Paulsboro to 75 yards.

But some guys' contributions are more than the sum of the parts of their plays. That's Purnell.

He operates with such emotion, such intensity, that his teammates can't help but get caught up in the excitement.

"I knew this was my last game," Purnell said. "I knew I had to play like it was my last game."

He was standing ankle-deep in the mud near midfield. His teeth were chattering. His eyes were red from crying.

"It's my last game," Purnell said. "This team and my coach, they mean so much to me. Coach Valentine, he was hard on me - but he made me what I am today."

Purnell is a standout forward for the Woodbury basketball team, which won the South Jersey Group 1 title last season and probably is the favorite again this season. But he does the dirty work on the court - scraping for rebounds and diving for loose balls.

It's different in football. As quarterback, Purnell tries at times to keep his emotions in check.

"He cares so much," Valentine said. "I was tough on him. But he's the kind of kid that can take constructive criticism and grow from it and take those lessons out into his life."

Purnell made the game's biggest play early in the second quarter. He rolled right, reversed direction, got a big block from fullback Karon Gibson, and raced down the left sideline.

He had the football on one hand. He had a white towel in the other. He was free for the final 50 yards, making a memory that will last a lifetime.

"To be from Woodbury and to beat Paulsboro, it's huge," Purnell said. "I'll never forget it. I'll never forget this day."