Jackson Memorial falls to Hammonton in Central Jersey Group 4 championship game
HAMMONTON – Jackson Memorial won the second half, but the deficit that accumulated over the first 24 minutes was too much to overcome.
Hammonton constructed a three-touchdown lead in the first half and held off a late surge by the Jaguars to win the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 championship with a 28-12 victory on Friday night at Robert Capoferri Field. Star junior running back Jaiden Abrams ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries and also caught a touchdown pass while the defense held Jackson in check for long stretches to deliver the Blue Devils their sixth sectional title and first since 2009.
Jackson was also aiming to win the program’s sixth state sectional championship. The Jaguars last won titles in 2014 and 2015.
After falling behind, 21-0, at halftime, Jackson (8-3) got on the board midway through the third quarter when, following a 35-yard run by junior running back Will Towns, senior quarterback Lonnie Cebulski connected with senior wideout Zack Novak for a 32-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was unsuccessful, but the Jaguars had life down in trimming its deficit to two scores.
The momentum, however, was short-lived.
Hammonton answered with a 7-play, 66-yard scoring drive that Abrams capped with a 30-yard touchdown run, giving the Blue Devils a 28-6 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
Jackson mounted a late rally in the final five minutes of the game that started when Novak made a great contested catch for a 41-yard touchdown. Jackson went for two but Cebulski’s pass fell incomplete, leaving the score 28-12 with 3:42 left in the game.
The Jaguars’ defense was then able to force a three-and-out and Jackson used its timeouts to get the ball back at the 49-yard line with 3:05 on the clock. On the first play, Cebulski hit senior wide receiver Jake McKown for a 44-yard gain down to the Hammonton 7-yard line. The Jaguars couldn’t find the end zone, however, turning the ball over on downs at the 5-yard line with 1:59 left. Hammonton was able to take three consecutive kneel-downs and run out the clock to clinch the championship.
“We knew in the locker room (at halftime) we had to come back fighting,” Cebulski said. “Everyone put their heart out there and we only let up one score out of halftime. We tried to get the passing game going and it started working, but unfortunately (the deficit) was just too much. Hammonton is a great team. I’m rooting for them to go win the bowl game.”
Hammonton jumped out to a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when its defense stopped Jackson on downs at the 28-yard line to set up a scoring drive. The Blue Devils then embarked on an 11-play, 67-yard drive and got into the end zone when Abrams caught a deflected pass for a 22-yard touchdown on fourth and 10.
Jackson was forced to punt on its next possession and the Blue Devils came up with a huge special teams play. Sophomore RJ Ryker shed a blocker and blocked the punt of McKown when he rolled to the right as he often does on punts. The sudden change set up Hammonton at the Jackson 26-yard line and four plays later the Devils cashed in – again on fourth down – when senior quarterback Ryan Barts found a completely wide-open Hunter Macduff for a 19-yard touchdown on fourth and three.
“All night they beat us on third and long and fourth and long,” said Jackson Memorial head coach Vin Mistretta. “We prepared and saw it in practice but we just didn’t execute tonight.”
Jackson could not gain a first down on the next series and Hammonton took possession at its own 34-yard line. After a 14-play drive, the Blue Devils were in the end zone again on a 12-yard touchdown run by Abrams with 41 seconds left in the first half.
The final outcome was clearly a disappointment, but Mistretta made it clear to his team, especially the senior class, how he felt about their accomplishments this season. Jackson’s only defeats came to Hammonton, Central Jersey Group 3 champion Wall and Non-Public Group 3 finalist Mater Dei Prep.
“They’re awesome. Everything we asked them to do, they did it,” Mistretta said. “We’ve had guys in the past who would do that but we didn’t have a whole senior class that all bought in. Starters or non-starters, they all found a role and they were all successful. It didn’t work out for us tonight, we lost to a very good football team, but I’m proud of what these guys have done.”
“I think out of my four years here I’ve never seen people work harder in the weight room and on the field, being on top of everybody, on top of schoolwork, grades, being good kids out of school,” Cebulski said. “I take full pride in knowing I went here and I’m always going to be a Jag. Unfortunately it ended like this but we came a long way.”
Hammonton 28, Jackson Memorial 12
H – Jaiden Abrams 22-yard pass from Ryan Barts (RJ Ryker kick)
H – Hunter Macduff 19-yard pass from Ryan Barts (RJ Ryker kick)
H – Jaiden Abrams 12-yard run (RJ Ryker kick)
J – Zack Novak 32-yard pass from Lonnie Cebulski (kick failed)
H – Jaiden Abrams 30-yard run (RJ Ryker kick)
J – Zack Novak 41-yard pass from Lonnie Cebulski (kick failed)
RUSHING – JM: Will Towns 14-71, Lonnie Cebulski 6-21, Nic Ford 2-7, Jabari Lofton 1-3, Zack Novak 1-(-1); H: Jaiden Abrams 29-116, Caleb Nartey 9-31, Ryan Barts 8-14, Brock Weissman 3-7, Keyshun Clayton 2-6.
PASSING – JM: Lonnie Cebulski 7-16-1 167; H: Ryan Barts 4-7-0 65.
RECEIVING – JM: Zack Novak 3-79, Jake McKown 3-67, Jabari Lofton 1-9; H: Jaden Abrams 1-25, Hunter Macduff 1-19, Caleb Nartey 1-12, Santino Rao 1-12.
INTERCEPTIONS – H: Kyle Vandever 1-0.
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