EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Just kick it to me, Davis Smith thought.
Just give me a chance.
They kicked it to him. He got his chance. He made the most of it.
"He's elite," Haddonfield coach Frank DeLano said of Smith. "He's elite, and he showed it on this stage."
Smith's dazzling 53-yard punt return for a touchdown with five seconds remaining in the first half was the highlight of Haddonfield's 17-7 victory over Hillside in a clash of unbeaten teams in the Group 2 South/Central Bowl Game Saturday at MetLife Stadium.
Smith caught a low liner of a punt in the air, raced left, made a jump cut through two defenders and ran alone into the end zone, looking for all the world like an NFL star in an NFL stadium.
"That's what you feel like out here," Smith said. "You feel like an NFL player."
The impressive victory closed out the winningest season in Haddonfield football history, which stretches back to the 19th century.
Haddonfield finished 13-0, joining Penns Grove as the first teams in South Jersey history to earn a baker's dozen of victories in a season.
"It's special," DeLano said of finishing with a 13-0 record. "We won everything the state put in front of us."
Gabe Klaus scored Haddonfield's other touchdown on a four-yard run, and Henry Grozier went 2-for-2 in extra points and boomed a 35-yard field goal through the NFL uprights for Haddonfield, the No. 1 team in the Inquirer Top 25 rankings.
Klaus, linebacker Lewis Evans and defensive back John Foley led the Haddonfield defense, which contained the undefeated Central Jersey champions for most of the damp afternoon in the Meadowlands.
Haddonfield also got a big game from defensive lineman Jimmy Kane, an unsung senior who recorded a sack and also lifted the first interception of his football career.
"That was amazing," Kane said.
Said DeLano: "How about Jimmy Kane?"
The game marked the end of the careers of Haddonfield's seniors, who led the team to back-to-back sectional titles as well the first Bowl Game victory in program history.
In addition, Haddonfield's seniors walked away with a 17-game winning streak, the longest in the state.
"This was years in the making," DeLano said.
Kane said the team's chemistry, especially among the members of the senior class, was the secret of their unprecedented success.
"We're just so close," Kane said. "We push each other. We've been pushing each other to get in the weight room for four years. The skill guys have been out running routes before school.
"We put so much into this."
Playing in his final game, Haddonfield quarterback Jay Foley was 12-for-21 passing for 116 yards. Foley connected with his twin brother, John Foley, for six completions for 73 yards.
John Foley's 18-yard punt return set up Haddonfield's first touchdown. After a short drive, Klaus barreled into the end zone with just 1 minute, 2 seconds left in the half.
After Haddonfield's defense held Hillside (11-1) on the ensuing series, DeLano called timeout to force the Comets to punt with 0:20 on the clock.
Smith went back to receive the kick, hoping for a chance to make a big play.
"I was just thinking, 'I hope they kick it to me,' " Smith said. "The motto before this game was that special teams could make the difference. I just wanted a chance."
His teammates and his coaches had the same thought.
"We knew if they kicked it to him, he could break it," Kane said.
Smith has scholarship offers from programs such as Monmouth, Sacred Heart and Air Force. DeLano can't understand why other schools haven't offered the versatile senior, who excels as a wide receiver on offense, cornerback on defense and return man on special teams.
"People say, 'Oh, he doesn't run this time' somewhere at a camp," DeLano said. "Watch him. Just watch him. He goes. He competes He's got a will to be great."
The Bulldawgs played with a bit of a chip on their shoulder this season since many of their games were against teams with more highly-touted individual athletes.
"We felt some disrespect this year," Smith said. "Coach was always saying, 'Oh, they've got all these D-1 guys, with 15 to 30 offers.' "
On the punt return, Smith made his last cut and was all alone on his way to the end zone.
On the sideline, DeLano grabbed his star senior and yelled in the earhole of his helmet.
"I told him, 'You're elite, and you showed everybody out here,'" DeLano said.
Haddonfield 0 14 3 0 – 17
Hillside 0 0 0 7 – 7
Hadd: Gabe Klaus 4 run (Henry Grozier kick)
Hadd: Davis Smith 53 punt return (Grozier kick)
Hadd: Grozier 35 FG