With his team gathered around him for a postgame huddle for the final time this season, Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson told his players of his admiration for them.
"I would take this team over any other team I've ever been around," Hinson said, his voice rising with emotion. "In football, in life, in anything, there's no team I would rather have than this team."
Over the previous two hours, the Chargers showed their coach they felt the same way about him.
"This was for coach Hinson," junior quarterback Devin Leary said after Timber Creek's 31-10 victory over Lenape in the South Jersey Group 4 title game. "He had everything on his back this season and he kept things there and didn't let anything bother us as players."
Behind the record-setting Leary as well as senior wide receivers Ezrah Archie and Dante Waugh-Hill, Timber Creek (12-0) rallied from a 10-0 deficit to complete a perfect season before a large crowd on a cool, clear Sunday afternoon at Richard Wackar Stadium on the campus of Rowan University.
The title was Timber Creek's fourth overall sectional title and second in a row. The Chargers have won 16 games in a row.
The imposing victory over previously undefeated Lenape (11-1) also capped a season in which Timber Creek flourished on the football field despite off-the-field distractions that might have derailed a team with less talent and focus.
From the release of an anonymous letter in May that alleged that Timber Creek had illegally recruited players to the summer-long investigation by the Camden County Prosecutors Office to the season-long wait for the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association to announce the results of its review of some of the prosecutors office's findings, the Chargers seemed to operate under a shadow of speculation from the first day of training camp to Sunday's championship game.
"I just want to coach these kids and have them focus on football," Hinson said. "But it was tough at times for them to just worry about football. There was so much other stuff going on.
"My seniors were phenomenal and my assistant coaches were even more phenomenal. And these kids, they just wanted to ball out."
Leary was 23 for 34 passing for 357 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound athlete set South Jersey records this season with 48 touchdown passes (with four interceptions) and 3,688 yards.
Archie caught seven passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Waugh-Hill caught eight passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.
Leary said it was "super-special" to throw a pair of touchdown passes to Archie in what likely was their last game together.
"We've been together so long," Leary said. "It meant so much to me to be able to throw those two [touchdown passes] to him in this game."
Said Hinson: "Those two have worked together since middle school. It was great to see them play that way in their last game."
Lenape took a 10-0 lead as junior quarterback Matt LaJoie shook loose for a 22-yard touchdown run and the Indians' defense came up with a pair of early turnovers on Steve Cotoni's fumble recovery and Aaron Acosta's interception of a screen pass.
"We probably should have had more," Lenape coach Tim McAneney said. "I can't say enough about our kids. They play every day, every game. We just ran into a very good team."
Timber Creek scored the game's final 31 points. Leary threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Archie and Tyler Coluccio hit a 34-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to make it 10-10.
Leary hit Archie with a 38-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline and a 39-yard touchdown pass to Waugh-Hill down the left sideline to make it 24-10 after three.
Senior J.P. Roane capped Timber Creek's final scoring drive with a somersault into the end zone to finish a 2-yard run on a jet sweep with 3 minutes, 11 seconds to play.
"They just have so many guys who can make plays," McAneney said.
Much of the focus on the Chargers this season was centered on Hinson, who has led the program to six consecutive appearances in the sectional final.
Leary said the Chargers rallied around their head coach.
"He's like a father figure to us, like a second father," Leary said of Hinson. "We wanted to win this title for him."
Timber Creek 0 10 14 7 - 31
Lenape 10 0 0 0 - 10
L: Matt LaJoie 22 run (Ben Harris kick)
L: FG 34 Harris
TC: Ezrah Archie 2 pass from Devin Leary (Tyler Coluccio kick)
TC: FG 34 Coluccio
TC: Archie 38 pass from Leary (Coluccio kick)
TC: Dante Waugh-Hill 39 pass from Leary (Coluccio kick)
TC: J.P. Roane 2 run (Coluccio kick)