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Lenape rolls over Highland to advance to sectional final

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the PA announcer rattled off a litany of broken records: This is the most wins Lenape has had in a season.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the PA announcer rattled off a litany of broken records:

This is the most wins Lenape has had in a season.

This the first time the Indians have advanced to the sectional finals.

The senior class is 36-6 over four seasons.

Talk among the crowd focused on how unique this season is for Lenape football, how rare its success has been.

Talk on the field had a bit of a different flavor.

"This is just part of the tradition," said junior quarterback Matt Lajoie after his Indians routed visiting Highland, 28-6, Friday night in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals.

The announcer's facts checked out. Lenape will move on to its first ever sectional final appearance against Timber Creek Dec. 2 at Rowan. The team will enter the game sporting a perfect 10-0 record, marking the first time Lenape has ever won 10 games in a season.

It's a far cry from the generations of Lenape teams that struggled to reach .500. But it's now the expectation of a program that's been on the rise since coach Tim McAneney took over in 2011.

"We talked about it earlier in the year. This is tradition," Lajoie said. "When things weren't going well a few years ago, the team decided to start a new tradition for Lenape. We're following that tradition of hard work and grit, and we'll see where it takes us."

Friday night, grit carried the Indians throughout.

The team dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and recorded three interceptions on defense.

"We wanted to get to Rowan. That was our goal since August," said junior Jake Topolski, who picked off a pass on the last play of the first half and caught a 27-yard touchdown pass that put his team ahead, 14-0, in the first quarter. "We gave it everything we had.

"I've been coming to Lenape games since I was little. So to be a part of something like this just feels great."

Lajoie was brilliant during the first half that ended with his team ahead by 21-0. He was a perfect 3 of 3 passing for 87 yards and a touchdown while showing off some shiftiness in rushing nine times for 102 yards and a touchdown through two quarters.

The quarterback - who stands all of 5-feet-7 - also showed a knack for changing plays at the line of scrimmage.

"I think he calls plays better than me," McAneney joked.

Lajoie had just one rush for one yard and was 0-for-1 passing in the second half. But he helped establish control early, driving his team 81 yards for a touchdown in seven plays on its first series. He and running back JoJo Kellum alternated carries up the middle on the first five plays.

On the sixth play, with the defense packed in, Lajoie, hit tight end Ryan Cassidy for a 38-yard completion down the right sideline. The next play, Lajoie rushed for a 15-yard touchdown, giving Lenape momentum it never lost.

"We have kids who play hard every day. They work hard in the offseason, and the ones who aren't in the weight room are playing lacrosse and baseball and basketball, like they should be doing," McAneney said. "I'm not sure if we have a bona fide Division 1 kid on the team. But we have kids who play football, kids who compete and have fun."

Lajoie's biggest play might have been a 62-yard run to set up Kellum's first touchdown with 47 seconds left in the first half.

The score gave Lenape a 21-0 lead and set the tone for a ground-and-pound second half that featured heavy doses of Kellum, who finished with 25 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns, as the Indians defense continued to stop everything Highland (8-2) threw at them.

The game halted the playoff run for a Highland team that had a historic season in its own right. This was Highland's first winning season since 2003. The team's eight wins are a program record.

"We should be proud of what we accomplished," said Tartans coach Brian Leary. "We put in a lot of hard work, the players and the coaches. They believe in the program."

Lenape 14 7 7 0 - 28

Highland 0 0 0 6 - 6

L: Matt Lajoie 19 run. ( Harris kick).

L: Topolski 23 catch from Lajoie. (Harris kick)

L: Kellum 4 run. (Harris kick)

L: Kellum 1 run. (Harris kick)

H: Cooey 1 run. (Kick failed)