Flipping the script: Seneca one of South Jersey’s most improved football teams in 2019

The Golden Eagles' playoff win over Ocean Township on Friday was the team's eighth of 2019. It's the first time since 2009 Seneca has won eight games in a season.

Seneca running back Travis Laster bursts through a hole during the Golden Eagles’ 46-0 win over Cherry Hill East on Nov. 1. In nine regular season games, Laster ran for 886 yards and 10 touchdowns.

It has been a while since Seneca football last won seven games in a season. But some of the Golden Eagles didn’t realize just how long.

“I’m not sure,” senior Travis Laster said when asked when the team’s last seven-win season was. “I believe maybe 2015, 2013, around that?”

“Probably six years, seven years,” senior quarterback Malin Jasinski replied. “In between there.”

Both of Seneca’s captains didn’t go back far enough. Head coach Bill Fisher knew the answer.

“I guess the last year was 2009, we won eight,” Fisher said.

Seneca shut out Cherry Hill East, 46-0, on Nov. 1 for the team’s fourth consecutive win and seventh overall for the season. The following week, Seneca pulled off an upset over Ocean Township in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals, winning 27-23. It is the first time the Golden Eagles have won eight games since 2009, when Seneca went 8-3.

“It feels great man,” Laster said following the Cherry Hill East win. “We work hard every day. The coaches put us in the right situations to win ball games. We just play hard and we love this sport to death.”

While media outlets ranked district rivals Lenape and Shawnee among the top teams in South Jersey throughout the 2019 season, Seneca has quietly pieced together one of the best single-season turnarounds in the region. In 2018, Seneca struggled to a 3-7 record, the team’s third consecutive losing season. This year, the Golden Eagles more than doubled their win total, entering the postseason with a 7-2 record. Woodstown and Hammonton are the only other South Jersey teams who have improved by four or more wins in 2019.

“This season was great because we had (a lot) of people returning and they had experience,” Jasinski said. “Last year, we put a lot of people on the spot and they didn’t know how to handle it. This year, everyone knew what was coming up and they worked their hardest.”

Gaining experience during a run of losing seasons was a factor in the team’s improvement, but Fisher gives a lot of credit to Seneca’s senior captains, saying they’re among the best senior leader groups the program has ever had. Fisher believes their leadership has been so successful because many of them play multiple sports and are able to build camaraderie outside of football season.

“It’s a unique group because they’re multi-sport athletes,” Fisher said. “The leaders on the football team are the leaders on the basketball team and the leaders on the baseball team. They have a bond and they love to win.”

Seneca quarterback Malin Jasinski runs for a first down during the Golden Eagles’ 46-0 win over Cherry Hill East on Nov. 1. Jasinski has been a dual threat under center for the Golden Eagles, throwing for 1,364 yards and running for 688 yards in nine regular season games.

The Golden Eagles’ offense has been the driving force behind the team’s turnaround, scoring the third-most points out of all South Jersey teams this season. Jasinski has been a force as a passer and rusher, throwing for 16 touchdowns and running for another 16 in the regular season. Laster ran for 886 yards in the regular season for Seneca and added another 10 touchdowns.

As good as the offense has been, the defense’s improvement has been a huge part of Seneca’s turnaround. In 2018, the Golden Eagles averaged 33 points allowed per game. This regular season, that number was lowered drastically to 15.2 points allowed per game.

“We got embarrassed last year,” Fisher said. “We let up a lot of points, we got smacked in the mouth and the whole offseason was about how we’re not going to let that happen anymore.”

In addition to winning eight games for the first time in a decade, Seneca also won its first conference title in 10 years, going 5-0 in the West Jersey Football League National Division. The Golden Eagles dominated their division, winning all five of their divisional games by 23 or more points.

“This year, we wanted to call it the revenge tour,” Laster said. “We wanted to beat back everyone who beat us last year. We wanted to flip that 3-7 record.”

Seneca did better than flip its record with the win over Ocean Township. The Golden Eagles will remain underdogs for the rest of the playoffs, but regardless of how the postseason plays out, the seniors realize this year’s team will go down as one of the best the program has seen in a long time.

“It feels great,” Jasinski said. “The entire team feels confident. It’s something to feel proud about.”