LINWOOD - Hammonton High School quarterback Nick Crescenzo hugged his teammate after the game and tapped the back of his helmet.
"Welcome back, baby."
Joshua Baez waited a long time to get that kind of reception from his Blue Devil teammates. The senior had a career day in a 27-3 win over Mainland Regional on Friday night. He had a career-high 150 yards and a touchdown.
"You never know what could happen," said Baez, a fullback whose previous high was 111 yards during his sophomore year. "It all depends on what the defense gives. You can't tell how many times I'm going to get the ball or how many times someone else is going to get the ball."
Baez hadn't played a game yet this season. He was suspended from the football team for disciplinary reasons but was allowed to practice.
Friday, he was finally eligible to play in games.
Seemingly, Baez saved up all the plays he would have made in the previous weeks and used them against Mainland. And it couldn't have happened at a better time.
"We had to grind it out and keep it on the ground," Baez said. "It feels good. Last year, (Mainland) whooped all over us. It was good to overcome that."
Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta wasn't sure how much Baez was going to play. Baez had been practicing with the team, but a game situation is different.
"We were just going to play it by ear," Lancetta said. "It ended up that's what it called for with the field conditions and the defense they were showing us. We were pretty limited."
With the rain causing a slick field, Hammonton, No. 6 in The Press' Elite 11, didn't try to throw the ball much.
The weather also forced Hammonton to go in a different direction than using running back Dave Crescenzo too often. He couldn't make cuts to the outside because of the muddy field. So instead, the ball was in Baez and Nick Crescenzo's hands.
Nick Crescenzo was 2-for-5 passing but had 130 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries.
The Blue Devils (5-0) looked for their bigger players to get more plays up the middle on the wet surface.
"(Baez) is a big body and he runs real hard," Lancetta said. "You got that coming up the middle. The quarterback also runs. Usually, it's been the halfbacks and Nick, but that's what a good team does. It takes what the defense gives you."
Mainland (3-2) took an early lead against Hammonton. The Mustangs played Hammonton tough in the first half, forcing the Blue Devils to punt on their first four possessions.
Mainland took a 3-0 lead on Jim Cooper's 21-yard field goal with 8 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs fell apart after that. On its next possession, Mainland had a bad snap on a potential punt. Rather than pinning Hammonton near its own goal line, which Mainland consistently had been doing, the Blue Devils started on Mainland's 38-yard line.
Baez and Crescenzo shared running duties on the drive, with Crescenzo scoring on a 3-yard run to make the score 7-3 with 1:10 left in the first half.
"We had to come out more fired up than we did in the first half," Crescenzo said. "We just were going to run the ball down their throats. It's tough to pass the ball in weather like this."
Hammonton exploded in the second half. The Blue Devils scored on three of their next four possessions. Crescenzo scored on an 83-yarder in the third quarter and a 1-yarder in the fourth, which made it 27-3. Baez scored on a 4-yard run in the third.
Once Hammonton figured out the ground game, the Blue Devils couldn't be stopped.
"It's great to have (Baez) back," Crescenzo said. "He came back and showed everyone what he's all about. When the fullback is running good, that opens up everything else."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:
Hammonton 0 7 7 13 - 27
Mainland Regional 0 3 0 0 - 3
MR-Cooper 21 field goal
H-N. Crescenzo 3 run (Sandoval kick)
H-N. Crescenzo 17 run (Sandoval kick)
H-Baez 4 run (Kick failed)
H-N. Crescenco 4 run (sandoval kick)
TEAM STATS Hamm MR
First downs 8 3
Rushing 323 77
Passing 6 86
Turnovers 0 1
Rushing-D. Crescenzo 6-24, N. Crescenzo 8-130, Sanchez 3-14, Baez 13-150, Sandoval 2-5 H; Evans 11-45, Bradway 14-22, Fortunato 2-10 MR.
Passing-N. Crescnezo 2-5-0-6, D'Amelio 0-1-0-0 H; Bradway 8-14-0-86, Fortunato 0-1-1-0 MR.
Receiving-Sandoval 1-1, Evans 1-6 H; Irizarry 2-13, Boudreau 2-24, Kaczmarski 2-28, Prince 2-21 MR.
RECORDS - Hammonton 5-0; Mainland 3-2