BLACKWOOD – In the week of practice leading into the game, Delsea High School senior quarterback Mason Maxwell approached each of his teammates and asked the same question.
“Do you believe we can win this game,” Maxwell asked. “Every single person on our team said yes, without a doubt.”
On Friday night the Crusaders recorded a 41-30 upset over Timber Creek to win its South Jersey Group 3 semifinal game.
Maxwell was the key, scoring three touchdowns while passing for two others and pulling down two interceptions.
“That’s what you need from your seniors,” said Delsea coach Sal Marchese. “You need great leadership ability, kids who are dedicated and believe in the program and the team. Mason and all of our seniors do that.”
The victory snapped a 25-game winning streak for Timber Creek, which included capturing back-to-back South Jersey Group 4 championships.
Friday’s win sent Delsea into this year’s championship game against the winner of Woodrow Wilson and Lakewood on Dec. 2.
The Crusaders are no strangers to post-season appearances, having reached the sectional finals in six straight seasons.
The game was a rematch of the season opener when Timber Creek escaped with a 39-36 victory. However, Maxwell didn’t play in that game because of an injury and his impact was huge on Friday night.
“Mason had a great game offensively and he had a great game defensively,” said Marchese. “He makes the offense go. He makes all the reads, and he did a great job of doing that.”
Maxwell also got great support from his running game, led by Aiden Borguet who rushed for 212 yards on 33 carries and scored two touchdowns.
“We have a lot of belief in ourselves and we believe we can play with anybody,” Borquet said. “We just kept our composure and tried to relax. And just played the game how we wanted to play it.”
In posting the victory on Friday, Delsea made an incredible rally by scoring 34 second half points after falling behind 23-7 early in the third quarter.
“It was awesome,” Maxwell said. “We were down (16-7) in the locker room and, since I’m a senior, I was going around to all the seniors saying, `this is it. We have two quarters left and lets make the most of it and see what we can do.'”
Maxwell, who scored Delsea’s lone touchdown in the first half, led the comeback when he scored on runs of three yards and one yard in the third quarter.
Borguet contributed a 45-yard touchdown run as Delsea scored three touchdowns in the final 5:15 of the quarter.
Despite falling into the deficit, Marchese said his players held their composure. And the Chargers, who turned the ball over five times in the second half, helped them along.
“We said in the second half, `it’s our football game,’’’ Marchese said. “We told the players to be patient and keep grinding. We made some great players on defense and came up with some turnovers, and when we got the turnovers we capitalized.”
Additionally, Timber Creek’s all-everything quarterback Devin Leary threw two touchdown passes, but was intercepted two times, both by Maxwell. One of those picks led directly to a score.
“The turnovers were huge,” Maxwell said. “Holding the ball with our offense, we were able to run down the clock. We just kept grinding and we won in the end.”
Leary was devastated after the game.
“Coming up short tonight really hurts me deep,” he said. “I’m disappointed in myself. I still give credit to Delsea. They’re a fantastic team and they’re great at what they do. But in my opinion we just beat ourselves.”
Two of the Chargers breakdowns were special teams malfunctions.
In one case Delsea recovered the ball after a punt was touched down by a Timber Creek player. In another instance, the Chargers pulled back on a kickoff and a Delsea player pounced on the loose ball.
Before that, a fumble recovery that set up Borguet’s first touchdown gave the Crusaders a 27-23 lead after three quarters.
However, Timber Creek bounced back to take a brief 30-27 lead early in the fourth quarter when Leary threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jayvin Little with 9:15 remaining in the game.
But the muffed punt led to a 16-yard touchdown pass to Khaliel Burnett on a fourth-down play to give Delsea the lead for good.
Borguet would later close out the scoring when he caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from Maxwell in the closing minutes.
S.J. Group 3 Semifinals
Delsea 0 7 20 14-41
Timber Creek 7 9 7 7 -30
TC: Tarheeb Little 43 pass from Tariq Still (Zach Coluccio kick)
D: Mason Maxwell 1 run (Larry Holdcraft kick)TC: Coluci 35 FG
TC: Jerome Gibson 15 pass from Leary (KF)
TC: Kyle Dobbins 9 run (Coluccio kick)
D: Maxwell 3 run (PF)
D: Maxwell 1 run (Holdcraft kick)
D: Adien Borquet 45 run (Holdcraft kick)
TC: Little 13 pass from Leary (Colucio kick)
D: Khaliel Burnett 16 pass from Maxwell (Holdcraft kick)
D: Borquet 29 pass from Maxwell (Holdcraft kick)