It was just three weeks into the Egg Harbor Township Youth Organization Eagle Football team's season, and it was all but over.
Despite playing together all preseason, a lack of chemistry had the Eagles 0-3 and heading toward their 12th season outside championship contention in the Cape May County Junior Football League in as many years of play.
Worse yet, week four marked a contest against the boys' crosstown rivals, a then-undefeated EHT PAL club. Everyone had written off the Eagles - everyone, that is, but the team members themselves.
Somewhere in the hard-fought game, something clicked for the Eagles, and they managed a 26-22 upset.
The Eagles then reeled off seven straight wins to put themselves in contention for the league crown for the first time in their 12 years, and while they ended up on the wrong side of a 29-18 tilt against Lower Township in the Nov. 24 championship game, the Eagles ended their season with their heads held high.
While it's now clear the Eagles had the talent in them from the start, it wasn't until the do-or-die rivalry game in week four that the boys found the swagger they needed to let their legs do the talking, wide receiver and cornerback Poke Rolls said.
"We didn't play with enough attitude," the eighth-grader said. "We had it in us, but we weren't expressing it the right way, so once we got that one win, we never lost another game after that, besides the championship game."
Despite the rough start, several attributes poised the Eagles for success this season. With a roster of 24 players, they were one of the deeper teams in the league, and a newly implemented preseason training program had them in peak physical shape. But most of all, it was the submission of all 24 boys on the roster to the team concept that allowed them to finally fulfill their potential.
"I don't think we had any (one) team leader or we had one standout," said EHTYO president and Eagles head coach Dominic Branca. "I think the team came together and knew there was a job that had to get done, and they came together as a team, and obviously we were very successful that way."
Many of the boys on the squad, which is made up of seventh- and eighth-graders, are four- or five-year veterans of the program, and have made friendships that can last a lifetime.
While the bulk of this year's team will now move on to the high school level, some of them at EHTHS, their last year as EHTYO Eagles is something they won't soon forget.
"We did it for (Coach Branca), and we did it for a win and after that, after that, we just didn't lose until the championship," said tight end and linebacker Johanan Mosley. "We came together as a team, we loved each other ever since."
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