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Watchung Hills Pop Warner

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Dec, 2017

Watchung Hills Pop Warner Junior Varsity Falls in Semi-Final

ORLANDO , FL - The Watchung Hills Pop Warner Junior Varsity team had their hopes of a National Championship come to an end in the semi-finals on Tuesday, December 5, 2017. They faced the Westchase Colts from Tampa, Florida and lost 30-24. The Watchung Hills Wolverines finish the season with a 12-2 record. Game Captains versus the Colts were Billy Black, Sherrod Hudson, James Palaia, and Ty Marion. Westchase would go on to win the Division II Junior Varsity National Championship on Friday, December 8 easily beating the West Haven Seahawks by a score of 28-0. The final game featured a mercy rule, running clock for the entire 4thquarter with the Colts leading by 28 points. A similar outcome played out in the first round Colt match up versus the Castle Rock Knights who they pounded 31-0. For the second season in a row, the Wolverines were the only team to give the national champions a competitive game. In 2016, at the Pee Wee level, the Wolverines lost in the first round to the eventual champs, Northwest Miami. Watchung lost that game 30-22 and had a 4thquarter, game tying touchdown called back by a dubious penalty during the play. This year, the Wolverines cut the Colt lead to six points with four minutes to go but could not get the ball back for a chance to win. A noteworthy aspect to the Wolverines 12-2 season is that both losses were to National Champions. As mentioned, the Westchase Colts from Tampa are the division two champs. The other loss for Watchung this season came in October to the North Philly Aztecs. The Aztecs finished the season undefeated and won the division one championship on Saturday, December 9 by beating the Raleigh, North Carolina Bulldogs 28-0. The key different between DI and DII is that the DI teams have tryouts, a selection process, and not just anyone can play for their teams. They often have “A-teams” and “B-teams” and the top team is comprised of players at the very top of the weight-class per division. Conversely, anyone who signs up can play for the DII teams like the Wolverines, for example. A key element in the semi-final loss versus the Colts was field position. Unlike many teams at the 8thgrade level, Westchase kicks very deep on the kick-offs and covers the return. Most teams at this level squib kick or try for an on-sides kick or their attempt to kick deep goes about 25 yards. The Wolverines were forced to start their opening drive from the 17 yard line and quickly had to go for it on 4th down. The Colts sacked quarterback, Marion and they took over on the Watchung fifteen. The Watchung defense appeared ready to go as John King had a tackle for a loss and then the entire Watchung defensive line push the pile backward forcing a 3rd and long situation. Unfortunately, for the Wolverines, the Colts responded with a touchdown pass. It was a tough way to start the game especially for the Wolverine fans in New Jersey watching live on ESPN3. On replay, you could clearly see the receiver’s right foot come down out of bounds first. This isn’t the NFL; there’s no video review of scoring plays in youth football so the Tampa team would take a 6-0 lead after they missed the conversion kick. It’s only conjecture at this point but those six points would be the difference in the game. The Colts would kick-off long again and force Watchung to start from deep in their own territory. The Wolverines managed a first down on this drive as Palaia carried on 4th and one. That drive would stall on the next series and Westchase had the ball back in Watchung territory. Running off tackle to the left side, the Colt’s top player #32 dashed directly through the Wolverine defense as several players tried to stop him. They couldn’t and he scored for the second time. After a successful 2-point kick, Westchase led 14-0 as the first period was coming to a close. For the third time, Watchung began its drive pinned back on their side of the field. The Wolverines gained yardage by getting the Colts to go off-sides. Marion then completed a pass to Hudson and Palaia carried for another first down. Shortly thereafter, however, the Wolverines were turning it over on downs again to the Colts. The Wolverine defense seemed unworried about the early setbacks as Black and Mac McAteer teamed up for a tackle for a loss forcing the Colts into 4th and long. A Colt pass fell incomplete and Watchung Hills was getting the ball back. Finally operating with decent field position, the Wolverines put together a scoring drive. Marion completed a pass to Palaia. Black then caught another pass which was good for a first down with about five minutes remaining before halftime. Hudson streaked for a good gain and the Colts had an unsportsmanlike penalty. Palaia carried near the goal line but was ruled short. Black then ran behind the ‘Sledgehammer’ blocking crew and Watchung was on the board at 14-6. Will Grabko made the 2-point kick and Watchung Hills was feeling good at 14-8. Christopher Hopf bounced an on-sides kick toward the Colts but it was recovered with several Wolverines in the area. Only two minutes were left in the half but Westchase was not conservative in the least. Somehow #32 kept his feet inbounds as he secured a long pass down the sideline. He then carried on a jet sweep to the left and out ran several defenders to the edge. Another touchdown and conversion kick made it 22-8 in favor of the Colts as the teams went into the halftime break. Aggressive and not discouraged, Watchung went for the on-sides kick again but it was unsuccessful and the Colts took over in Watchung territory. Westchase got a couple first downs on a pass and another jet sweep. Kaden Everly made a nice tackle for Watchung but the Colt offense was too dominant overall. Another passing touchdown for the Colts saw them go in front 28-8. It was a perfect pass and remarkable catch. Their kick was good and it was 30-8 with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter of play. The Wolverines had a promising drive which featured several strong runs by Hudson. They advanced the ball to the Colt 8 yard line but turned it over on downs as the third period was winding down. As the 4th quarter began, McAteer made a tackle for a loss in the Colt backfield. Allowing the clock to run, the Colts took a delay of game penalty. Then, from the 4 yard line, the Colt quarterback deliberately ran backwards into the end zone taking a safety and giving Watchung Hills two points. That strategy allowed the Colts to kick-off from the 20 yard line rather than punt from their own end zone. Seems that Westchase was fine with the score 30-10 and the prospect of kicking deep again. With just over eight minutes remaining in the game, the Wolverines took possession on their 43 yard line. Tyshaun Anderson had a nice run and a facemask penalty tacked on more yards into Colt territory. Running behind a perfect down-block by McAteer, Hudson had a long run to the Colt 23 yard line. Hudson carried again, this time behind the coordinated blocking of McAteer, Black, and Palaia; touchdown Watchung Hills! Although this kicked missed, the Wolverines showed some signs of life, down two scores, 30-16, with 5:09 to play. Optimism turned in to exhilaration as Nasir Maryland recovered Hopf’s on-sides kick. Watchung had the ball on the Colt 40 yard line. Marion connected with Lawrence on a 25 yards pass soon after for a first down on the fifteen. And, a couple plays later, it was Lawrence and Marion again hooking up for the touchdown pass-play. Grabko nailed this kick and suddenly it was 30-24 with four minutes to go. Of course, Watchung tried an on-sides kick but it was effortlessly recovered by Westchase this time. The Colts were cautious and ran the ball and ran the clock. Watchung’s last chance to get the ball back was lost on a defensive encroachment penalty on the middle of the defensive line. That led to an automatic first down for Westchase with about 90 seconds to play. The Colts gave it to #32 and again he got to the edge for a first down. Watchung called timeout but it was of little use. With four downs to use and one minute to play it was over. The Westchase Colts advanced to the National Championship game 30-24. They would go on to beat a team from Connecticut rather easily and win the DII finals.

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