RICHLAND - It’s not often that a high school football player takes ownership for a dismal performance. The natural reaction of a 17 or 18-year-old is to try to find something else to pin it on other than his own shortcomings or decision making. A slick ball, the wind, sloppy turf — there are any number of escape routes easily accessible after a loss.
On Sept. 14, St. Augustine Prep was coming off a big win over Lenape that evened the Hermits’ record at 1-1, and they were facing St. Joseph of Hammonton, the consensus No. 1 team in South Jersey according to most publications that cover high school sports. This was an opportunity for the Hermits to shock the world, score a big upset and prove that they are still one of the heavyweights in the West Jersey Football League.
Then senior quarterback Chris Allen went out and threw four interceptions and the Hermits got trounced, 30-8. It was a sickening feeling for Allen, who has proven to be one of the better quarterbacks in Atlantic County throughout his varsity career. After that loss, Allen spoke to his teammates and took complete ownership for the loss, vowing to never again have that kind of performance while he was dressed in the Hermits’ Navy and white uniform. He stood up and faced the music, and in turn earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.
His line for that game was pretty good for a high school quarterback: 12 completions in 25 attempts for 165 yards. But that big No. 4 under the interception column stood out like a flashing neon sign. Allen and the Hermits quickly righted the ship, however, beating Lenape 27-3 on Sept. 21 and following that up with a dominating, 38-6 win over Ocean City to close out September.
“I’ve just been trying to not do too much. Coming into that game, it was a big game and just knowing what’s at stake when you play St. Joe’s. But, after looking at the film and seeing what I did, I decided to just not do too much, trying to make every single play. We started doing more short, quick stuff and that’s helping us make bigger plays,” Allen said. “I’m trying not to force too much. You want to make the big play, but you want to make the big play when it’s there and not try to force something and have it be a pick-6 or something. I’m just trying to be smarter with what I’m doing out on the field.”
“It starts with practice. All the routes we ran today, we’ve done them 100 times in practice,” said senior wide receiver Jaylen DeCoteau, who caught two touchdown passes from Allen during the win over Ocean City. “It all begins with practice, then coming out here and executing. (Allen) did a great job and I’m proud of him.”
“The senior class, they are great kids. Not just on the football field, but also in school and in their communities. You hear all positive things about them. Football aside, they are a great bunch of kids and when you meet their families you can see why. It’s a pleasure going to practice, we have fun and work hard, and they certainly have provided the leadership that we expect from a senior class,” said longtime Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta, who is now in his second year as St. Augustine Prep’s head coach. “There’s a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, for sure, and the fact that he took ownership speaks volumes. And he did rebound the next week and I thought he did very well (against Ocean City). He really did well against Shawnee, he ran the offense well, and that’s what he does. He manages the offense and that’s what we need him to do.”
Lancetta said he appreciates his quarterback taking full ownership for the performance against St. Joseph, but added that the loss fell upon the shoulders of every guy in a Hermits uniform that night.
“First of all, he’s a great kid, first and foremost. An outstanding student, he’s just aces all around. Second of all, it wasn’t all on him, so he’s incorrect when he says that. We didn’t run the ball, we didn’t block very well — we didn’t do anything very well,” Lancetta said. “We ALL had to take ownership for that loss. St. Joe is a quality football team and I didn’t think we could run the ball successfully against them so we threw the ball what I felt was about 50 times but in actuality it was about 25 times, and that’s a lot for any team that I coach. We took a chance and it didn’t work.”
“After that St. Joe loss, a switch kind of flipped for everyone and you understood that you can’t try to make the big play all by yourself because it’s not going to happen. We have to work together as a team to make sure every play happens the way it should, and when we work together like that, as a team, we get outcomes like (the win over Ocean City). The last two weeks, I told my guys that I’m not going to make those mistakes again. I want to be better for you guys so we don’t have outcomes like that. So, just trying not to force big plays and trying to be smarter with everything I’m doing is really helping,” Allen said after the win over Ocean City. “I know with a lot of the guys it sunk in that we can’t focus on trying to do stuff by ourselves. When we got back to practice for the Lenape week, everything slowly kind of came together and guys were a lot more focused — including myself. That same focus that we had before playing Lenape just carried over into the Ocean City week, and it’s been great. That was one of the toughest nights for me after throwing four interceptions (against St. Joe). There were so many things that could have been better, and having those picks really hurt our defense, too. But it’s a learning experience. I had that day after, but once we got to Sunday it was like, OK, we need to get our minds back to where they need to be.”
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