WINSLOW – Emotions were certainly peaking when the Camden High football team took a knee on the center of the Winslow field after a 36-25 triumph Friday night.
After all, the Panthers clinched a home field playoff game next week with the West Jersey Football League Constitution Division victory.
But, for Donald Williams, the win meant much more than just securing a top postseason spot, which is why the junior two-way back stood up and delivered a passionate speech to his teammates.
“I really love playing football,” Williams said afterwards, “I feel that my speech could give the team the extra encouragement in the playoffs.”
Tapping his chest with his right hand wrapped in tape, he added, “It came from my heart.”
Camden vaulted to 7-1 with its sixth consecutive win after a second week loss to rival Camden Catholic, who is ranked No. 8 in the South Jersey Sports Digest Top Ten.
With the win, the Panthers, who were 3-7 last season, are knocking on the door of the SJSD Top Ten.
Most importantly, though, If you want The High, you got The High on its home field at Farnham Park in the upcoming South Jersey Group 2 playoffs.
“It means a lot, now we have home field advantage in the playoffs,” Camden junior wide receiver/defensive back JaJuan Hudson said. “The way our fans support us, they give us the extra push.”
“The city needs it, we want to get it done,” added Camden coach Dwayne Savage about the playoff quest to bring home the school’s first sectional title since 1976.
Camden was coming off an emotional win last week when the Panthers fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter and then rallied for a stunning 30-24 win over previously undefeated Rancocas Valley – the alma mater of Savage – at fabled Farnham Park.
Now, the Panthers could have two games at home before the sectional championship.
“We’ve been there before,” Savage said about previous top-ranked Camden teams in recent years. “We just got to keep our mind right and concentrate.”
Winslow, who was playing without third-year head coach Kemp Carr on the sideline, dropped to 3-5.
Afterwards, assistant coach Jeff Lake explained he was asked by the school administration to coach this week for Kemp, who is also the school’s athletic director.
“They asked me to step up and that is what I did,” said Lake, who said he didn’t know if Carr would resume the head coaching duties.
“The whole crew stepped up with me,” Lake added about the other assistant coaches. “It really was a joint effort.”
Winslow, which was coming off consecutive wins, jumped in front when David Wallace caught a 5-yard scoring pass from talented junior quarterback Prince-Dru Bey on its first possession. Daniel Dadura kicked the extra point for the early 7-0 lead.
Camden answered when Roger Nock scored on a 6-yard run the first time the Panthers touched the ball. The conversion run failed, but The High took the lead on their next possession when Corey Palmer snagged a 10-yard pass from Premire Wilson. Palmer also caught the conversion pass from Wilson for a 14–7 spread early in the second quarter.
Winslow kept pace on its next possession when Wallace grabbed an 8-yard touchdown pass from Bey. The kick failed and the Eagles trailed 14-13.
However, Camden added a cushion in the final minute of the entertaining first half when JaJuan Hudson connected on a 38-yard scoring play. Hudson beat his man down the left sideline and Wilson dropped in the ball right on stride. Hudson also caught the conversion on a pass from Rice for a 22-13 lead.
“It was a designed play,” Hudson said. “Our coaches believe in my route running and so coach told me to hit them with a slant and go and our quarterback hit me.”
Camden hit Winslow again, but not until there was just 1:31 left in third quarter when Rice ripped a 16-yard scoring run. The conversion pass failed, but the Panthers held a 28-13 lead over the Eagles.
Winslow wouldn’t fold under the pressure of Camden’s dynamic offense and without their head coach, however. Ismael Berry lifted the Eagles with a 95-yard kick off return to cut Camden’s lead to 28-19 with 1:14 left in third quarter.
And the Eagles weren’t done scrapping. On the ensuing kickoff, they forced and recovered a fumble.
Winslow converted the turnover into the second touchdown in just 82 seconds when Demetri Goodwater-Wharthington scored on a 16-yard run. The kick failed, but the Eagles sliced into Camden’s lead to trail 28-25 just eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
Camden couldn’t seal the game until its explosive and elusive senior running back Najyere Edwards tore around the left end for a 3-yard touchdown with 16.4 seconds left to secure a home field playoff game.
“It feels great to have a 7-1 record, to be on top and have a home game in the playoffs,” Edwards said. “We feel every person on offense is a weapon and in the playoffs we just have to find a way to get everyone the ball more.”
And, perhaps, to play with the passion of Williams’ post-game speech to the team.
Camden 6 16 6 8 - 36
Winslow 7 6 6 6 - 25
W- David Wallace 5 pass from Prince-Dru Bey (Daniel Dadura kick)
C - Roger Nock 6 run (run failed)
C - Corey Palmer 10 pass from Premire Wilson (Palmer pass from Wilson)
W - David Wallace 8 pass from Prince-Dru Bey (kick failed)
C - JaJuan Hudson 38 pass from Wilson (Hudson pass from Damon Rice)
C - Rice 16 run (pass failed)
W - Ismael Berry 95 kick off return (pass failed)
W - Demetri Goodwater-Wharthington 16 run (kick failed)
C - Najyere Edwards 3 run (Rice run)