LACEY TOWNSHIP - Running back Ray Lawry of the Kingsway Regional High School football team broke into the clear on his way to the end zone late in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon.
The Kingsway fans began to roar. The Lacey Township fans began a quiet walk to the parking lot.
Lawry's 34-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 53 seconds left clinched the Dragons' 42-28 upset of previously undefeated Lacey Township in a South Jersey Group IV semifinal.
Sixth-seeded Kingsway (8-3) will play top-seeded Timber Creek (9-2) for the title Saturday at Rowan University. Second-seeded Lacey Township finished 10-1.
"Our kids physically played as hard as they possibly could and then some," Lacey coach Lou Vircillo said.
Lawry's touchdown run was a fitting clincher to the win. He and fellow running back Brendon Irving dominated. The 5-foot-9, 173-pound Lawry ran 27 times for 225 yards and three touchdowns, while the 5-7, 190-pound Irving carried 19 times for 226 yards.
"Our line just kept pushing the whole game," Lawry said. "We (him and Irving) are like a one-two punch. If I'm off, he's on. If he's off, I'm on. The line gave us creases and we just took them."
Together, they overcame an outstanding performance by Lacey defensive back and wide receiver Christian Tutela, who scored three touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass.
Lacey is No. 2 in The Press Elite 11. Kingsway, No. 11 in the Elite 11, came into the game playing as well as any team in South Jersey. The Dragons had won five of their last six games with the only loss being a 20-16 defeat Nov. 3 to undefeated Williamstown, No. 1 in the Elite 11.
"We have a lot of confidence," Lawry said. "We're just trying to win this championship."
Kingsway controlled the line of scrimmage from the start, building a 14-0 first-half lead behind Lawry touchdown runs of 51 and 34 yards.
If it wasn't for Tutela, Kingsway might have run its way to an easy victory. The 5-11, 180-pound junior single-handedly sparked a Lacey comeback.
He caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Kelly for Lacey's first touchdown.
Tutela then intercepted a pass and returned in 88 yards for a touchdown to tie the game with 2:17 left in the first half.
Tutela gave Lacey the lead on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. He threw a 61-yard option pass to Bill Belford for a touchdown that put the Lions ahead 21-14.
Tutela gave the Lacey fans one last reason to cheer when he tied the game on a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:23 left.
But Kingsway reasserted itself and its run game from there.
Irving's 51-yard touchdown run with 3:53 left gave the Dragons a 34-28 lead they never relinquished.
Lawry and Irving complement each other well. Lawry has the power to run between then tackles and the speed to break it to the outside. Irving runs low to the ground and often emerges hidden from behind blockers for big gains.
"They're very physical backs," Vircillo said. "We've played some outstanding teams this year. I don't recall backs being that physical.
What made the Kingsway running game even more impressive is that Lacey stacked the line of scrimmage to stop Lawry and Irving.
"We were playing the run 100 percent and they cracked it," Vircillo said.
The Lions glumly left the field after the loss. But Vircillo said the team exceeded his expectations. Lacey finished 4-6 last year. The Lions won the A South title - one of the Shore Conference's best divisions - this season.
"An A South title is something to be proud of," Vircillo said. "The kids don't understand that now, but they will."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Kingsway Regional 7 7 7 21-42
Lacey Township 0 14 7 7-28
KW-Lawry 51 run (Bell kick)
KW-Lawry 34 run (Bell kick)
LT-Tutela 38 pass from Kelly (Dolly kick)
LT-Tutela 88 int. return (Dolly kick)
LT-Belford 61 pass from Tutela (Dolly kick)
KW-Irving 11 run (Bell kick)
KW-Irving 10 run (Bell kick)
LT- Tutela 2 run (Dolly kick)
KW-Irving 51 run (Bell kick)
KW-Lawry 34 run (Bell kick)
Rushing-KW-Lawry 27-225, Irving 19-226; LT-Spatz 16-64.
Passing-KW. Green 5-9-1-54; LT-Tutela 1-1-0-61, Kelly 8-13-1-86.
Receiving-KW-Haenggi 2-31; LT-Belford 1-61, Tutela 1-38.
Records-Kingsway Regional 8-3; Lacey Township 10-1.