Senior leaders, freshman standout key to Shawnee football’s 2018 championship run

The Renegades repeated as South Jersey Group IV champions on Friday night with a season that was anything but ordinary.

Shawnee High School football won its second consecutive South Jersey Group IV championship on Friday night.

The way the Renegades did it, however, was anything but conventional.

Shawnee finished the regular season with just two wins, battled through a brutally tough schedule, and overcame a 14-point deficit in Friday’s 17–14 double overtime win over Clearview to earn the championship.

It took a unique cast of players to make it happen, a cast that includes one of the most versatile player in South Jersey, a freshman quarterback who played well beyond his years and a senior safety who has a knack for creating turnovers.

There likely aren’t many players who spent as much time on the field as Joe Dalsey did this season. Dalsey took on every role imaginable in 2018, from quarterback to linebacker to placekicker. It was Dalsey who was in the spotlight on Friday night, as he scored all 17 of Shawnee’s points. Dalsey scored two rushing touchdowns, two extra points and nailed a game-winning field goal in the second overtime period after missing field goals to win the game at the end of regulation and in the first overtime.

“For the third attempt, I just flushed everything out,” Dalsey said. “After missing the second attempt, I thought, I have to step up on defense. I have to make a big play.”

Dalsey’s performance on Friday wasn’t out of the ordinary. He was a force all year for the Renegades on both sides of the ball, recording more than 50 tackles on defense, scoring 11 touchdowns on the ground and even throwing for five touchdowns as he played quarterback for the first half of the season.

When asked where he finds all of the energy to play both ways as well as special teams, Dalsey said its his teammates that keep him going.

“The energy comes from them,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without them.”

One change from earlier this year is Dalsey’s role on offense. Dalsey moved from quarterback to running back toward the end of the regular season. Stepping in at quarterback was freshman Matt Welsey, a fresh face who didn’t throw a pass until the Renegades’ second-to-last game of the regular season, but didn’t miss a beat when he got into the lineup.

In five game, Welsey was solid, throwing five touchdowns and not tossing a single interception. In Friday’s sectional final, Welsey completed 11 of his 17 passes.

“It’s all the kids helping me and the coaches helping me,” Welsey said about his development. “Every single day I’m staying after a little bit, watching film and watching the reads and the coaches telling me what to look for.”

Welsey helped lead Shawnee down the field to tie the game in the third quarter on Friday night and continued to take care of the ball during a late drive in regulation and in both overtime periods. When asked how he stayed focused, Welsey said he simply blotted out the outside noise and focused strictly on each play. After Shawnee closed out the win, however, Welsey couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement.

“It’s a dream come true honestly,” Welsey said of quarterbacking the team to a championship. “My first thought was maybe getting a couple plays if we’re winning by a lot at the end of the game. But starting as a freshman, I know not a lot of kids have done that at Shawnee, it’s amazing.”

Welsey needed the help of one of his wide receivers and a senior leader to close out the game. Senior Jon Searcy led the Renegades in receptions and receiving yards this season and was also a force in the secondary with four interceptions. In the sectional final, Searcy would have one more takeaway in him as he recovered a Clearview fumble in the second overtime to clinch the Shawnee win.

“It’s got to be number one,” Searcy said about the recovery being his favorite football memory. “I love every single one of these kids. I’d do anything for them and I’m glad we won back-to-back.”

Searcy showcased a resilience that Shawnee as a team displayed all season. The Renegades went just 2–6 in the regular season, but their strength of schedule was possibly the toughest in South Jersey. All four of Shawnee’s October opponents, Woodrow Wilson, Union City, Williamstown and Rancocas Valley, advanced to their respective sectional finals this year. Three of Shawnee’s six losses were also by just six points or less.

“We knew coming into this year that the schedule was going to be hard, but…we have to think we’re going to win (every game),” Searcy added. “And we were in every single game we played.”

Shawnee’s strength of schedule played a big part in helping the Renegades make the playoffs under the new NJSIAA United Power Rankings system. Shawnee immediately proved it belonged in the postseason, defeating Mainland Regional High School, 25–7, in the opening round and then upsetting №1 seed Millville High School, 28–26, on the road last Saturday. That win sent Shawnee to Clearview for Friday’s championship, where the Renegades came through again and showed how a team’s record doesn’t necessarily define how good they are.

“With this new schedule and the new way things work, it just shows that, there are flaws (in the playoff system), but it does work,” Dalsey said. “Whose supposed to be in the championship is in the championship.”