WEST DEPTFORD TWP. -- The best defense in football can often be a good offense, and in the first half of Friday night’s South Jersey Group 2 semifinal, West Deptford High School got the best of both worlds.
The Eagles scored on four of five first-half possessions behind the running of seniors Anthony Seas and Gio Gismondi. They also forced a pair of turnovers to further keep visiting Collingswood away from the end zone as they built a 27-0 lead en route to a surprisingly easy 30-0 victory and a third straight trip to the sectional championship at Rowan University.
“We thought it would be a close game,” said West Deptford coach Clyde Folsom, whose team beat the Panthers 28-14 just two weeks ago. “That’s the way you prepare, that’s what your mindset is. … But our kids played hard, we didn’t turn the football over, we had very few penalties.
“At this stage of the season, in a game with the magnitude of what we had upon us, we needed to make sure we limited all of those. We’ve been pretty good at that all year. … Our kids came in focused, and they wanted this. Their dream to get back to Rowan was so evident, all week it was.”
The tone was set early on, with the Eagles (10-0 overall) marching 67 yards in nine plays for the opening score, followed by a Ryan Baglivo interception near midfield on the first play from scrimmage for Collingswood (7-3).
While the turnover didn’t result in points for West Deptford, it kept the Panthers pinned deep in their own end. They ran just six plays in the first 13-plus minutes with no first downs as the Eagles built a 20-0 advantage, thanks in part to a Baglivo fumble recovery early in the second.
“I want to give a lot of credit to my D-end and inside linebacker (for the interception),” Baglivo said. “They flew right to (the quarterback), kind of pinned him up inside and he had to float it up there. It gave me and our corner Gio a shot to pick it off, and I just got lucky I came down with it.”
The offense as usual was led by the West Deptford ground game out of the Wing-T, with Seas and Gismondi combining for 204 yards and four TDs in the first half alone. Seas ended the night with 154 yards and three scores on 22 carries, while Gismondi added 125 yards and a TD on 16 rushes. The Eagles racked up 18 first downs on the night to just six for the Panthers.
“Every opportunity we get, we’re trying to kill their momentum, switch it in our favor and just keep pushing down the field,” said Seas, a transfer from Kingsway. “I feel like I fit in here great … it’s a great offense, I got a taste of it when I was younger. So I wasn’t too unfamiliar with it, and I love it. It’s worked out great so far.”
“It’s an honor, each one of the backs are amazing people, I love them to death,” added senior lineman John Maguire. “I lay my body on the line for them every single play.”
Senior Mike Taulane led Collingswood with 51 yards on 11 carries, but the team finished with more turnovers (three) than trips into Eagles territory (two). The Panthers’ lone visit to the red zone came in the fourth quarter and ended when a fourth-and-17 play finished well short of the first-down marker.
While many fans will now turn their attention to a potential rematch with a Cedar Creek team that downed the Eagles a year ago in the final, that’s not how the team operates.
“We go one week at a time, and we take care of what we can control,” Folsom said. “Tonight was our focus, and Paulsboro will be our focus (Saturday) afternoon. Then we’ll focus on who we’re gonna play after the Paulsboro game (next Friday).”
Despite the seemingly perennial appearances in the championship game, West Deptford hasn’t won a title since the second of back-to-back crowns in 2012. The players on this year’s team, particularly the seniors, don’t want to leave without bringing home another trophy. Friday’s game was an inevitable and important step toward that goal.
“Our center Justin Roane spoke at our dinner tonight, and he made a good point,” said Baglivo. “A lot of people think West Deptford’s tradition is winning, it’s winning and getting to the championship…. Nobody really gets to see what’s behind the scenes, when you spend three, three and a half hours on the practice field and in the film room every day after school….
“It’s an absolute grind, but it’s a grind we all (love)… we would easily make the decision to play another year if we could. It’s just a family, it’s a unit. … I love playing for Coach Folsom…. He’s a special, special man and I’m honored to play for him.”
“It means everything to me,” Seas said of getting to play for the title. “All the hard work personally and the team has put in all season…. I know at West Deptford it’s almost an every year thing, but it’s definitely something special to be going to Rowan and playing in the state championship game.”
Scott Chappelear writes for South Jersey Sports Digest, and he can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @srchappie.
SJ Group 2 Semifinal
West Deptford 30, Collingswood 0
Collingswood 0 0 0 0 -0
West Deptford 7 20 3 0 -30
WD: Anthony Seas 1 run (Mike Bilodeau kick)
WD: Gio Gismondi 26 run (Bilodeau kick)
WD: Seas 3 run (kick blocked)
WD: Seas 10 run (Bilodeau kick)
WD: Bilodeau 22 field goal
West Deptford coach Clyde Folsom talks to his team following an impressive 30-0 SJ Group 2 semifinal win over Collingswood Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. (Scott Chappelear)