HADDONFIELD — The Pleasantville High School football team could take no solace Friday night in how far it’s come.
The Greyhounds were just too disappointed with where this season’s playoff journey ended.
Top-seeded Haddonfield dominated the second half and beat fourth-seeded Pleasantville 28-6 in a South Jersey Group II semifinal. Haddonfield is the defending South Jersey champion and ranked No. 2 in The Press Elite 11.
Despite the loss, this season continued a remarkable turnaround for the Greyhounds, who were 0-10 in 2015.
“I’m disappointed with the way we played in the second half,” Pleasantville coach Chris Sacco said. “That’s football. You have to play 48 minutes. We couldn’t finish. We had a couple of miscues on special teams, and we couldn’t find our stride on offense.”
Pleasantville led 6-0 at halftime, but Haddonfield’s Davis Smith changed the momentum with a 68-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
“We went into halftime down, and people in the locker room were kind of hanging their heads,” Smith said. “We had to change our faces. We just needed a big play, and I think I gave it to us.”
A surprising number of fans filled most of the stands on a night in which there was torrential rain before the game but mostly dry conditions during the contest.
The game was a rematch. Haddonfield traveled to Pleasantville and beat the Greyhounds 20-7 in the Aug. 31 season opener.
Pleasantville started slowly in that game and trailed 20-0 at halftime.
Friday’s game was the opposite. The Greyhounds started fast.
Pleasantville linebacker Mohamed Toure wowed fans with a hard hit that forced a Haddonfield fumble on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage.
Pleasantville running back Joshua Kotokpo broke three tackles and scored on a 10-yard run to give the Greyhounds a 6-0 first-quarter lead.
Pleasantville frustrated the Haddonfield offense in the first half. The Bulldogs had just 45 yards of offense in the first two quarters. Pleasantville played so well it probably should have led by more than six points at halftime.
“I would have been much happier if we were up 14-0,” Sacco said. “I felt like we probably could have had one more (touchdown) in the first half. We just didn’t get it.”
The game quickly changed in Haddonfield’s favor in the third quarter. Smith returned the second-half kickoff from the Pleasantville 15 to the Haddonfield 17.
Five lays later, Jay Foley scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to give the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead.
Another special-teams play gave Haddonfield even more momentum.
Harry Rohlfing blocked a Pleasantville punt, and Lance Forebaugh fell on it in the end zone to give Haddonfield a 14-6 lead with 7 minutes, 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Two special teams plays — bam,” Haddonfield coach Frank DeLano said. “They had all the momentum for 24 minutes, and within basically six plays we had the lead.”
Pleasantville never stopped trying. The Greyhounds were driving for a touchdown when it fumbled at the Haddonfield 29 early in the fourth quarter.
Davis Smith then made sure Haddonfield’s lead held up. He outjumped a Pleasantville defender to catch a touchdown pass and then returned an interception 45 yards for another score.
“They’re as good as we’ve played,” DeLano said of Pleasantville. “They’re not out of place (in the playoffs), and they play hard.”
Next weekend, Haddonfield will meet the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between second-seeded Camden and third-seeded West Deptford.
Meanwhile, Pleasantville (7-3) will finish the season against Ocean City on Thanksgiving.
This group of players revitalized Pleasantville football and won the school’s first playoff game in 15 years with last week’s quarterfinal win.
But that wasn’t much comfort for the Greyhounds as they left Haddonfield.
“This team,” Sacco said, “deserves to win a championship.”
Pleasantville 6 0 0 0—6
Haddonfield 0 0 14 14—28
P — Kotokpo 10 run (pass failed
HD — Foley 1 run (Grozier kick)
HD – Forebaugh recovers blocked punt in end zone (Grozier kick)
H — Smith 27 pass from Foley (Grozier kick)
H — Smith 45 int return (Grozier kick)