The waning seconds of the South Jersey Group 5 championship game gave Williamstown senior Aaron Lewis a chance to prove he was one of the best defensive players in the state.
The University of Michigan-commit led the Williamstown defense onto the field with a 14-10 lead over Lenape and less than a minute remaining in the game. Before the Indians’ drive started, Lewis took a moment to take in the atmosphere.
“As soon as we got on that field after we scored and we had to stop them … I was just standing there, thinking, these are the moments you live for,” he said. “Blowout wins are such a good thing to have, but playing in those situations where you have to make a play and you have to get to the ball, those are the things I’ll cherish the rest of my life.”
Lewis stepped up to the occasion, forcing a Lenape fumble on the final play of the game to seal the victory and a second straight state title for the Braves.
Aaron Lewis the sack!!!
Final: Williamstown 14, Lenape 10. Wow. @SJGridironGang @LenapeAthletics @LenapeFootball @CoachWoj_LHS @BravesScores @CoachFucetola pic.twitter.com/5p9dYQzRC7
— Josh Friedman (@JFriedman57) November 23, 2019
Lewis’ performance in the sectional final was just one of the numerous clutch moments the Williamstown senior had in 2019. Despite being double-teamed throughout the year, Lewis managed to record 80 tackles and nine sacks in 12 games, helping the defense earn five shutouts despite playing in what many believed to be the toughest division in the West Jersey Football League. Lewis’ strong play make him South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Football Player of the Year..
“He’s been doing it all year, not just in (the sectional final),” head coach Frank Fucetola said.
“Aaron’s been doing it play after play for 12 games. I expect him to do it, because that’s how he’s been doing it all year.”
Lewis has played a big role in making Williamstown football one of the top programs in South Jersey over the past two seasons. He became a force on the varsity team two seasons ago when he recorded seven sacks as a sophomore. Ever since then, Lewis has been on the radar of opposing teams as offenses tried to figure out how to neutralize him.
“I just tried not to make excuses,” he said. “I didn’t want to come off the field saying, ‘I’m not making plays man. They’re sitting here, double-teaming me.’ It just wanted to make me work harder. It made me want to go out and watch videos and figure out how to stop those double-teams.”
Despite the double-teams and extra focus, Lewis was able to record a career-high nine sacks this season. Four of those sacks came in Williamstown’s two victories over Lenape, the two toughest wins the Braves had all season.
Lewis stepped up to the plate for a defense missing several key pieces due to injuries. However, he refuses to take much of the credit for the defense’s success, instead saying players such as defensive lineman Donovan Ezeiruaku and linebackers Joey Racobaldo and Turner Inge were just as responsible.
“They helped so much,” said Lewis, adding his teammates helped take the focus off him. “Donovan, Joe, knowing everyone’s situation, knowing we had a lot of injuries, they stepped into really big roles this season.”
Lewis wasn’t exempt from avoiding the injury bug. In the final game of the regular season against St. Augustine, Lewis suffered a UCL tear in his right hand. The injury forced Lewis to play with a cast just as the playoffs were kicking off.
“I feel like the injury made me play harder,” he said. “In the beginning, I didn’t know how it would affect me with the cast on. After practicing, after trying a couple of things out, it wasn’t really that bad.”
Even while dealing with the injury, Lewis continued to play with the same energy he had all season. Fucetola believes the defense fed off of Lewis’ energy all season and feels Lewis’ work ethic and heart allowed him to achieve success throughout his career.
“The maturity part, the physical part and his overall commitment to our program and doing things right,” Fucetola said on areas where Lewis improved. “He’s the best ball player in the state, in my opinion.”
One game remains in Lewis’ high school career as Williamstown will face Cherokee on Dec. 7 in the Central/South Group 5 regional championship at Rutgers University. After coming up short in that game last season, Lewis called the game against Cherokee a “must-win” for the Braves.
However, no matter what happens in the final game, Lewis will always remember the final play he ever had on his home field, where his final strip sack clinched a championship for the Braves.
“I just took a moment to look at the scoreboard, look around me and just enjoy it for a little bit, because I knew it was going to be one of my last times (on a high school field),” he said. “Ending with that play is something I’ll never forget.”