GLASSBORO – It was a 20-second span players on both teams won’t soon forget.
With the help of two interceptions, Paulsboro scored two touchdowns in the closing seconds of the first half.
That outburst led the Red Raiders to their 19th South Jersey Group 1 football championship with a 34-24 win over Penns Grove in a game played at Rowan Universtiy.
That Penns Grove showed such an aggressive posture when it may have been more prudent to play it safe came as no surprise to Paulsboro coach Glenn Howard.
He was well aware that Penns Grove is South Jersey's highest scoring team, averaging 46 points per game.
“They’ve been rolling over people all year,” he said. “They’ve got a great passing attack. We came in sort of in awe of what we saw on the film, and everything they could do and accomplish with their athletes.
“I think they were just sticking to their game plan, hoping one of their guys could make a play and get them back into the game. But it worked in our favor.”
Penns Grove coach John Emel said he would have liked to have taken back the final minute of the half.
“I thought we had a chance despite them kind of dominating the first half to go in 6-6," he said. "With them getting the ball to start the second half it got me a little bit aggressive."
It seemed almost certain the teams would go into the halftime locker room with Paulsboro leading 6-0 after Penns Grove took possession of the ball deep in its own territory with less than a minute remaining.
But the decision the Penns Grove coaching staff made to try to close that deficit proved costly.
First, freshman Bhayshul Tuten intercepted a desperation pass and returned it 35 yards to the 17-yard line.
On the next play, Paulsboro quarterback Colin McCarthy threw a dart of a scoring pass to Santino Morina, giving the team a 14-0 lead.
Then, on the second play after receiving the kickoff, Penns Grove again went long. This time Dehron Holloway made a juggling `pick’ of a pass that appeared to be tipped by a couple of players.
He returned the ball 72 yards for a touchdown, and a two-point conversion pass to Jamiel Miles-Benjamin gave Paulsboro a commanding three touchdown lead.
“All I saw was green grass and a yellow touchdown (the color of the end zone ,” said Holloway when asked to describe his scoring burst.
Holloway closed his fine career with three touchdowns, one coming on a run, one coming on a pass reception and one coming on the return. He rushed for 120 yards.
“I just came out ready to play,” Holloway said. “My dad texted me this morning and told me to go out there and have a game today and that’s what I did today.”
He, too, was not surprised that Penns Grove was throwing the ball, rather than trying to go into the locker room with the game still within reach.
“When you watch them all they do is throw the ball,” Holloway said. “Coach Howard talked the whole week at practice how we have to show them we could stop their passing game.”
Until the late outburst it seemed Paulsboro was about to be shut out in the second quarter.
They had their chance to extend a 6-0 lead, but turned the ball over twice in the red zone.
The Red Raiders took the early lead on a daring play. On a fourth-and-seven attempt Paulsboro went into a wildcat formation.
Out of that set, Gabe Onorato threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Holloway.
The Red Raiders held Penns Grove at bay with four interceptions, all in the second quarter.
Despite their breakdowns at the end of the half, Penns Grove fought hard to stay in the game.
The Red Devils pulled to within 22-6 when Tyreke Brown caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Kavon Lewis.
A five-yard touchdown from Tuten increased the Paulsboro lead to 28-6, and they managed to maintain a safe margin through the remainder of the game.
Nasir Robinson scored two touchdowns for Penns Grove, one on a 23-yard run and one on a 53-yard punt return.
Samej Moore added a 27-yard scoring run, but the Red Devils could never overcome that 20-second span.
S.J. Group 1 Championship
Penns Grove 0 0 12 12- 24
Paulsboro 6 16 6 6- 34
Pauls: Dehron Holloway 25 pass from Gabe Onorato (kick failed)
Pauls: Santino Morina 17 pass from Colin McCarthy (Bhayshul Tuten run)
Pauls: Dehron Holloway 75 interception return (Jamel Miles-Benjamin pass from Colin McCarthy)
PG: Tyreke Brown 17 pass from Kavon Lewis (run failed)
Pauls: Bhayshul Tuten 5 run (run failed)
PG: Samej Moore 27 run (run failed)
PG: Nasir Robinson 22 run (run failed)
Pauls: Dehron Holloway 2 run (kick failed)
PG: Nasir Robinson 53 punt return (pass failed)
South Jersey Group 1 CHampionship