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Custis’ swat lifts Camden over West Deptford in semifinals

Custis' swat lifts Camden over West Deptford in South Jersey Group 2 semifinals.

Camden celebrates a Hassan Turner touchdown against West Deptford on Saturday.
Camden celebrates a Hassan Turner touchdown against West Deptford on Saturday.Read moreH. RUMPH JR / For the Inquirer

You could almost see his eyes widen through his helmet.

Ronald Custis was unblocked, had a clear path toward a defenseless quarterback, and was about to secure a victory for his Camden football team.

"I was able to stay in my gap, see the quarterback wind up to throw it and put my hand up," said Custis, a 6-foot-3, 255-pound junior defensive lineman.

Custis swatted the ball down on fourth-and-4 with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left, and No. 2 seed Camden ran out the clock to cap a 12-7 victory over visiting West Deptford, a third seed, Saturday afternoon in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals.

It was fitting that the game's deciding moment involved defensive heroics by the Panthers.

"Every week, man, somebody else steps up," said Camden coach Dwayne Savage.

West Deptford entered the game averaging almost 40 points per game. Conversely, Camden had allowed just 47 points all season, and just seven points in five games leading up to Saturday's meeting with West Deptford (7-3).

The dominance that Camden (9-1) had established this year was on full display. The Panthers stayed disciplined against West Deptford's trademark Wing-T offense and outmuscled an opponent known for smash mouth, physical football.

Heroes stepped up all over the field, including  linebacker Tirek Austin-Cave, who led the team in tackles. He was crucial in Camden's ability to hold West Deptford to just three second-half first downs on 106 yards of offense (30 of which came on a run that ended in a lost fumble).

"I say we have one of the best defenses in South Jersey," Custis said. "We play physical, we play our gaps. We're mentally tough and physically tough. We play smash mouth defense."

Camden moves on to a championship meeting with top-seeded Haddonfield on Nov. 16.

It will be Camden's first appearance in the title game since 2015. The Panthers haven't won a state title since 1976.

"Now we just have to go out and finish this," said running back Ramer Nock. The win would be especially meaningful to Nock because his grandfather, Walter Nock, was a star player on that 1976 team. "That's what I'm thinking about, first and foremost right now," he said.

In a game in which yards were hard to come by, Nock ran 16 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. He punched the ball in from two yards out to give Camden a 13-0 lead with seven minutes left in the first half.

"They came to play — they were on everything," said Nock. "We just wanted it more."

Camden's first touchdown came when West Deptford muffed a punt in the first quarter right into Hassan Turner's hands. Turner returned it 51 yards for a touchdown.

West Deptford's only scoring drive came on its final drive of the first half, when it marched 69 yards in 15 plays, ending with a 6-yard score by Ken Lim with 32 seconds left. Every play on the drive was a run, in fact, the Eagles only threw the ball three times all game, including their final offensive play.

Still, West Deptford appeared to go into halftime with momentum. But Camden quickly extinguished it — not with flashy plays or even by capitalizing on mistakes, but just with tough, disciplined football.

Custis' final swat told the story: On a play-action pass, he kept his lane, recognized the call and made a play.

"It came down to a lot of discipline," Nock said. "We were focused all week. At the end, we didn't have any flags, no mental mistakes, we stayed strong.

"This was an incredible win."

West Deptford   0  7  0  0  — 7

Camden             6  6  0  0  — 12

C: Hassan Turner 51 punt fumble recovery (kick failed)

C: Ramer Nock 2 run (run failed)

WD: Ken Lim 6 run(Brandon Ratcliffe kick)