HAMMONTON – Hammonton head football coach Jim Raso had no intention of hiding his feelings about senior GianCarlo Palmieri.
“I’m so happy for him,” Raso said. “He was in a battle to be the starting quarterback this year and it didn’t work out for him. I told him ‘things can go one of two ways for you right now.’ He’s stepped up every single day. He’s been recognized by the team coaches and players as a captain.
“He’s a senior and he made a senior play.”
Palmieri stepped in front of a Roger Baldacci pass at the Hammonton 17-yard line and took the interception 83 yards for a touchdown with :07 left as the Blue Devils held on for a 22-14 win over Washington Township in a West Jersey Football League American Division game.
Hammonton (2-0 overall, 1-0 division) fought off two Minutemen drives (0-1, 0-1) in the final five minutes to build momentum heading into a showdown with Rancocas Valley next week.
“This is a big win for us,” Palmieri said. “Last year we went 5-5 and knew we are better than that. That’s two good wins to start the year and now we have some momentum.”
The Blue Devils didn’t have the momentum in the waning moments in Washington Township head coach Lamont Robinson’s debut. In fact, down 15-14, the Minutemen drove to the Hammonton 16-yard line before it turned the ball over on downs. Moments later, quarterback Baldacci got a second chance and in 49 seconds completed three passes over the middle in six attempts to get Township to the Hammonton 28-yard line with :28 left in the game.
“You can say five plays made the difference,” Robinson said. “But that’s on us as a coaching staff. These kids played incredibly hard and didn’t quit but like you said I’m not looking for a moral victory. We need to do better and make those five plays go our way.’
On second-and-10 at the 28, Township – without any timeouts left, looked for Colin Meintel in the flat. It was the third time Baldacci had tried to hit his fellow senior with that play and Hammonton sniffed it out to perfection.
“We saw the play twice,” Rosa said. “We knew what they wanted to do. We just had to adjust."
“I knew they had tried it twice,” Palmieri said. “They were looking to move the ball and stop the clock. They had hit three big passes over the middle on that drive but you know what the situation is. I saw the play and I took my shot,”
Palmieri stepped in front of Meintel and went down the sideline in front of the devastated Minutemen bench for the touchdown and after the extra point a 22-14 lead.
“I was right behind him the whole way,” Christian Wasserman said. “I was exhausted by the time he scored and just hugged him. I think we all knew what was coming. That’s just such a huge play on his part.”
Not that Wasserman hadn’t done his part earlier in the game as the Blue Devils quarterback.
A year ago, Hammonton visited Washington Township and put a beating on the Minutemen. Both sides were well aware of that recent bit of history and neither thought this time around would be the same type of contest.
Hammonton held an 8-0 halftime lead on a safety on a botched snap that traveled 15 yards over Baldacci’s head and was recovered by Meintel in the end zone. Hammonton scored on a Sean Ryker 38-yard run on the ensuing drive.
Township rallied in the second half and took a 14-8 lead but Wasserman hit Raynold Tribeletti for a 63-yard strike that handed the Blue Devils a 1-point lead.
“I thought we did a good job all night defensively but they hit the one play,” Robinson said. “Next time, maybe we hit that one play.”
Blue Devils 22, Minutemen 14
Wash. Twp. 0-0-6- 8--14
H-Sean Ryker 38 run (KF)
W-Joe McKillop 2 run (RF)
W-Mckillop 7 run (McKillop run)
H-Reynold Triboletti 62 from Christian Weissman (Frank Damico kick)
W-GianCarlo Palmieri 83 int return (Damico kick)