BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - The Egg Harbor Township High School football team had the ball inside its own 1-yard line Saturday afternoon.
There were 8 minutes, 9 seconds left in the game. The Eagles led Shawnee by four points, but the Renegades had the momentum and the field position was obviously in their favor.
EHT had a modest goal.
"We just figured we'd get it out to the 2- or 3-yard line," Eagles running back and linebacker Zach Agostino said. "We just couldn't take a safety there."
The Eagles did more than that. They preserved the lead with maybe their best drive of the season.
Second-seeded EHT beat the seventh-seeded Renegades 21-17 in a South Jersey Group IV quarterfinal at St. Augustine Prep.
EHT (9-0) will host third-seeded Toms River East (9-0) in next weekend's semifinals
The Eagles didn't score on that critical fourth-quarter possession, but they drove from their own 1-yard line to the Shawnee 48. The drive lasted 13 plays and took 8 minutes, 4 seconds. Running back Tejay Johnson carried six times for 31 yards.
"We were just real determined," EHT quarterback Scott Miller said. "We knew we had to get the ball out of there and give them as little time as we could."
EHT almost timed it perfectly.
Shawnee got the ball back at its own with 25-yard line with five seconds left. Renegades quarterback Vince Corbi had time for a desperation pass, which EHT's Stephan Thomas intercepted.
"The drive shows we have heart and determination," Miller said. "On the backs of our shirts (the Eagles wear under their uniforms), it says 'Finish.' We were the finishing the game."
The drive's key moment came on its third play. A 95-yard touchdown run by Johnson had just been negated by an illegal-block penalty.
The Eagles faced a third-and-9 from their own 2-yard line. Miller rolled left in his own end zone and found Joe Magosin open just beyond the first-down marker for a 10-yard gain. The play was the drive's only pass.
"I had to escape the pocket and get out to where I could make an easier throw," Miller said. "Joe ran a good route and got open right behind the sticks."
The game was one of the most anticipated of the opening weekend of the playoffs. EHT is No. 5 in The Press' Elite 11. Shawnee (5-4) won the South Jersey Group III championship in 2007-08 before moving up to Group IV because of an increase in enrollment this year.
"When the pairings came out and we found we were playing Shawnee, we were like 'ohhh,' " EHT coach Tony DeRosa said. "We weren't happy with the draw, but in order to be the best you have to beat the best."
The contest produced excitement from the start.
EHT scored on the game's first play from scrimmage as Miller threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Thomas.
"They put a linebacker on me, and they're playing man," Thomas said. "He wasn't as fast as me. Scott (Miller) hit me perfectly in stride."
The Eagles used the big play to score again in the third quarter. Agostino dove into the line, broke free and ran 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 21-10 lead with 6:42 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles relied on their defense from that point. The Renegades had a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Shawnee got the ball at the EHT 33-yard line after the Eagles muffed a punt.
The Renegades drove to the EHT 18-yard line before the Eagles defense made their two biggest plays.
Linebacker Chris Santiago tackled Shawnee running back Ben Schwing for a 1-yard loss on third down.
Corbi dropped back to pass on fourth down. EHT linebacker Khalil Stockley chased him down for an 18-yard sack.
"I just like getting after the quarterback," Stockley said. "I had to contain outside and get to the quarterback. I love doing it."
But EHT still appeared to be in trouble after Shawnee downed the punt inches away from the EHT goal line.
But the Eagles responded with a drive that gave them their first playoff win since they beat Ocean City 7-3 in the 2001 South Jersey Group III semifinal.
"We were backed up almost on the minus-1 yard line," DeRosa said. "The biggest thing I kept saying was stay in bounds and don't turn the ball over."
The drive even impressed Shawnee coach Tim Gushue.
"That's a big-time job," Gushue said. "They told me the ball was at the 1-inch line. That's why they're 9-0."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Shawnee 0 7 10 0-17
Egg Harbor Township 7 7 7 0-21
EHT-Thomas 65 pass from Miller (Mason kick)
SH-Corbi 10 run (Garganio kick)
EHT-Miller 1 run (Mason kick)
SH-Garganio 32 FG
EHT-Agostino 60 run (Mason kick)
SH-Hutchinson 4 run (Garganio kick)
First downs 11 10
Rushing 85 176
Passing 170 86
Turnovers 2 1
Rushing-Schwing 15-44, Hutchinson 9-20 SH. Johnson 12-66; Agostino 8-74, Thomas 4-13, Miller 11-23 EHT.
Passing-Corbi 7-11-2-170 SH.; Miller 5-8-0-86 EHT.
Receiving-Hutchinson 3-105 SH. Thomas 2-71, Magosin 2-14.
Records-Shawnee 5-4; EHT 9-0