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Keison Fowler leads Delsea into S.J. Group 3 football semifinals

The senior running back/linebacker has rallied the Crusaders from a 1-3 start in pursuit of their sixth sectional title in last seven seasons.

Delsea senior running back/linebacker has rallied the Crusaders from a 1-3 start.
Delsea senior running back/linebacker has rallied the Crusaders from a 1-3 start.Read moreChip Fox/Staff photographer

Keison Fowler would rather show than tell.

By his own admission, Delsea's standout two-way senior is young man of few words.

His nickname is "Stone" because he sometimes seems as hard as a rock. He's also usually as quiet as one.

"I'm not into talking too much," Fowler said.

At times earlier this season, Fowler made an exception to his rule. He still preferred to lead by example. But he felt compelled to speak up as well.

"I had to," Fowler said. "Me and [fellow senior captain] Aidan [Borguet], we had to speak up, tell kids how to do correct things, do things the right way in the weight room, in practice.

"We had to play our part to get the team together."

From the outside, it looks like a typical Delsea season: slow start, furious finish. After all, the Crusaders were 1-3 in September, same as in 2017 and 2016.

In both of those previous seasons, Delsea rallied to reach the South Jersey Group 3 title game, winning the crown in 2017.

And since the Crusaders have ripped off five straight victories to advance to Friday's sectional semifinals against visiting Woodrow Wilson, it looks like history repeating itself in Franklinville.

But this season has been different.

"If you had told me a month ago we would be in this position, I never would have believed it," Delsea coach Sal Marchese Jr. said. "I just didn't think this was going to be our year."

The Crusaders have turned things around because Marchese and assistant coach Ronn Flaim have rebuilt the offensive line from scratch and many of the team's younger players have adjusted to the demands of varsity competition.

But the biggest key to the latest and perhaps greatest resurgence in recent Delsea history has been the leadership of Fowler and Borguet, who for a stretch were the lone seniors in the starting lineup.

Borguet, a Harvard recruit, has rushed for 920 yards and 14 touchdowns in the five-game winning streak.

Fowler has lived up his nickname all season with rock-steady play. As a linebacker, he's tops on the team in tackles with 76. He has 57 first hits, more than double anybody else.

As a running back, Fowler has gained 408 yards, scored three touchdowns and excelled as a blocker, according to Marchese.

"Neither of those guys is a big talker," Marchese said of Borguet and Fowler. "But their leadership has been crucial. They really kind of led us through those tough times."

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Fowler is coming off his best offensive game of the season. He ran for 119 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries (13.2 average) in a 20-0 win over Deptford in the first round of the tournament.

Fowler's best game overall? That probably was Oct. 13 at Woodrow Wilson, when he made 12 tackles, stifling the Tigers' short passing game, and also ran for 43 yards and a score in a season-changing 56-14 victory.

"He's just so physical," Marchese said of Fowler. "He brings a physicality to the game with the way he runs the ball, the way he blocks, the way he plays defense.

"Our younger kids needed to see that. The way he's played, it's rubbed off on our guys."

Fowler is the quintessential Delsea player in his physical approach to the sport and his understanding of the value of preparation. He believes the Crusaders turned the corner when they started to improve the quality of their practices.

He is a heavy hitter on defense and a punishing runner and blocker on offense. He's just not much of a talker.

"Just a couple words here and there," Fowler said of his conversation with the team's younger players. "They took it the right way."

Woodrow Wilson at Delsea

Friday at 7 p.m.

The stakes: This is a semifinal of the South Jersey Group 3 tournament, with the winner meeting the winner of Saturday night's Timber Creek at Burlington Township game in the sectional final.

The records: Woodrow Wilson is 7-2. Delsea is 6-3.

The seeds: Woodrow Wilson is No. 3. Delsea is No. 2.

The recent history: Delsea has beaten Woodrow Wilson three times in the last 13 months, by 56-14 on Oct. 20, by 29-28 in the South Jersey Group 3 title game on Dec. 2, 2017, and by 43-12 on Oct. 27, 2017.

Woodrow Wilson players to watch: Senior quarterback Nick Kargman is 196-for-330 passing for 3,098 yards and 32 touchdowns; senior wide receiver Stanley King has 60 catches for 1,126 yards and 11 touchdowns; senior wide receiver Naiem Simmons has 44 catches for 700 yards and seven touchdowns; junior defensive end Fadil Diggs has 10 sacks; junior linebacker Muheem McCargo has 72 tackles.

Delsea players to watch: Senior running back Aidan Borguet has 1,312 yards with 17 touchdowns and 15 two-point conversions; junior defensive back Shaikyi Hannah has three interceptions; junior defensive lineman Jake Nwosu has six sacks; junior linebacker Ronald Singletary has 47 tackles.

Pick: Delsea, 22-20.