CLAYTON -- The Woodbury High School football team had alternated wins and losses in its first four games, and in that sense was scheduled for a win at Clayton Friday night as the Clippers celebrated Homecoming.
The Thundering Herd likely weren’t many people’s favorites coming into the West Jersey League interdivision contest, but were thrilled to escape with a 26-22 victory.
“And you wonder why I drink,” Woodbury coach Al Mailahn said with a laugh of relief as much as anything. “We lost a game (to Salem), we turned the ball over five times two weeks ago (before the bye week). You turn the ball over five times, you should lose. They turned it over six, our kids came up big when they had to.
“This is big. This is a good Clayton team, they have weapons. And Group 1 is stacked, this is the best Group 1 field I’ve seen in all my years around. There’s so many good teams, and it’s so close between so many. Anybody can beat anybody. This is such a build-up. We’re gonna take this and run with it. … This is a great win for us, a great win for the kids. I’m so proud of them.”
The Herd (3-2 overall) fumbled twice in the second half Friday, including on a quarterback sneak into the end zone for the go-ahead score, and had a pair of punts blocked by Ben Harris of the Clippers (3-2) with the second being pounced on for a TD.
But their defense more than made up for it with five interceptions and a fumble recovery. The latter came just two plays after the Woodbury fumble on the goal line, and junior Marcus McGruder fell on it for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with 7:27 remaining.
“We let up a couple big plays that could have wound up killing us in the end,” said senior defensive back Cameron Bergman, who grabbed two of the interceptions including the game-clincher in the final seconds. “We thought we had it at first, and we got too confident. But at the end of the game we really came up big when we needed to, and that’s what mattered.”
The Herd held a 6-0 lead at halftime despite practically all their 53 yards coming from senior back Jaquan Solomon. His 4-yard scoring run followed an interception return to the Clayton 7. They built the lead to 20-8 in the third thanks to a pair of TD passes from Andre Parker, first a 24-yarder to Jazere Noel and then a 63-yarder to Dean Triplett.
But the next series saw Harris break through to disrupt his second punt of the night, and Kaylo Brooks dropped on it just before it went out the back of the end zone. A second two-point conversion brought Clayton within 20-16 after three quarters. They took the lead for the first time four plays into the fourth after a fumble gave them the ball at the Woodbury 21.
Solomon rushed for 68 yards on three carries the next series before the teams traded their fateful fumbles and the Herd would finally grab the lead for good. The single back much of the night, Solomon finished with 141 yards on 21 carries and his first-half TD.
“It’s a lot of pressure to be honest,” Solomon said of his role as featured back. “But my mind is so (focused on) being great, so as long as I push myself I know that I can overcome anything. To be a leader for the team means a lot to me.”
“He goes full-tilt, 500 percent every play,” said Mailahn of Solomon. “I’d give it to him 80 times if I could. … You’ve got to hit him to bring him down. If you go light, he’s gonna run you over. He doesn’t make moves, he’s like a heat-seeking missile. He runs right over people. He just leads by example, and he’s a great kid. I wish I had a thousand of him.”
Clayton’s Courey Carr led all rushers with 162 yards on just 12 carries, and his 48-yard scoring sprint got his team on the board. But he had a go-ahead TD called back because of a penalty, and despite having first-and-goal at the Woodbury 3 with about four minutes to play, three straight big losses turned it into fourth-and-goal at the 44 and the Clippers didn’t score.
They finished the night being flagged 17 times for 130 yards with a few others declined, and it played a big factor in their second straight defeat after a 3-0 start.
“It’s unfortunate,” Clayton coach Marvin Tucker said. “You compare this team with last year’s team (which lost in the South Jersey Group 1 final), there’s some things we possess that we didn’t last year but vice versa as well. … Maybe it’s me doing something wrong as far as getting these guys to play cleaner football….
“It’s sickening that two games back-to-back slipped out of our hands. … This is a hard loss. … We’ve had some internal issues … and that cohesiveness is not there as it was in the beginning. We’re trying to mend those wounds.… I think we can still shine and be OK, but there’s things we need to clean up.”
Scott Chappelear writes for South Jersey Sports Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @srchappie.
Woodbury 26, Clayton 22
Woodbury 0 6 14 6 -26
Clayton 0 0 16 6 -22
W: Jaquan Solomon 4 run (kick failed)
W: Jazere Noel 24 pass from Andre Parker (pass failed)
C: Courey Carr 48 run (Deven Carr run)
W: Dean Triplett 63 pass from Parker (Noel pass from Parker)
C: Kaylo Brooks blocked punt recovery in end zone (C.Carr run)
C: Damir Washington 1 run (run failed)
W: Marcus McGruder fumble recovery in end zone (pass failed)