HAMMONTON — Caleb Nartey grew up here and watched the Hammonton High School football team win plenty of big games before he became a Blue Devil.
On Friday night, he ensured himself a place in Hammonton lore with one of the best performances in the school’s illustrious playoff history.
The senior wide receiver/running back scored three straight touchdowns in the second half to spark the top-seeded Blue Devils to a 32-29 win over fourth-seeded Middletown South in a Central Jersey Group IV semifinal. Hammonton (9-2) will host second-seeded Jackson Memorial (8-2) in the title game next Friday.
“This means a lot for Hammonton football,” Nartey said.
Nartey’s scoring streak began in the third quarter with Hammonton down 21-14.
He caught a 27-yard TD pass from Ryan Barts on the final play of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Nartey scored on a 35-yard run and caught a 54-yard TD pass.
Nartey finished with eight carries for 91 yards and two catches for 81 yards.
Hammonton also got standout performances from Barts, who completed all five of his pass attempts for 101 yards and three touchdowns. Blue Devils junior running back Jaiden Abrams carried 17 times for 97 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Vandever caught two passes for 18 yards and a touchdown.
Both Hammonton and Middletown South (4-5) are known for football success.
Hammonton has won five sectional titles, while Middletown South has won 10.
Friday’s game turned in Hammonton’s favor early in the fourth quarter.
Middletown South led 21-20 and had the ball fourth-and-2 at its own 47-yard line. Instead of punting, the Eagles went for the first down.
Hammonton defender Brock Weissman tackled the Middletown South ball carrier for a 2-yard loss.
Three plays later, Nartey broke into the clear for a 35-yard TD to give the Blue Devils a 26-21 lead with 7 minutes, 38 seconds left in the game.
Hammonton never trailed again.
The Blue Devils followed that touchdown with another key defensive play.
Hammonton’s Hunter MacDuff recovered a Middletown South fumble at the Blue Devils’ 41 with 4:40 left.
The Hammonton offense appeared ready to try to run out the clock. Just about everybody expected them to run the football.
But on a third-and-five from the Blue Devils’ 46, Barts threw a short pass to wide open Nartey, who sprinted the rest of the way for a touchdown to put the Blue Devils up 32-21 with 2:55 to play.
A late Eagles touchdown gave Hammonton some anxious moments. But the Blue Devils’ Santino Rao recovered an onside kick to preserve the win.
The Blue Devils have won eight straight and this is their first winning season since 2015. Hammonton reached the South Jersey Group IV final in 2017 but finished that year with a losing record. The Blue Devils last section title came when it won South Jersey Group III in 2009.
Nartey and his teammates have said all season they wanted to return the Blue Devils to their winning ways.
“We came together (Friday)," Nartey said, "and we made plays at the right moment."
Middletown South 0 7 14 8 - 29
Hammonton 7 7 6 12 - 32
HAM – Abrams 26 run (Ryker kick)
MTS – Cuccia 8 run (D’Amato kick)
HAM – Vandever 5 pass from Barts (Rykr kick)
MTS – Lotito 2 run (D’Amato kick)
MTS – Krellin 29 pass from Cuccia (D’Amato kick)
HAM – Nartey 27 pass from Barts (kick missed)
HAM – Nartey 35 run (pass failed)
HAM – Nartey 54 pass from Barts (pass failed)
MTS – Lotito 7 pass from Cuccia (Schork pass from Cuccia)