MEDFORD – In a unique matchup of teams playing for South Jersey championships the first weekend of December, the Lenape High School football team managed to enjoy Thanksgiving morning much more than Shawnee.
“The kids played well,” Lenape coach Tim McAneney said after a 45-0 win. “We talked about it, to come out and play a football game, we only get 12 of them.”
The Lenape School District rivals came into this series that started in 1971 splitting the last six games, so this game figured to be tight.
“They executed and we didn’t,” said Shawnee coach Tim Gushue in his 35th season at his alma mater.
Shawnee certainly isn’t the only team to feel the wrath of Lenape (10-1) lately as the surging Indians have outscored their last seven opponents 310-46.
“That is a really good football team,” Gushue added.
Top-seeded Lenape plays third-seeded Rancocas Valley on Dec. 2 for the South Jersey Group 5 title at 6 p.m. at Rowan University.
Fourth-seeded Shawnee plays sixth-seeded Hammonton Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at Rowan in the S.J. Group 4 finals.
“It doesn’t matter what their record is and Tim does a great job,” McAneney said about the challenge of playing Shawnee every year on Thanksgiving.
Interestingly, both Lenape and Shawnee have already faced their title game opponent.
In late October, Rancocas Valley (10-1) delivered an impressive 10-7 win at Lenape. Meanwhile, the Renegades beat the Blue Devils 38-6 on Nov. 3 at Shawnee.
“Yeah, we’re excited about the final game of the season,” Gushue said. “We will get back to work tomorrow.
Shawnee dropped to 7-4 with there other losses to Cherokee, Camden Catholic and Williamstown, who all spent time ranked this season in the South Jersey Sports Digest Top Ten.
The Renegades were coming off four-straight wins, including a 41-0 win over Absegami and a 40-7 win at Moorestown in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Shawnee senior running back Ryan Parris was out with a sprained right ankle ligament, but he matches the attitude and determination of his teammates going forward after a tough loss.
“I hope to be back,” he said about playing Hammonton. “I think Coach Gushue has a good way of talking to us and we’ll be ready.”
Lenape, ranked No. 5 by the SJSD, has rolled to seven-straight wins after the loss to Rancocas Valley here on its home field.
Rancocas Valley, ranked No. 6 in the SJSD Top Ten, is coming off a 35-12 win Wednesday night over Burlington Township.
“We get another week to hang out with them,” McAneney said about playoff preparation.
“I’m excited for them and it’s good for us coaches.”
Afterwards, McAneney stressed how much this game against Shawnee meant to his program.
“You can’t be the best team in the area if you’re not the best team in your district,” McAneney said.
Sensational senior running back JoJo Kellum was also the best off the field as he was named the Homecoming King at halftime. Quarterback Matt Lajoie was also named to the Homecoming Court. They posed for pictures with their friends before Lajoie and Kellum, who wore a furry red king’s crown, ran across the field to join their teammates in the locker room and get ready to deal with Shawnee in the second half.
“This is a traditional game going back almost 50 years and for both teams it was the last chance to tune-up before next week,” said Lajoie. “I wish them the best next week and hope we bring home two championships to the county.”
Lenape padded its 31-0 halftime lead when Amir Byrd returned the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards and Stephen Mulville kicked the point after to start the running clock.
After Lenape recovered a Shawnee fumble on the ensuing possession, the Indians employed backups on offense.
Shawnee used its offensive backups after Lenape converted the turnover into another TD when freshman Xavier Coleman scored on a 21-yard run and Mulville kicked the extra point for a 45-0 spread.
“These kids will go through four walls, not just one, consecutively for him, that’s how much they love him and that’s how much he loves them,” said Lenape assistant coach John Martino.
The Indians are a staggering 38-6 since 2014. Truly, the Lenape football program is on solid footing as the three levels are a combined 29-1 this year.
“We practice hard, these kids like to play football and they are fun to watch play,” McAneney said. “This group of kids play for each other. Even if they didn’t have a lot of talent, they would win because they play for each other, but you add the talent they have …”
The Indians unleashed their “pound and ground” game early as Kellum slashed for a 6-yard touchdown for the only score of the opening quarter.
Lenape flashes a sneaky air attack, too, and the Indians caught Shawnee when Zach Cole ran under a 10-yard pass from Lajoie, who added the conversion run to pad the score to 14-0.
The lead was stretched when talented senior wide out Jake Topolski caught a short pass over the middle and reversed field for a 63-yard scoring play.
Lenape pulled away when Mike Galaida caught a 10-yard pass from Lajoie.
Then, on the final play of the half, Mulville kicked a 21-yard field goal to officially signal there would be no miraculous ending.
“We go in every week and try to be the best we can,” Galaida said. “We practice really hard every week and during this week we focused on Shawnee and we will definitely turn our focus on Rancocas Valley for next week.’
The Indians certainly do a remarkable job of staying in the moment, especially considering they have been playing all season for assistant Mark Lilley, who is battling cancer.
The beloved Lenape linebacker coach was smiling after the latest win, which was also on the birthday of his wife, Kerri,
“Early in the season coach Lilley was struggling and I think him seeing us helps make him strong,” Cole said. “We view him as part of the family and I will the rest of my life. I love him. Having him here is just great.
The Indians have entered the last four postseasons as the No. 1 seed, including last season when they lost in the Group 4 finals to Timber Creek. Now Lenape has an opportunity to rewrite the ending of season’s past and cap the most memorable season in school history.
And, oh yeah, the Indians have the chance to cover their only blemish in this splendid season.
“I can’t picture it any other way, I wouldn’t want it any other way than this is my last game,” Cole added. “And when I’m done eating dinner today I’m gonna go home and put the video on of the Rancocas Valley game.”
Shawnee 0 0 0 0 - 0
Lenape 6 25 14 0 - 45
L - JoJo Kellum 6 run (kick failed)
L - Zack Cole 10 pass from Matt Lajoie (Lajoie run)
L - Jake Topolski 63 pass from Lajoie (Stephen Mulville kick)
L – Mike Galaida 10 pass from Lajoie (Mulville kick)
L – Mulville 21 field goal
L – Amir Byrd 80 kickoff return (Mulville kick)
L – Xavier Coleman 21 run (Mulville kick)