All the makings of a traditional rivalry

Winslow Township and Timber Creek haven’t played Thanksgiving week games against each other for very long, but as neighboring programs with strong athletics and friendships across sports, this could be the beginning of a long-standing South Jersey rivalry

Timber Creek’s defense (left-to-right, Diomari Gordon, Daeshaun Polk, Emory Moore, Anthony Williams, Clarence Henderson, and Justin Houston) walk off the field after a 16–15 loss to Highland earlier this year. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

The Thanksgiving week football games that draw the most attention are often the ones that pit long-time rivals with a history of playing on the holiday against each other.

Cherry Hill East vs. Cherry Hill West. Camden vs. Woodrow Wilson. Salem vs. Woodstown. Haddonfield vs. Haddon Heights.

Or how about the only South Jersey rivalry that’s longer that Haddonfield-Heights (which dates back to 1902), Millville vs. Vineland, a Turkey Day tradition since 1893?

But just like that one between the Thunderbolts and the Fighting Clan, back during Grover Cleveland’s second term as U.S. president, a rivalry has to begin somewhere. And Winslow Township and Timber Creek would appear to have all the makings of a longstanding rivalry.

Sure, unlike those aforementioned rivals, the Eagles and Chargers don’t have the history. Timber Creek High School isn’t even 20 years old, and Winslow Township High School wasn’t known as Winslow Township High School until a couple years before Timber Creek’s birth. Winslow was called Edgewood Regional High School when it opened in 1958, as sister school to Overbrook High.

But enough history. Let’s talk about the present.

Timber Creek has quickly established itself as a formidable South Jersey football program. Winslow has the athletic prowess to continue to build under first-year coach Kenny Scott.

The kids growing up playing against each other in communities that are basically right up Berlin-Cross Keys Road from one another.

“There is some history … I think it’s quickly becoming a rivalry, with the way basketball season went, football, track. A lot of the same athletes are playing those sports,” said Scott, a Sicklerville native who graduated from Winslow Township and played football at Towson University. “So it’s naturally becoming one.”

Winslow Township quarterback Prince-Dru Bey, head coach Kenny Scott, and wide receiver Donovan Bunch at practice. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

“This is one of those natural rivals,” Timber Creek coach Rob Hinson said. “Geographically, one street surrounds or divides the two schools around the border, with Sicklerville Road, Cross Keys, it divides the border. And these guys have played with each other their whole lives.

“Basically they’re across the street from each other and go to different schools. In basketball, they’ve had the chance to play for South Jersey championships for years, in track it’s been like that as well, they were winning a bunch of titles in our conference and then we we won first few years, so it was a natural rival there. Every sport, our school and their school identify themselves as being from The ‘Ville, Sicklerville, so it’s a natural rivalry and I’m glad we have it now established as a Thanksgiving game.”

Timber Creek freshman quarterback Donovan Leary scrambles out of the pocket as Highland sophomore Charles Thomas gives chase during a game between the Gloucester Township rivals in September. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

The two schools from neighboring towns had somewhat similar seasons: high expectations early and then disappointment.

Timber Creek (4–6) was coming off a 10–1 season in 2017, but was at the very least reloading if not rebuilding after losing several key players to graduation, most notably Devin Leary, one of the best high school quarterbacks in state history.

The Chargers endured a four-game losing skid in the middle of the 2018 season (beginning with a loss on their home turf to another local rival, Highland), but they rebounded to win three of their final four games, the last game a playoff loss to unbeaten Burlington Township. Also notable: two of Timber Creek’s losses came to out-of-state foes and another was to St. Joseph’s of Hammonton, considered South Jersey’s top team when the season began.

“We had a pretty up and down season playing a pretty hellacious schedule, so our potential is there,” said Hinson, who has one of the better receiving duos in the area with Jayvin Little and Tarheeb Still. “In my opinion, these are two of the better teams in South Jersey, the records don’t indicate it and I know (Bill) Parcells says your record is who you are but, it’s two pretty talented teams. (Winslow quarterback Prince) Dru (Bey) is probably one of the top three quarterbacks in South Jersey. They are explosive athletically, good size, a little young, and we’re in the same boat. A bunch of athletes, young. So we match up pretty pretty well against each other”

The Sun: Quarterback Prince-Dru Bey (15) and fellow senior Donovan Bunch (12) share a laugh during a break from practice. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

Winslow Township (3–6) had great expectations in September when they bounced back from a season-opening loss to Wilson to beat Moorestown and Cherokee in consecutive weeks. But as with Timber Creek, October was unkind to the Eagles, who have lost four straight.

They share three similar opponent losses with Timber Creek, also losing to Highland, Millville, and Burlington Township. The Eagles gave undefeated Burlington Township one of its best games, losing 7–6 on Oct. 26.

“We’re still in the process where we’re building, building a program and I think with a lot of those games, we didn’t finish,” Scott said. “We allowed it to come down to 50–50 plays in those games. We’re still learning how to play mistake-free football and do the little things day to day and week to week. I think we could have achieved more, but we’re still trying to keep things in proper perspective.”

While Scott doesn’t want to build the Thanksgiving Eve game (kickoff at 6 p.m. at Winslow Township) up too much, it’s clearly a game his seniors want to win before hanging up their high school jerseys.

“As a freshman hearing seniors say senior year comes fast, I didn’t believe them,” said Eagles wide receiver and defensive back Donovan Bunch, who will play at Rutgers next season. “But now as a senior, it’s crazy how fast time blew by. This game is going to be incredible, what better way to end your senior year with your so-called rival opponent?”

“I wouldn’t want my last high school game to be against any other team,” said Winslow quarterback Prince-Dru Bey. “They are our town rivals, I have great friends and connections with a lot of their players and coaches.”

Winslow has lost four in a row to Timber Creek, including in each of the last two Thanksgiving week matchups: 42–14 last year and 48–12 in 2016. They met in the 2014 Group 4 playoffs, with Timber Creek winning 32–12.

Timber Creek senior wide receiver Jayvin Little lines up against Highland earlier this year. He scored a touchdown on the ensuing play. The Chargers lost the game 16–15. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)

“It’s an important game, an important game,” Hinson said. “When we first started, they were the dominant team in the area, playing with Bill Belton, who is now on our staff, Julian Talley, Brandon Jones. They had guys all over the place that went to the NFL. Shonn Greene. The were the program in the area and every year they had 4–5, maybe 6–7 Division-I kids and we really couldn’t compete with them the first couple years. And then, I always mess with Bill about it, we finally broke through and beat them his senior year and we’ve been OK since then.”

The Eagles last beat the Chargers in 2008 (22–21), making it three wins in three years over Timber Creek from 2006–08. But with Timber Creek’s more recent reputation as a South Jersey power and Winslow as an up-and-coming program, it could be an opportunity for the Eagles to make the most of the holiday rivalry game by delivering their program a signature win.

“(It’d be) very meaningful,” Bey said. “We are a team where we are still building and building, and this game just sets the tone for next season for my little brothers. We have been on the short end multiple times during the second half of the season and just going out with a ‘W,’ especially against them, will be great.”

Winslow Township senior wide receiver/defensive back Donovan Bunch, who has committed to play at Rutgers University. (RYAN LAWRENCE, The Sun)