Quakertown falls short to Knights
The SOL Continental playoff picture may be murky.
But across the river, the South Hunterdon Eagles can already start clearing a spot in their trophy case.
By virtue of opening the season with four straight wins against their conference foes, the Eagles (4-0) claimed the Mid-State 38 Hills Division title. While they were tri-partite champions last season, the 2013 trophy belongs to South Hunterdon alone.
The Eagles are also the last unbeaten team in Central Jersey Group 1.
“Our defense has been well ahead of our offense, especially early on,” Eagles head coach Toby Jefferis said. “We had more guys back defensively in their positions than what we had offensively.
“We’ve been able to buy into the concept of everyone playing into their responsibilities and doing what they’re supposed to do,” he continued. “We’ve been able to get a lot of turnovers. We’ve had a few interceptions and a couple of interceptions returned for touchdowns so we’re scoring on defense.”
South Hunterdon held opponents to a combined 26 points in its first three games, yet all three wins were by 14 points or less. The offense finally exploded Friday night with a 47-0 pounding at Manville, in what Jefferis thought was the Eagles’ most complete game to date.
“We had three interceptions and we didn’t have any turnovers. We did what we wanted to do offensively,” Jefferis noted.
The Eagles’ two leading tacklers are seniors Devon Troutman and Jake Whitaker. The two have combined for three interceptions, with Troutman scoring on a 70-yard pick-six earlier in the year.
“We’ve been playing together since kindergarten, so we know how each other plays. All of us played Pee Wee and Pop Warner together, so things just click automatically,” Whitaker stated.
“We also play angry. We were ranked last at the start of the season, so our defense plays strong together. We were real underrated, so we just want to prove that we’re not.”
The two, along with fellow senior running back Toby Coleman, also anchor the Eagles’ veer offense.
“We run the ball, run the ball, run the ball and surprise teams by adding that pass in there,” quarterback Troutman pointed out. “I guess most quarterbacks would want to pass more, but I really don’t care as long as we’re moving the ball downfield, wasting clock and scoring points.”
They are doing that. Troutman has three touchdown passes on just 23 attempts; he is also the Eagles’ leading rusher and averages 8.5 yards per carry.
“Our linemen do a really good job in getting the holes wide open, and Toby and I just make the cuts and reads,” Whitaker credited. “Our line does most of the work for us.”
Whitaker has found the end zone six times on the ground; he and Coleman combine to average more than 100 rush yards per game.
“At the start of the year, we had no returning starters on the offensive line. Actually, in our first game when Toby Coleman was out, we started 10 new guys offensively. Devon was the only guy back in the same position that he was in last year,” Jefferis noted.
“We’ve had a lot of improvement on the offensive line over the first four games, and I think that it showed a little bit on Friday. We were having a hard time making adjustments on the field. But over the past couple of weeks, teaching them what to do when somebody shows something different than what we’ve practiced, and how to make those adjustments…we’ve been a lot better at that.”
“I was a young guy once playing with a bunch of senior players, so I know what it feels like to try and get into a system,” commented the “greybeard” Troutman. “So being a leader: talking to guys, telling them to keep their head up has been a big part.”
Although the conference title is wrapped up, South Hunterdon still has plenty to play for. They have five more games to accumulate power points, which determine seeding in the state playoffs. The idea of hosting a postseason game keeps the Eagles driven and hungry.
“I definitely want a home playoff game. I’ve never had one in my four years here and I’ve only played in one,” Whitaker feels. “That, and we’d love to win states this year. That’s the overall goal.”
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