MILLVILLE — Tommy Watson and the Millville High School football team gathered together at halftime and tried to find their spark.
Watson, a junior, said the seniors on the team rallied their teammates to try to ensure it would not be their final playoff game.
Watson scored the eventual game-winning touchdown to lead top-seeded Millville to a 44-28 victory over eighth-seeded Winslow Township in the South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals Friday night.
The Thunderbolts, who improved to 6-3, have won six straight games after an 0-3 start. They are averaging 39 points during their winning streak.
Millville, ranked No. 10 in The Press Elite 11, will host fourth-seeded Shawnee next Friday in the semifinals.
“It means a lot,” Millville coach Dennis Thomas said “I see my guys succeed, and it’s about team success. If I didn’t have my coaching staff or if I didn’t have these guys playing extremely hard, the success wouldn’t happen.”
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Watson had two carries inside the 5-yard line before plowing into the end zone to give the Thunderbolts a 16-13 lead.
His score started an offensive outburst for Millville.
The Thunderbolts trailed 13-8 at halftime.
“We didn’t come out the way we wanted to,” Watson said. “But we are close with each other. Coach (Thomas) gave me the the ball the first time, (and) I got a good carry. I told him, ‘Just keep feeding me. I want to score.’ It felt like that could’ve won the game for us. It changed the momentum and the whole pace. ... Our O-line played a huge part (in the second half).”
Millville extended its lead to 22-13 when senior quarterback Eddie Jamison connected with Cartier Gray for a 24-yard pass score score.
The Eagles’ Donovan Bunch returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a TD and, after the PAT, it was 22-20 in favor of Millville.
But the Thunderbolts’ Tex Thompson ran 50 yards for a TD in the first minute of the fourth quarter to make it 30-20.
The senior running back also had a 6-yard TD midway through the final quarter to make it 36-20. Jamison ran 1 yard for a TD with 3 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in regulation to make it 44-20.
Thompson had three 2-point conversations.
“My hats go off to all these guys,” Thomas said of his players and coaches. “They sacrifice their time and put together good game plans.”
The Thunderbolts captured the S.J. Group V title in 2016 and lost in the sectional semifinals last season.
Millville dropped to Group IV after the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association realigned its pairings before the season.
Watson, a transfer student from Clayton, said he has never been in the playoffs. The 16-year-old from Bridgeton wants that title.
“I never been on a team like this,” Watson said. “I never practiced like this, never practiced this hard. This is all new for me. … It makes me want it more because of how hard my brothers want it after losing to Rancocas Valley last year.”
Prince-Dru Bey connected with Bunch for a 44-yard touchdown reception early in the first quarter to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead.
But Winslow did not have much time to enjoy its score.
The Thunderbolts’ Kyle Yancey ran back the kickoff 73 yards for a TD. After a successful 2-point run from Thompson, Millville took an 8-6 lead.
The Thunderbolts’ Shamore Collins had three sacks in the game, while Dorien Brown had two.
“We’re just gonna have a good week of practice and continue the play,” Thomas said about preparing to play Shawnee. “We can’t make mistakes like we did (Friday). Hopefully we correct this issues in practice.”
Winslow Township 6 7 7 8-28
Millville 8 0 14 22- 44
W: Bunch 44 pass (2-point failed)
M: Yancey 73 kick return (Thompson run)
W: Bunch 65 interception (Dadura kick)
M: Watson 1 run (Thompson run)
M: Gray 24 pass (pass fail)
W: Bunch 90 kick return (Dadura kick)
M: Thompson 50 run (Hayes pass)
M: Thompson 6 run (run failed)
M: Jamison 1 run (Thompson run)
W: Lewis 11 pass (Quann run)