EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - The Egg Harbor Township High School football team heard the talk all week.
EHT is seeded fourth and Shawnee fifth, and the teams each had identical records coming into the game, but all the talk was about how much tougher Shawnee's schedule was than EHT's.
Kevin Marquez, Stephan Thomas and the rest of the Eagles heard it.
They just didn't care.
Marquez and Thomas were just two of a handful of EHT's standout performers in a 22-7 South Jersey Group IV quarterfinal win against Shawnee on Friday night.
The Eagles will meet top-seeded Cherokee on Friday at 7 p.m. in a rematch of last season's sectional final, which Cherokee won 14-0.
"We heard that Shawnee was going to come out and beat us and all that stuff, but we've been the underdog for God knows how long," Marquez said. "That's what keeps us motivated.
"The more we heard that stuff the more it got us angry and motivated us. We had something to prove out here tonight and we did it."
The Eagles were dominant.
A series that ends in a turnover on downs typically isn't a success, but it may have been the drive of the night.
Holding a 20-7 lead midway through the third, the Eagles took the ball at their own 30-yard line and punished the Renegades' defense.
EHT ran 17 plays and knocked
8 minutes, 49 seconds off the clock before a Jon Kopistecki incomplete pass on fourth down gave Shawnee the ball back.
On Shawnee's next possession, the Renegades went three-and-out as Marquez sacked quarterback Vince Corbi to force fourth-and-long.
EHT was unable to score on its next drive as a 30-yard touchdown run by Thomas was brought back by a holding penalty.
But EHT's defense put the game away on the very next play with just more than four minutes left.
Corbi took the snap and was forced out of the pocket deep in his own territory. Tyler Waller tracked Corbi down and sacked him in the end zone for a safety.
Shawnee managed just one first down and ran only 16 plays in the entire second half.
"I feel like we wanted it more," Thomas said. "I think they thought they were going to come in here and get an easy win, and it didn't happen. We wanted it more."
Shawnee came out firing.
The Renegades marched down the field almost at will as Ed Royds capped off a six-play, 68-yard drive with a 33-yard touchdown exactly three minutes into the game.
Little did anyone know at the time that it would be the only points Shawnee's potent offense would score.
"I think we got out-physicaled all night long," Shawnee coach Tim Gushue said. "It's simple. After that one drive, we ran the ball intermittently at times, but we're a running team. When we can't run the football we struggle.
"It's difficult in practice to simulate the speed of Stephan Thomas and Kevin Marquez. I thought up front they played really well. I watched them play last week against St. Joe, and I guess maybe St. Joe is ready for the NFC East."
Even when Shawnee's defense was able to put EHT in tough spots, the Eagles responded. EHT converted seven of its 12 third-down plays in the game.
"It meant more to us," Marquez said. "This is our first home playoff game on our new field and it meant more to us. We didn't finish last year so we knew we had to come out here and do our thing."
Marquez had eight tackles, three for a loss, with a sack and a pass deflected.
So will the Eagles use last season's loss to Cherokee in the sectional final to motivate them this week?
"Of course," Thomas said without hesitation. "It wasn't just last year but the year before that they beat us in the first round of the playoffs. I've got a chip on my shoulder, so I've got to get it off before I leave here."
Contact John O'Kane:
Shawnee 7 0 0 0-7
Egg Harbor Township 7 13 0 2-22
S-Royds 25 run (O'Brien kick)
EHT-Marquez 1 run (Mason kick)
EHT-Thomas 25 run (kick failed)
EHT-Thomas 1 run (Algieri kick)
EHT-Safety (Waller tackled Corbi in the end zone)
TEAM STATS S EHT
Rushing 104 212
Passing 46 52
First downs 8 18
Penalties 5-39 5-50
Turnovers 2 0
Rushing-Shawnee: Royds 16-95, Corbi 7-10, Piorio 3-5, Stiles 1-(-6); EHT: Kopistecki 12-75, Thomas 17-72, Moody 10-39, Marquez 9-19, Newmones 3-7.
Passing-Shawnee: Stiles 2-4-26-1, Corbi 2-8-20-0, Royds 0-1-0-1; EHT: Kopistecki 5-7-52-0.
Receiving-Shawnee: Lucas 2-33, Jackopin 1-7, Garganio 1-6; EHT: Marquez 3-38, Bolden 2-14.
Records-Shawnee 5-4; EHT 6-3.