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Seniors carry Haddonfield to sectional title

There is something that is reassuring about having a veteran unit, and Haddonfield's football team has 16 of the 22 starting positions manned by seniors.

There is something that is reassuring about having a veteran unit, and Haddonfield's football team has 16 of the 22 starting positions manned by seniors.

Haddonfield's 27-0 win over West Deptford in Sunday's South Jersey Group 2 final at Rowan gave the appearance of a rout, but the Bulldogs were on their heels early in the game.

The fact that the veterans didn't panic led to another season-ending celebration for the Bulldogs.

West Deptford was going through Haddonfield's defense like no other team this season, other than West Deptford itself.

Haddonfield (12-0) won a 28-25 overtime regular-season thriller over West Deptford. In Haddonfield's other 11 games, including this title contest, the Bulldogs allowed a total of 41 points.

Yet early in the championship game the Eagles (9-3) were having their way. With the game scoreless, Haddonfield defensive end Ty Klaus, a William and Mary recruit, stopped West Deptford on third and goal from the 1 for a 2-yard loss.

The Eagles then had a bad snap on a field-goal attempt, and Haddonfield had survived. In the second quarter, another bad snap on a field-goal attempt resulted in no points for the Eagles.

"They threw a set or two at us that we hadn't seen, and credit coach [Mike] Miller and the defensive staff who made a few minor adjustments," Haddonfield coach Frank DeLano said.

Since 2009, Haddonfield is 6-5 against the Eagles.

Later in the half, Haddonfield took a 7-0 lead when yet another senior, Jake Klaus, the cousin of Ty, capped a 15-play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard run.

When the Bulldogs got three third-quarter touchdowns to extend the lead to 27-0, the only thing left to determine was Haddonfield's legacy.

The defense, once it got its footing, took the lead from senior linebacker Mark Walker, who simply couldn't be blocked.

It almost seemed as if Walker and Tyler Klaus were in a contest to see who could make more impact plays.

Led by the seniors, the Bulldogs kept their composure long enough for them to find their rhythm. And there was no panic, a by-product of having a winning, veteran team.

"We have a lot of trust in our teammates for everybody to do their jobs," said Tyler Klaus, who also added a sensational one-handed touchdown reception.

And make no mistake, everybody did his job.

"Right before the game I told the team we have to stay consistent," Walker said. "We knew they would make big plays and we would."

The Bulldogs won their second straight sectional title and third overall since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974. Haddonfield also earned its first unbeaten season since the team finished 9-0 in 1964.

Last season, the Bulldogs had to beat three previously undefeated teams to win the title. This year, they added another by downing then-10-0 Buena, 38-7, in the semifinal.

Yet going 22-2 over the last two years and earning the two sectional titles is the most impressive stat. This group of seniors grew together and won together.

And a slow start wasn't going to rattle a team that knew where it wanted to go, and ended exactly in that spot.