PLEASANTVILLE — When current head coach Chris Sacco took over the Pleasantville football team, the Greyhounds went 0-10 his first season. Just two years later, Pleasantville was in the playoffs but got hammered by West Deptford in the opening round of the 2017 state tournament. This time around it was the Greyhounds who dished out some bumps and bruises, as "The Ville" racked up a ton of yardage and blitzed Cedar Creek, 57-0, to advance to a South Jersey Group 2 semifinal matchup against Haddonfield next Friday night.
The victory was the first for Pleasantville in the state playoffs since the 2003 season, before current seniors were even in preschool. The Greyhounds were led by senior running back and linebacker Mohamed Toure, one of several NCAA Division I recruits on the roster. Toure finished with 224 yards on just 14 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns as Pleasantville raced out to a 28-0 first-quarter lead and never looked back. The Greyhounds scored on each of their six first-half possessions.
"He's the best running back in South Jersey, Mohamed Toure. I said it first. We're coming for the ring now," said senior receiver Akeem Walker. "Every time we get a good week of practice we come out and do what we have to do. We're just happy, this is our first playoff win in 15 years and we did it in front of the home crowd, we turned the city up. It's feels really good."
"We had a good week of practice. After that Buena loss, our whole mindset changed, we knew we were on a mission to get a state championship and leave out of here with a ring our senior year. We knew we couldn't have any mistakes offensively. Our defense plays well every week, so, offensively, we had to get everything on the same page and we did that today," said senior quarterback Sahmir Jones, who scored Pleasantville's second touchdown on an electrifying run down the left sideline off a fake handoff. "Everything was just rolling. We did a lot of film work and a lot of blocking on the inside run game in practice. The snaps were perfect, me and my center got on the same page and everything just took today."
Toure's second long touchdown run of the first quarter pushed the lead to 20-0, and junior running back Joshua Kotopko added a pair of scoring runs, one late in the first quarter and one with 7:22 left in the second, as the lead swelled to 36-0. At that point, there wasn't much Cedar Creek (4-5) could to do stem the tide. Kotopko added another score, Brian Stalworth scored a receiving touchdown and Jabril Shakur added a long punt return for a touchdown.
"The offensive line did a great job blocking tonight. They were amazing. We worked a lot on everything, passing, the run game, and everything just clicked today," Jones said.
"This was definitely much needed. I'm just very proud of the way the kids played tonight, the way they handled themselves. They played together, they played smart — they just played really good football against a good football team," Sacco said. "I thought our offensive line, last week, played their best game, and this week played an even better game. And that's the effort we're going to need. We need to be able to establish ourselves as a physical football team when the weather gets cold and it's rainy out. We have a lot of weapons on the outside, but it's nice to be able to pound the rock when you need to."
The Greyhounds (7-2) lost in Week Zero to next week's opponent, Haddonfield, and also dropped a home game last week against Buena that cost them a chance at a West Jersey Football League division title. But Sacco said that only fueled the fire of this senior class even more.
"Last year, we played our worst football game of the year in the first round of the playoffs and that's been our motivation. We're going to work all offseason and during the season, but we're not going to get back into the playoffs and play the way we did last year. Same thing with the Buena loss — as much as you hate to have a loss, I think it kind of puts things back into perspective for you," he said. "I think that game put things back into perspective for us. I hate losing a game, but if you have to lose one to get things back together and get things going, you have to do what you have to do."
After the game, players doused Sacco with the water bucket, and while he would prefer to hold the Gatorade bath until a few weeks from now, he understands that this is not only a big win for the players, but the town of Pleasantville. He and Jones, however, said there is plenty left to go after in this year's state playoffs.
"It's hard to believe, you get a new staff and you go 0-10, but these guys stuck it out and they believed in the long-term vision of the program. These kids really deserve all the credit. We ask a lot of them in school and on the field and we can be very demanding at times, but it's for this. You're not going to beat Cedar Creek in the playoffs if you don't demand a lot. You're not going to beat a Haddonfield or a West Deptford in the playoffs if you don't demand a lot of them in the offseason and throughout the season," Sacco said. "This is huge. I don't want to sound like I'm not happy, because I am, but I want to keep winning. At the end of the day, we're excited, but it's one playoff game and we're not happy with winning just one, we want to keep it rolling. But this is huge for the people of the city and for the kids to see that we are on the right path.
Added Jones, "This win means a lot. This is our first playoff win since I've been alive, it feels like. I don't remember us winning any playoff games, but we can't get too happy right now. We're on a mission and we still have a lot to accomplish."
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays