HAMMONTON - Hammonton High School senior running back Jared Sanchez had the words of Blue Devils coach Pete Lancetta ringing in his head throughout the second half of Saturday's football game against Oakcrest.
"He just told us to keep playing Hammonton football," Sanchez said. "If we did what we were supposed to do and had faith in our plays, things would start to happen for us."
Sanchez played a key role in lifting Hammonton from a 6-3 fourth-quarter deficit to a 17-6 win over the visiting Falcons in a Cape-Atlantic League National Division matchup. Hammonton, No. 8 in The Press Elite 11, improved to 3-0. Oakcrest dropped to 1-2 under first-year coach Chuck Smith.
Sanchez exploded for a 68-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter for the Blue Devils' final score. It helped them ice a game that, for the longest time, Oakcrest looked as if it might win.
The Falcons led for most of the game after sophomore running back Brandon Bell scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter, but Sanchez and his teammates were confident despite the late deficit.
"The coach tells us that we just have to keep plugging away with our running game, and my touchdown was a good example of that," said Sanchez, who finished with 83 yards rushing on eight carries. "I just hit the hole and was able to find some daylight. It all kind of happened in front of me very fast."
Fast was not really a way to describe Saturday's game, especially in the second half. Both teams played a cagey style of football, with few passes thrown. That's a classic Lancetta game plan, but it was a little surprising to see Smith, who runs the spread offense, sort of shut down the aerial game.
But the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust pace of the game was reinforced by both defenses, which shut down the other teams' attempts to find the angles and hit the outside. Bell, who also plays linebacker for the Falcons, was all over the field, making tackles. At one point, the summer-like heat forced him to go down on the field with a cramp.
"It was really hot out there," Bell said. "Both teams were fighting hard for the win, and unfortunately we came up just a little bit short."
Hammonton took the lead with some good field position. Leading 6-3 in the fourth quarter, Oakcrest punted the ball 10 yards - from its own 2-yard line to the 12.
The Hammonton offense made the Falcons pay on the ensuing drive, when junior quarterback Tyler D'Amelio lofted a perfectly placed 12-yard pass to junior wideout Bobby Barbieri in the back-left corner of the end zone for a 10-6 lead.
Sanchez's run a few minutes later sealed the outcome, but Hammonton senior kicker Esteban Sandoval also played a big role in the win. His 25-yard field goal gave the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, and he easily made both extra-point attempts in the fourth quarter.
Sanchez was busy receiving congratulations from a lot of his teammates after the game, and he said the Blue Devils will keep up their intensity levels as they enter an off week.
"This win will keep the boys pumped up," he said. "We won't be letting up in practice."
The Falcons' Bell, meanwhile, said there's still plenty for which to play.
"Every game from now on is important," he said. "We have to try to win them all."
Contact James Clark:
Oakcrest 0 6 0 0-6
Hammonton 0 3 0 14-17
H-Sandoval 25 FG
O-Bell 3 run (kick failed)
H-Barbieri 12 pass from D'Amelio (Sandoval kick)
H-Sanchez 68 run (Sandoval kick)
TEAM STATISTICS O H
First downs 19 18
Yards rushing 127 137
Yards passing 47 61
Turnovers 0 3
Rushing-Oakcrest, Bell 11-71, Santiago 5-34; Hammonton, Sanchez 8-83, D'Amelio 6-25.
Passing-Oakcrest, Jetter 6-16-0-47; Hammonton, D'Amelio 7-13-1-61.
Receiving-Oakcrest, Adkisson 2-26; Hammonton, Barbieri 3-25.
Records-Oakcrest 1-2, Hammonton 3-0