Undefeated Highland Regional handed the Chargers their first in-state, regular season loss since 2015.
The game-changing plays were being churned out so often in the fourth quarter of the Battle for Black Horse Pike School District supremacy that you were lucky if you walked away without whiplash.
Bad snap turned first down run here. Blocked field goal turned 50-yard plus scamper up the sideline there. Fumble inside the five-yard line with less than two minutes to play (from one of the state’s best running backs, no less) turned touchdown the other way … only to be brought back because of a holding call.
The matchup between Gloucester Township neighbors lived up to the billing — undefeated upstart Highland High School vs. perennial South Jersey power Timber Creek — on Friday night in Erial.
When the final whistle sounded, the Timber Creek Chargers lost a regular season game to an in-state opponent for the first time in 1,056 days.
But Rob Hinson, who has turned a school that only opened in 2001 into a state stalwart, didn’t want to talk about legacy or streaks on Friday night, when his team fell 16–15 on Highland senior Brian Cooey’s 25-yard-field goal with just under five minutes in the game.
“I’m never happy with a loss man, especially when you know you should have won the game,” Hinson said. “The (blocked) field goal down here, they threw a flag on us for (too many) guys on the field, but their offense was still on the field, too.
“And on the muff snap, the kid (holder, Jailen Waters, who ran for a first down) his knee was still on the ground and he got up and ran, that’s why our guys were standing still. That was a [screwed] up play. .. The game came down to field goals and a couple bonehead plays.”
If one were to offer praise to Timber Creek (now 2–2 on the season) on a night when they had a lot go wrong, that optimist might talk about the defense.
A week after forcing six turnovers in a win over Vineland, Timber Creek recovered two fumbles on Friday. It held Highland to six total first downs and 156 yards. By comparison, the Chargers had 10 first downs and 310 total yards.
And that aforementioned running back who is one of the top at his position in the state? Highland sophomore Johnny Martin, who had three scores and 243 yards vs. Winslow Township a week earlier, was held to exactly 100 yards and one score at Timber Creek.
“Our defense is playing solid,” Hinson allowed. “We just have to continue to take advantages offensively. We have guys running free and we miss them or don’t throw it. The defense kept us in the game. (The talk) was Johnny was going to have 300 yards and four touchdowns and all of that crap, but that definitely wasn’t the case.”
Martin will probably take the victory over the stats. The 5–9, 205-pound Tartan dynamo collected a Highland flag from the sideline and emphatically staked it into the ground at the 50-yard line when Friday’s game ended.
There were no flags throw for unsportsmanlike behavior and, perhaps you could allow it from an underclassman after an emotionally-charged win.
Despite being the older school, Highland has played the role of nowhere-near-as-good younger brother almost since the newer school’s inception. Timber Creek boasts four South Jersey championships since 2011; Highland has had a winning record once in the last 25 years.
To wit, in matchups between the schools in 2010 and 2011, Timber Creek won both, by a combined score of 76–8.
Now Highland is 5–0 for the first time in school history and Timber Creek is a .500 team after the season’s first month and might not even be the best team in their own township when the 2018 season is said and done.
“It’s always good to have a rivalry,” Hinson said. “It brings the best out of both teams. They played a really good game, good enough win. Sometimes one team deserves to win and one doesn’t. And we didn’t deserve to win tonight, they definitely did. And they did a good job, they won, regardless of what the score was or the margin of victory was, they walked out with the ‘W.’”