Hill leads Woodstown to first program win over Paulsboro

The first time James Hill had the chance to face Paulsboro, his day was essentially over after one game.

Another opportunity presented itself on Friday night, and he was out of the question for him to leave the field until Woodstown earned his first victory on one of South Jersey’s most prestigious programs.

Hill rushed for 228 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and added a pick six on defense to lead host Wolverines to an 18-0 win over the Red Raiders in West Jersey Football Diamond Division action League.

Woodstown improved to 2-0 on the season and 8-1-1 in a series that resumed last season for the first time in 90 years. Paulsboro fell to 0-2.

“I suffered a serious injury last year against Paulsboro,” said Hill, a junior running back/linebacker. “I wanted to play but I couldn’t. To come home and beat them is a great feeling.

Last year’s showdown at Paulsboro generated a lot of hype, with both teams playing well at the time. Hill snatched a long win on Woodstown’s attacking opener, but suffered a hamstring injury while running and was never the same again, eventually missing the second half.

The Red Raiders went on to claim a 35-8 win that clinched the Diamond Division Championship.

“As a team, we talked about it all week; 35-8 was on our minds and we knew we could get some redemption when the schedule came out,” Hill said. “We worked hard all week and our goal was to beat Paulsboro. We suffered a tough loss (last year) but we wanted to see who was the best, and we were tonight. Our division is the toughest division in Group 1 and beating them 18-0 is an honor.

Woodstown coach John Adams didn’t take the approach of leaving last year’s loss in the rearview mirror – quite the contrary, in fact.

“We told the kids to go back and watch this movie,” he said. “One, for the things they do and what they did to stop us, and two, for them to remember how embarrassing it was, that feeling of being blown away. I think it was the first time we allowed more than 20 points in a game that season. We definitely had that in mind going into this game.

Not that Paulsboro made it easy for the Wolverines. After a 44-26 loss to Haddonfield in Kevin Harvey’s first game as head coach, the Red Raider defense matched Woodstown’s intensity in the first half and the hosts trailed just 6-0 at the break. Senior defensive end Jordon Eli helped Paulsboro stay in the game with 2.5 sacks and two tackles for the loss.

The lone touchdown of the first half came on Max Webb’s 6-yard pass to Zach Bevis on third-and-goal early in the second quarter. Webb dropped the snap but had the nerve to pick it up and find Bevis in the back of the end zone, where the junior tight end made a leaping grab and went down just inside the line.

“I was very surprised when it happened,” Bevis said. “I thought I was going to drop it because I grabbed it (high) and then fumbled it, but I was able to secure it.”

Hill, who set a school record with 312 rushing yards in a season-opening win over Haddon Heights, was held to 69 in the first half. Ironically, his 62-yard interception return — which gave Woodstown a 12-0 lead with 3:55 left in the third quarter — seemed to push him forward offensively.

He rushed for 149 yards after that point, including a 33-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the game away.

“At halftime I had a chat with myself,” he said. “I knew I was a dog and had to fight, so I fought. I knew their defense wanted to shut me up because my performance last week was an eye opener for the state. But I can’t be closed. With my line, my quarterback, my backs blocking, I can’t be stopped.

Hill, who usually plays outside linebacker on defense, also lined up with solid safety and a corner kick Friday to help against Paulsboro’s talented receiving corps.

“I score goals on both sides of the ball, and one of my goals tonight was to get a pick,” he said. “I studied cinema and I knew they were going to launch this bubble route or this oblique route. When it launched, I was there to make the game.”

Webb’s interception in the end zone late in the final period secured the shutout for Woodstown. Bevis had the first of three Wolverines picks in the second half when he came on in front of dangerous Paulsboro wide receiver Preston Moore.

“Before the play even happened, I kind of knew it was coming because I’ve watched so many movies over the last week,” he said. “I knew (Moore) was coming back and I knew he was the No. 1 receiver on their team, and I was just in a good position.

“(Getting the shutout) was a very special moment, especially being at home with all the fans here. We trained hard all week, every day until 6:30 p.m.

Adams praised the young Woodstown secondary for his role in the victory, and the defensive front of Shawn Gerrity, Damien Eichler and Andrew Darlea was solid as usual. The Wolverines only got one sack, shared by Gerrity and Darlea, but were constantly facing Paulsboro quarterback Rocco Pellegrini, forcing him to leave the pocket or kick the ball out before he was ready.

Their presence also allowed linebackers like Bevis, David Harvey and Jack Knorr to make big plays.

“It’s the best thing ever,” Bevis said. “I barely get touched.”

Woodstown also held Paulsboro to -3 yards rushing, and the total would have been even worse had it not been for Moore’s 9-yard gain on a backhand.

“Coach (Steve) Ordog is our defensive coordinator and we moved to the odd stack last year, and that’s been phenomenal for us,” Adams said. “He has all the different kinds of pressures. I always joke in camp when our offense goes against our defense that there are 14 guys on the field, because guys come from all over.

“Our kids are doing a really good job of figuring out who’s blitzing and who’s blitzing, and up front you can’t deny having Gerrity, Damien Eichler and this year we’ve got senior Andrew Darlea playing the other tackle, and he was phenomenal for us. … He played the lights at that other tackle position, so it’s kind of picking your poison when you’re trying to run against us. Linebackers have free rein to move around and help cover passes.

Put it all together and it added up to a win that was a long time coming.

“We haven’t played them for 90 years,” Adams said with a laugh. “But we are excited. Coach (Zach) Garren played at Paulsboro and I know he’s really excited because he was one of their great players. It feels good.”

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Ryan H. Bowman