Williamstown football beats St. Augustine behind strong defense
Two years after going 3-7, the Braves improved to 9-0 and captured the WJFL American title in a hard-fought battle between the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the rankings.
It was a cold, rainy night when that 3-7 season seemed like a long time ago.
But also like yesterday.
"These kids went through some tough times," Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola said. "But they never quit. They kept battling. They worked for this."
Two years ago, Williamstown finished four games below .500 with sophomores such as J.C. Collins and Wade Inge in the lineup.
Last year, the Braves improved to 5-5.
This year has been magical.
Williamstown improved to 9-0 and clinched both the West Jersey Football League American Division and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming South Jersey Group 5 tournament with a 14-7 victory over St. Augustine on Friday night.
It was a hard-fought, feisty game between fierce rivals, and the final whistle popped the cork on a wild celebration on the Williamstown sideline.
"We said we were going to make a statement," Inge said to his mud-splattered teammates, kneeling in the mud in the driving rain at midfield. "That was a dogfight. That was football."
For Williamstown, (9-0 overall, 5-0 in the WJFL American), the No. 2 team in the Inquirer Top 25, the playoff situation is clear. The Braves will be the top seed and they will be home through the sectional finals, provided they advance to the South Jersey Group 5 title game.
A win there would secure the program's first sectional crown since 2012 and earn the Braves a trip to MetLife Stadium to meet the Central Jersey Group 5 champion in the NJSIAA's first "Bowl Game" series.
"That's what we said in the locker room – we want to get three," Inge said, referring to the division crown, the South Jersey title and victory in the first so-called super sectionals in state history.
"Back to work Monday," Collins said. "This was our first step but we have big games ahead of us and hopefully we'll conquer the challenge."
For No. 3 St. Augustine (6-3, 4-1), the playoff picture is fuzzy. The Hermits compete in Non-Public 4. The field for that tournament will be determined by a seeding committee Sunday at a meeting at NJSIAA headquarters in Robbinsville.
St. Augustine coach Pete Lancetta is a member of the seeding committee but is uncertain where his team will land in the field. The Hermits are likely to secure a seed in the No. 5 to No. 7 range in a tournament that probably will be dominated, as usual, by North Jersey superpower programs.
"We'll see," Lancetta said. "We've done some good things. We really got on a good run (winning five in a row entering Friday night)."
Friday night's game was played before a large crowd that turned out on a cold, rainy night to see the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in South Jersey battle for the division title.
St. Augustine took the lead with a 15-play drive that culminated late in the first quarter with a five-yard touchdown run by junior Isaiah Raikes.
Inge got Williamstown even with a 20-yard scoring run midway in the second quarter.
The Braves took the lead with just 54 seconds left before halftime when senior Damonte Campbell wrestled a Collins pass away from a St. Augustine defender in the end zone.
"What a play," Fucetola said.
Williamstown's defense, which got strong play from junior linebackers Brandon Perkins and Julian Gravener and junior lineman Aaron Lewis, protected the lead in a second half that was played in steady rain.
Gravener made a big stop on a 4th-and-2 late in the third quarter, and Perkins stymied another Hermits drive midway in the fourth with a sack.
Sophomore Brody Colbert ended the visitors' final possession with a diving interception with 0:19 on the clock.
"The defense has done it all year," Fucetola said.
The victory was especially sweet for Collins and Inge. They knew this was a division title that was three years in the making. They were starters for teams that went a combined 8-12 over the last two seasons and lost twice to St. Augustine by a combined 76 points.
On Friday night, those setbacks by 48-10 and 45-7 seemed a long time ago.
They also seemed like yesterday.
"They put up big numbers against us," Collins said of the Hermits. "We had this game circled on the calendar since we got in the weight room."
St. Augustine 7 0 0 0 – 7
Williamstown 0 14 0 0 – 14
SA: Isaiah Raikes 5 run (Luke Snyder kick)
W: Wade Inge 20 run (Nick Pomerleau kick)
W: Damonte Campbell 32 pass from J.C. Collins (Pomerleau kick)