MARLTON — Sal Marchese paid the Delsea Regional High School football team one of the biggest compliments a coach can give on Saturday afternoon.
“You guys are one of my favorite teams,” the director of programming for the last 30 seasons told them.
And that was before the Crusaders made history.
Quarterback Jimmy Reardon snuck into the end zone from a yard with 16 seconds left as Delsea, who was ranked No. 2 in the playoffs on the South Jersey Mean 15 ranking, recovered from a 14-point halftime deficit to take down No. 1 Camden to stun 20-14 in the Group 3 state semifinals in Cherokee, potting his ticket to the first-ever Group 3 state championship game.
More:Woodbury Football takes revenge and becomes a historic First State finalist
“It’s great,” said junior Dom Teti. “We can play for something that nobody has played for before.”
They made it possible for all of the reasons Marchese values this group.
Marchese didn’t yell at the Crusaders when they lost two touchdowns at the break, he just reminded them what made them so special.
“We didn’t play badly I don’t think (in the first half) but we made critical mistakes at critical times and we just told them at half-time that you guys are one of the toughest teams, one of the toughest committed teams, (one of the teams with) the greatest work ethic I’ve ever coached,” Marchese said. “There’s no way you’re going to give up at this point. We have to find a way to win. That’s what you’re about, that’s what Delsea football is about, that’s what program football is about, developing your kids from freshman to sophomore, developing your kids all the way to the top and you When you put that much work into something , it’s hard to give up, it’s hard to throw in the towel and they didn’t.”
Marchese and the coaching staff showed their confidence by taking training wheels off quarterback Jimmy Reardon.
The signal caller sophomore plays in for injured Zach Maxwell, who was injured in the semifinals against Eastside.
Maxwell has spent years learning the program’s Wing-T offense, when to turn it in and when to keep it. Reardon, who was in his second game, was told who to hand it to before each snap. That didn’t work against a powerful Camden defense that hadn’t conceded a single point in the playoffs.
“We were very concerned in the first half about the possibility of running with a small kid,” Marchese said. “He hasn’t run all year and the running option thing is risky because you read and when the ball goes on the turf you don’t want that, so not against a team like that we were very worried about that. We met at half time and said we have to start running an option because they just teed off.
More:Former Villanova star Maalik Wayns of 76 has been named Camden High School’s new basketball coach
On the third play of the third quarter, Reardon used his freedom, saved the ball and sprinted 43 yards down the middle. It loosened up the defense and Jared Schoppe scored from 14 yards three games later.
“He did a great job,” Marchese said of Reardon. “That’s a lot of pressure when you come in, you play Division I kids, Division I kids all over the defense and I think it’s a little bit intimidating, a little bit tough on him, it’s been big for him and us kept telling him to block out all the noise, just focus on execution, don’t worry about who you’re playing against and what you’re playing, worry about executing our offense.
The noise was unmistakable as he crossed the goal line and put his team ahead in the dying seconds.
“It’s a great joy,” said Reardon, who was still panting and wheezing 15 minutes into the game. “We worked for it and sacrificed our summer. We worked so hard in training. We’re 0:14 behind at half-time and can come back and hold on. I can’t even describe it.”
“This is a great football team, a football team with great character,” Marchese said. “I’m just happy for them.”
game of the game
The Panthers struggled to move the ball after the break as their first three drives in the second half produced a first down, two punts and an interception by Delsea’s Luke Maxwell.
They seemed to get going with less than six minutes of play and the score was still 14-14.
Taquan Brittingham had some nice runs and freshman quarterback Jaythan Candelario, filling in for injured starter Deante Ruffin, connected for 12 yards with Terron Davis.
More:Holy Spirit’s Roman sets SJ record but Spartans fall to Red Bank Catholic in semifinals
But one serve put them to a 2nd-and-12, and that’s when Crusaders’ Dom Teti intercepted Candelario and put him all the way back to Camden’s 22-yard line.
“He ran over corners the whole game and I think when will the post come, when will the post come,” said Teti. “QB is taking a good look at it, I’ll pick it up. It was easy.”
Reardon’s game-winning score came on the following drive.
Wayne Adair: Delsea’s back had 14 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown, but his ability to run outside of tackles helped open the Crusader offense.
bottle: The Crusader fullback was a workhorse, rushing 28 times for 128 yards and a score.
Rear: The second quarterback was given more responsibility in the second half reading the defense and that was instrumental in the win.
Austin Boos: Delsea’s defensive end created great pressure from the edge. He had a sack, a tackle for loss, and multiple pressings.
Danny DiGiovacchino: The Crusader middle linebacker made himself felt with two sacks. He also played a key role on offense.
Delsea will take on the winner of West Morris-Old Tappan in the first-ever Group 3 State Finals at the Rutgers on December 3rd or 4th. West Morris and Old Tappan play in Franklin on Sunday at 11am.
“We can overcome anything. We’ve been behind before but this is a great game, great atmosphere, they have a lot of great players, we just had to get through it and we did it.”
– Delsea’s Wayne Adair on what the Crusaders proved on Saturday.
Josh Friedman has produced award-winning South Jersey sports coverage for the Courier Post, the Daily Journal and the Burlington County Times for more than a decade. If you have or know an interesting story to tell, reach us on Twitter at @JFriedman57 or email us at email@example.com. You can also contact him at 856-486-2431. Help support local journalism with a subscription.