From nine points up early in the third quarter to 14 points down early in the fourth.

From a dramatic rally to within two points in the final 2 minutes to three missed opportunities to tie the score in the final 45 seconds.

That's the wild ride the Haddon Township basketball team gave its veteran coach, the chanting, cheering members of the "Moo Crew" student section, and everybody else in the Hawks' little gymnasium Tuesday night.

And when was the last time those white walls shook with so much excitement during a boys' game of so much significance?

"We look at it as we proved something," Haddon Township senior swingman Dave Cuneo said after his team pushed powerful Paulsboro to the limit in a 61-58 loss in a Colonial Patriot game.

Leave it to Paulsboro coach Sean Collins to underline the improved state of Haddon Township basketball with this summation of his team's crazy night:

"I'm just happy to get out of here with a win," Collins said.

And when was the last time the coach of a Colonial Conference and sectional favorite said that about the Hawks' home court?

Paulsboro (2-0), the No. 10 team in The Inquirer Top 10, showed why it's the team to beat in the Colonial Patriot and probably in South Jersey Group 1, too, during a dominating third quarter in which the Red Raiders outscored the Hawks by 31-13.

Paulsboro junior Xavier Lundy shot 18 free throws in the third quarter. The 6-5 junior finished with 24 points, and made two huge blocks in the final minute.

Paulsboro got eight steals from senior guard Calvin Johnson, four steals and eight points from senior guard Juwan Alford, and 10 points and eight rebounds from junior center Julien Davenport.

But the Red Raiders couldn't shake the Hawks, not even after taking a 56-42 lead on freshman Derrick Burgess' three-point jumper with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game.

"We've got the shooters to get us back," Cuneo said. "We're not afraid to punch back even when somebody knocks us down. We'll get up and punch them back."

Wister has been Haddon Township's coach since 1990. He's not sure he's ever had a team that finished with a winning record, although he's had a few squads that ended up with .500 marks.

This team looks as if it might be his first. The Hawks have seasoned seniors in Cuneo (20 points, six three-pointers) and Logan Murray (nine points, nine rebounds), a smooth junior in Trey Thatcher (21 points), and a bunch of gritty role players.

Haddon Township (2-1) scored the final eight points of the first half - the last three on a buzzer-beater by Thatcher - to take a 26-20 lead.

Paulsboro turned up the defensive pressure, got the basketball to Lundy, and went on a 23-4 run.

The most impressive thing was that Haddon Township battled back. Cuneo and Thatcher both hit a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and Thatcher also went 5 for 5 from the line, and suddenly those students with the cranberry "Moo Crew" T-shirts were hopping around and sensing something special in the air.

"We've got the whole school behind us," Cuneo said. "It's so cool to come to the games and see them up there, chanting your name."

Thatcher's three-pointer made it 60-58 with 2 minutes, 3 seconds on the clock. The Hawks had three chances to tie, but Lundy blocked a couple of shots and another clanged off the rim.

"These guys believe in themselves," Wister said. "This is the type of game that will do that for them. You always question, you always wonder. But when you play a team of Paulsboro's caliber in a game like this, you can say, 'Yeah, we believe.' "

Paulsboro 9 11 31 10 - 61

Haddon Township 8 18 13 19 - 58

P: Juwan Alford 8, Calvin Johnson 9, Julien Davenport 10, Xavier Lundy 24, Cassius Carter 1, Derrick Burgess 9.

HT: Logan Murray 9, Dave Cuneo 20, Pat Burns 6, Trey Thatcher 21, Zack Curl 2.

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports