LACEY TOWNSHIP - The Lacey Township High School football team stopped Bill Belton twice Saturday afternoon.
That's all the Lions needed.
Quarterback Craig Cicardo ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score as the top-seeded Lions beat fourth-seeded Winslow Township 34-14 in a South Jersey Group III semifinal.
Lacey (11-0) will host second-seeded Delsea Regional (9-1) for the championship on Dec. 4 at 1 p.m.
"The last two years this, is where the season ended for us (in the semifinals)," Lacey linebacker Matt Uveges said. "We went home with nothing. I can't even put into words how great this is."
Lacey overcame a sparkling effort by Belton, the Winslow quarterback. He threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 41 yards.
"We watched lots of film this week," Uveges said. "We knew he was a tremendous athlete, and he showed it. He broke a lot of tackles. In the end, we knew we had to lock him down, and that's what we did."
Belton's ability to run and throw makes him one of the state's most dynamic players. He is headed to the University of Pittsburgh, and he entered Saturday's game with 1,846 yards passing and 1,002 rushing.
Belton was matched against a Lacey defense that has four shututs this season and had not allowed more than seven points in a game before Saturday.
Two defensive plays turned the game in Lacey's favor.
The first came in the second quarter with Lacey ahead 14-7. Winslow had fourth-and-inches at the Lacey 42-yard line.
Instead of a quarterback sneak, Belton ran wide. Lacey defenders Jake Dabal and Uveges tackled him for a 3-yard loss.
After the stop, Lacey drove and scored on a Jarrod Molzon 44-yard field goal to take a 17-7 lead with 3 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first half. The Lions led by more than a touchdown the rest of the game.
The second key stop came in the third quarter with Winslow down 10 points. The Eagles had the ball at the Lacey 21-yard line after a bad Lacey punt and a personal-foul penalty on the Lions.
On the first play from scrimmage, Belton scrambled. Lacey lineman Dave Viera hit him and knocked the ball loose. Dylan Joslin recovered the fumble for Lacey.
The Lions then drove 70 yards in 10 plays, and Cicardo's 1-yard touchdown run gave Lacey a 24-7 lead with 2:28 left in the third quarter.
Lacey used a different approach against Belton.
The Lions didn't apply much pressure. They rarely blitzed. The strategy gave Belton plenty of time to throw. But most of his completions were for short gains and he made few big plays.
"In every film we watched, we watched defensive linemen go upfield," Viera said. "Belton would just break it inside and take it for a first down. We knew we had to contain him and not give him that outside edge.
"There were times I was watching him and watching him, and I wanted to make a move, but I knew I couldn't because he could make a move and break it."
The Lacey offense took the pressure off its defense by scoring on six of eight possessions.
"We knew we had to score because Bill Belton could make a big play at any time," said Cicardo, who rushed 15 times for 92 yards. "We knew we had to score to keep the defense sturdy and keep them in their comfort zone."
After the game, Lacey coach Lou Vircillo announced to the cheers of his players that Lacey would take Monday off. The Lions then will begin to prepare for Delsea.
Lacey is No. 2 in The Press Elite 11. Delsea, which won the South Jersey Group II championship last year, beat Hammonton 16-14 in the other semifinal Friday night. Delsea is No. 8 in The Elite 11.
Lacey will try to repeat its 2006 success, when it finished 12-0 and won the South Jersey title. The Lions this year are built around core of seniors that have played together since Pop Warner days.
"We went 9-0 as a freshman team," Viera said. "We have to go 12-0 our senior year."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Winslow Township 7 0 0 7-14
Lacey Township 7 10 7 10-34
LT-Dabal 17 run (Molzon Kick)
WT-Waugh 18 pass from Belton (Craig kick)
LT-Smith 20 pass from Cicardo (Molzon kick)
LT-Molzon 44 field goal
LT-Cicardo 1 run (Ruhnke kick)
LT-Molzon 32 field goal
WT-Johnson 8 pass from Belton (Craig kick)
LT-Cicardo 17 run (Ruhnke kick)
Rushing-Winslow, Belton 15-41. Lacey, Cicardo 15-92, Molzon 7-38, Dabal 15-90.
Passing-Winslow, Belton 31-44-2-285. Lacey, Cicardo 6-8-0-45.
Receiving-Winslow, Goree 9- 74. Lacey, Smith 1-20.
Records-Winslow 6-4, Lacey 11-0