HAMMONTON - A healthy Connor Conway showed what he means to the Hammonton High school football team Saturday afternoon.
Conway's interception late in the fourth quarter preserved the Blue Devils' 21-14 win over previously undefeated Atlantic City in a Cape-Atlantic League interconference game.
The Vikings were driving for the tying touchdown when Conway leaped and picked off a sideline pass at the Hammonton 8-yard line with 1 minute, 42 seconds left in the game.
"The adversity never got to us," Conway said. "I saw the ball coming and jumped in front of it."
Hammonton (5-2) and Atlantic City (6-1) are two of the CAL's top teams, and both are practically assured of playoff spots. Atlantic City is No. 7 in The Press Elite 11.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win, but we didn't pull it out," Vikings coach Thomas Kelly said. "We played against a good football team."
The win boosts Hammonton's hopes of getting a high seed in the South Jersey Group III playoffs, which start Nov. 12-13. It also ended a trying stretch for the Blue Devils, who had dropped two of their previous three games.
Conway had to overcome some struggles of his own the past three weeks.
The 6-foot-1, 189-pound senior cornerback woke up on Oct. 9 with a swollen right arm due to an infected cut. He had to go the hospital to get the wound drained.
He missed the Blue Devils' game that day against Egg Harbor Township, which handed Hammonton its first loss, 23-14.
EHT took advantage of Conway's absence to throw two touchdown passes.
"I feel horrible about that," Conway said. "I feel like I let my team down."
Conway also missed Hammonton's next game, a 28-15 win over Ocean City on Oct. 15.
He returned for last week's loss 28-7 loss to undefeated Holy Spirit, No. 1 in The Press Elite 11. Hammonton trailed by only a touchdown in the fourth quarter and took the defeat as a positive.
"That proved to us we could play with anybody," coach Pete Lancetta said. "Who's going to be better than them?"
Saturday's game between Atlantic City and Hammonton was one of the weekend's most anticipated. Both teams played well on the sunny, clear day.
The Vikings used their passing game to build a 14-7 second-quarter lead.
Quarterback Jamal Anderson set up Atlantic City's first touchdown with a 16-yard completion over the middle to 6-4 wide receiver Ismail Naji.
Anderson threw a 9-yard pass to Naji for the Vikings' second with 7:07 left in the second quarter.
But Hammonton quieted the Atlantic City passing game in the second half.
"We knew (Naji) was a big target coming into the game," Conway said. "In the first half, he beat us a lot. In the second half, we knew what he was going to do. We jammed him at the line and played as hard as we could."
Meanwhile, Jared Sanchez, who may be the CAL's most versatile player, sparked the Blue Devils' offense. The senior lined up at wide receiver, running back and even quarterback.
Sanchez rushed 12 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns and also caught three passes for 59 yards. He was 1-of-2 passing for 26 yards.
Sanchez broke into the clear and sprinted away from Atlantic City defenders to give the Blue Devils a 21-14 lead with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
Hammonton dominated field position and the ball for most of the second half. Atlantic City, which has several fourth-quarter, come-from-behind wins this season, attempted one more rally from an unlikely starting spot.
The Vikings took over at their own 1-yard-line after a Hammonton punt with 6:49 left in the game. Atlantic City went to the Wildcat formation with Radi Tolbert (10 carries for 59 yards) at quarterback. The Vikings methodically moved the ball to the Hammonton 33-yard line.
Anderson dropped back to pass and tried to hit a Vikings wide receiver in stride sprinting down the sideline. The pass seemed to be on target, but Conway leaped in front of it.
"This is a real big help," Sanchez said. "We were right there against Holy Spirit. For us to get back on the win track is just a big confidence booster."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 7 7 0 0 – 14
Hammonton 0 14 7 0 – 21
AC-Tolbert 1 run (Naji kick)
H-Rosu 1 run (Sandoval kick)
AC-Naji 9 pass from Anderson (Naji kick)
H-Sanchez 5 run (Sandoval kick)
H-Sanchez 44 run (Sandoval kick)
TEAM STATISTICS AC H
First Downs 10 11
Rushing 94 202
Passing 116 89
Turnovers 2 1
Rushing-Atlantic City, Tolbert 10-59. Hammonton, Sanchez 12-106, Rosu 14-40.
Passing-Atlantic City, Anderson 7-17-1-116. Hammonton, Sanchez 1-2-0-26, D'Amelio 5-8-1-63.
Receiving-Atlantic City, Naji 3-43. Hammonton, Barbieri 2-30, Sanchez 3-59.
Records-A.C. 6-1, Hammonton 5-2