When Glassboro began the football season 2-5, not many people expected the Bulldogs to be playing across the street in the first week of December.
The Bulldogs got some key players healthy, were boosted by a quarterback coming out for the team in midseason, and benefited from one player who had been a season-long terror on both sides of the ball taking his considerable game up even more.
Add it all up, and that 2-5 team finished 7-5 after a 44-0 victory over defending champion Penns Grove in the South Jersey Group 1 final Saturday at Rowan.
Junior Ronnie James, the player who has produced at an extremely high level all season, ran for 55 yards on Glassboro's first three plays, including the final 7 for a touchdown, before the contest was a minute old.
"We knew if we didn't set the tone early it would be a dogfight," James said.
This was no dogfight.
The only thing debatable was whether James was better on offense or defense. As a free safety, he was devastating against the run and pass.
James rushed for 108 of his 122 yards in the first half, as Glassboro took a 24-0 lead. For the game, he scored two touchdowns on the ground and one on a pass. James also intercepted a pass and returned it 65 yards to set up another score.
Even when the Bulldogs were 2-5, James said, he thought they would be in this position.
"I definitely had faith in my team," he said. "Some of the players might not have known we could do it, but I thought we were going to make it."
One doubter was junior receiver/defensive back Juwan Johnson, who will be among the most highly recruited players in the state next year. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Johnson scored on a 31-yard interception return and a 75-yard punt return.
"I honestly thought we weren't going to get into the playoffs," Johnson said.
Relieved that the Bulldogs qualified as the fifth seed in the eight-team field, Johnson was on board.
"Once in, we knew every record was 0-0 and had to go 3-0 to be champions," he said.
Johnson has performed well in the postseason. He suffered an ankle injury in Glassboro's opening 14-12 loss to this same Penns Grove team, and got relatively healthy toward the end of the season.
"I'm still not 100 percent," he said.
It's hard to tell.
Another key was that junior Mike Maldonado came out for the team around midseason, eventually won the quarterback job, and gave the Bulldogs stability behind center.
The Bulldogs also received strong senior leadership from players such as linebacker-fullback Jared Francis.
"There was never a doubt among my brothers we could do this," said Francis, who scored two rushing touchdowns and was a force at linebacker Saturday. "Any way possible, we were going to get this win."
After winning its first two playoff games over Paulsboro and Pennsville by a combined 11 points, Glassboro went the dominating route in the final, making that 2-5 start seem like so long ago.
Glassboro 18 6 6 14 – 44
Penns Grove 0 0 0 0 – 0
G: Ronnie James 7 run (pass failed)
G: Juwan Johnson 31 with interception (pass failed)
G: Jared Francis 4 run (run failed)
G: James 5 pass from Mike Maldonado (pass failed)
G: James 5 run (pass failed)
G: Francis 1 run (Shane Usta kick)
G: Johnson 75 punt return (Usta kick)
Glassboro junior Ronnie James looks back at the championship victory.