With their season’s end just a few short days away, Williamstown High School’s football team sat on the metal benches at the front of the team’s locker room and gave Frank Fucetola their full attention.
A perfect season ended with a defeat in a bowl game at Met Life Stadium last year and the long-time Braves coach wasn’t eager to see that happen again. Even though Williamstown, South Jersey Group 5 champions, entered this year’s season finale with Central Group 5 champion Cherokee as heavy favorites, the score was 0-0 and business was still in order.
“No mercy,” Fucetola told them three days before a 30-14 win in the Group 5 Regional Championship. “This is your last game. Don’t save anything. … Strap on that helmet and cause havoc.”
The program that Fucetola has molded in his 24 seasons at Williamstown is one of hard work. The boulder-size rocks that are adorned throughout the locker room and entrance to the field are reminders of how strong the Braves need to be to reach their full potential.
In the last two seasons, Williamstown has reached it.
After picking up the program’s first championship in six seasons last fall, the Braves battered opponents en route to a second consecutive sectional title this season. And their road to adding more hardware to the school’s trophy case included wins over two other area champions (Cherokee, twice, and South Jersey Group 4 champ Shawnee) during the regular season.
The Braves’ performance against fellow South Jersey Sports Weekly-area teams and their ability to collect a second title – and while playing in the biggest group in the state – earned them another honor. Williamstown’s football team is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s Boys Fall Team of the Year.
“It’s an honor, honestly,” said senior Aaron Lewis, SJSW’s Football Player of the Year. “There are a lot of teams in South Jersey and a lot of great football teams in South Jersey. So for us to be the best one, I thank you. The guys really deserve it for all the hard work, the adversity we faced. Being able to win a championship and be named Team of the Year, it’s great for these guys.”
“We worked hard and we won football games,” added fellow senior Jonathan Wood. “I’m sure we’re not the only team in South Jersey that worked hard, but we also faced a lot of adversity and we feel like that’s what brought us together the most. We had a lot of guys get injured and we just stepped it up, had trust in everyone that was stepping in and playing.”
The Braves’ ability to repeat a South Jersey Group 5 championship and then also collect a first regional title, too, was even more remarkable when you consider the hurdles they had to clear to reach the finish line.
Running back Wade Inge, SJSW’s Football Player of the Year in 2018, graduated last spring, as did dynamic quarterback J.C. Collins, meaning the offense would have to be revamped. Inge and Collins combined for 49 touchdowns last season and accounted for 294 of the 392 points the Braves scored in ‘18.
And then the 2019 season started and one Williamstown starting linebacker suffered a season-ending ACL injury in September (Kent State-commit Brandon Perkins) and another (Julian Gravener, who recorded 15.5 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the first of two wins over a talented Lenape team) suffered the same injury in October.
“We had that mentality – and coach says it all the time – you’re one play from getting in,” Wood said. “Our second and third guys, they practice that way and you can tell. Joey Racobaldo stepped in for Perk. And Turner Inge (Wade’s younger brother) was another guy ‘one play from getting in’ and he did a phenomenal job.”
On the offensive side, junior Doug Brown had a breakout first season at quarterback, entering last weekend with 1,500 yards passing in 12 games and a total of 23 touchdowns (16 passing, seven rushing). And the three-headed rushing attack of Inge, Lorenzo Rodriguez-Hines and Christian Forman combined for 19 touchdowns, with the senior Forman leading the charge (11 touchdowns and an average of 4.5 yards on carries).
“They all did an awesome job,” Wood said.
For Fucetola, it all begins with the hard work the Braves sign up for when they enter the program.
“They’re always in the weight room,” he said. “And it’s good coaching and good kids. The character is very good. We’re putting kids into colleges every year, we have seven kids going into college this year. Year in and year out, we’re doing the right thing here.”
It’s difficult to argue with the results. Williamstown has won three South Jersey Group 5 titles since 2012 and two in a row. And during the last two seasons, the Braves once boasted a 21-game unbeaten streak against South Jersey opponents.
This season, Fucetola’s “lights-out” defense led the way. The Braves entered last weekend with five shutouts this season in 12 games and had held their opponents to 10 or fewer points in all but three games.
“It helps when you have Aaron,” Fucetola said with a laugh about the University of Michigan-bound Lewis. “That helps a little.”
But it took a team effort, especially when the injuries began to pile up.
“I think it’s a mixture of hard work and brotherhood,” Lewis said. “When we step on that field, we know each one of us has each other’s back and no one wants to let anyone down. That drive, of not wanting to let each other down, it makes us play hard. … The chemistry we have here is crazy. The brotherhood we have is not like anywhere else.”
Williamstown has come a long way since their current seniors were freshmen. The 2016 season, which began with four players transferring to a rival school, saw the Braves endure a seven-game losing streak at one point. In the next year, Williamstown took a small step forward, finishing 5-5.
The giant leap came last year, bringing a South Jersey championship and unbeaten record into the last game of the season. The Braves were eager to finish business this year after collecting another sectional crown.
“My first two years we struggled,” Wood said. “These last two years we really stepped up to bring this program back to what I knew it was when I was younger watching them play. It’s a phenomenal thing for the players and the coaches. We just all had trust in the coaches and in the program and put (Williamstown) back on the map and we’re hoping to keep it here for a few more years.”
“Looking back, no one would have ever expected we’d come out the way we are (now), we won three games and played in a consolation game against Egg Harbor my freshman year,” he said. “No one expected this from us, but we were alright with that. We knew we had each other. We’re a big family, and that’s what we preach all the time, we don’t worry about the outsiders, we only worry about everyone in the weight room. … We just kept working and didn’t pay attention to the outside. If we keep working, we’ll get the result we want and we’ve gotten the result we wanted two times now.”