WILDWOOD - The Pitman football team dropped off a busload of supplies at Wildwood High School on Thursday afternoon for a community hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.
Wesley Hills and the Wildwood team then gave their town something to cheer about for one night.
Hills ran for two touchdowns and surpassed 2,000 yards for the season as the playoff-bound Warriors beat Pitman 14-8 in a West Jersey Football League game in front of a large crowd at Maxwell Field.
The win was Wildwood's first ever over Pitman (2-6), coach Rich Hans said. The Warriors (6-3) already had clinched their first playoff berth ever, and as the No. 7 seed in South Jersey Group I, they will play next Saturday at either Woodbury or Penns Grove in the first round.
"It felt great winning this game," junior linebacker/fullback Jose Valentin said. "We've never beat Pitman. Our coaches never beat Pitman when they played. … It will be good going with some momentum into the playoffs."
Hills ran for 186 yards to become the 13th player in South Jersey history to rush for more than 2,000 in a season. His two second-half touchdowns gave him 35 for the season, tops in the area.
Hills said the large crowd on a chilly night inspired him. Wildwood is one of the state's smallest high schools - the team dressed just 18 players - but the home bleachers were nearly full.
"It's great to have the community behind you 100 percent," he said. "It's just a great feeling."
Hills scored first on a 34-yard run in the third quarter to put the Warriors up 6-0. Then, after Pitman had taken an 8-6 lead with a touchdown early in the fourth, Hills ran 42 yards for a TD on the first play of the ensuing drive. The good field position came after Pitman tried an onsides kick and took a penalty on the play.
Even after a leg injury late in the game forced him to the sideline on offense, Hills found a way to contribute. Limping severely, he managed to come back in to punt the ball 17 yards to pin Pitman at its own 33-yard line with less than two minutes left (Hills is the team's punter and place-kicker). He then stayed in and played cornerback on the final series as the Warriors held on to win.
After having his left leg worked on by trainers after the game, Hills said he will be "definitely good to go" next week.
"It shows a lot of character," Hans said. "Wes is a gamer, definitely. No doubt about it."
Wildwood's whole defense came up big. The Warriors tackled Pitman behind the line of scrimmage 10 times, including sacks by Valentin, Omar Cajigas and Evan Thame. Wildwood held Pitman to just 54 rushing yards on 44 carries.
"I don't know what we would've done if they didn't step up to the plate," Hills said.
The Warriors know they likely will need an even better effort next week in the playoffs. They could get a boost from the possible return of linebacker/tight end Marchal Howell, who is recovering from a sprained knee and was held out Thursday to rest.
Hans said they decided to play this week's game on Thursday to give the whole team an extra day of rest before the playoffs.
"Hopefully we'll be all healed up and ready to play on Saturday," Hans said.
Pitman, meanwhile, was able to head home feeling good about itself despite the loss. The school collected donations of clothes and other supplies this week, and the team bus stopped at Rowan University on the way to the game to pick up cleats donated by Rowan.
Hans said schools around the Tri-County Conference - Wildwood's league for all other sports - have donated supplies over the past week. Schalick and Woodstown, he said, collected donations instead of charging admission at their football game Thursday.
"Football comes second when you have a devastating storm come like that," Pitman coach Sean Kahoun said.
Hans called it "heartwarming." He said while his players were not affected severely by the storm, some students "lost everything."
On this night, though, the Warriors gave their town something to cheer about.
"That's one thing about Wildwood," Hans said. "It's a small community, but we really rally around the teams that do well here. … It's just a great feeling, and the kids really appreciate it."
Contact Jason Mazda:
Pitman 0 0 0 8-8
Wildwood 0 0 6 8-14
Hills 34 run (run failed)
Noon 5 run (Noon run)
Hills 42 run (Hills run)
Team statistics P W
Rushing yards 54 180
Passing yards 104 0
Penalties-yards 5-30 8-50
Turnovers 0 0
Pitman, Camma 8-8, Connors 2-3, Cioffi 5-8, Noon 19-35. Wildwood, Christian 5-(-11), Hills 24-186, Valentin 3-11, Gentek 1-(-3), Jones 1-(-3).
Pitman, Noon 7-21-0-104. Wildwood, Gentek 0-3-0-0.
Pitman, Polillo 2-34, Meenan 1-6, Camma 2-19, Connors 2-45.
Pitman 2-6, Wildwood 6-3.