Members of the Haddonfield Memorial High School
football team run toward and yell at freshman kicker Drew Tomlinson every Thursday. They jump around, shout random things and do just about anything they can think of to distract the young kicker in practice.
The ritual is not a form of hazing; instead it is for preparation.
That preparation resulted in execution and ultimately victory, Friday night.
Tomlinson drilled an 18-yard field goal with 56 seconds remaining to lift Haddonfield to a 16-13 win over Sterling in Colonial Conference action.
The kick came after the Bulldawgs were stopped at the half yard-line on third-and-goal. Tomlinson, along with the rest of the field goal team, jogged onto the field and calmly delivered the game winner.
“The team was behind me,” said Tomlinson, who admitted he was shaking a bit in the seconds prior to the kick. “It was a good snap, good hold. You can’t miss that.”
Tomlinson was mobbed by his teammates following the kick, a celebration that should only lift the confidence of the young kicker going forward.
“It’s awesome to have the whole team behind me now,” Tomlinson said.
“He makes it every time (in practice), so I knew he had it,” said Mike DeFeo, who sealed the game with an interception on Sterling’s ensuing possession.
The decision to send Tomlinson out for the kick rather than attempting another play did not come easy for Haddonfield head coach Frank DeLano. A bad snap on an extra point attempt was one of the reasons the game was tied with under a minute left.
However, DeLano recalled a similar situation in 2009 in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals against West Deptford. A bad snap led to a failed extra point and a tied game. He went with his kicker then and didn’t hesitate to do so again Friday.
“You just have to play the percentages there,” DeLano said. “Sterling is good. At that point, the worst case scenario, they get the ball and have to go (92) yards. The kid makes them in practice and that’s why we practice that.”
Tomlinson’s kick wasn’t the only memorable play turned out by the special teams unit. Sterling had just taken a 7-6 lead midway though the second quarter thanks to a 30-yard interception return by Richard Carter. Any momentum gained by the Knights was short-lived, though, as DeFeo took the ensuing kickoff up the middle, before cutting to his right and going untouched for an 80-yard touchdown.
“Every time I get back there I try to think ‘take it back to the end zone,’” DeFeo said. “I saw a wall and it was the best wall I have ever seen in my life. It was easy after that (because) I had a bunch of blockers out in front of me.”
Haddonfield led 13-7 at the end of the half, but the first play of the third quarter saw the Bulldawgs fumble deep in their own territory and Sterling’s Julian Blackshear scooped it up and returned it 14-yards for a touchdown. The extra point clang off the right upright leaving the game tied at 13-13.
Haddonfield’s offense struggled for much of the night, but the defense kept the team in it, never letting Sterling cross midfield in the second half. Ultimately, it was the defense and special teams that allowed Haddonfield to move to 2-1 despite four turnovers.
“I’m really proud of our guys for just battling and staying with it,” DeLano said. “We gave them some short fields and (the defense) still continued to stay with it. I’m giving a ton of credit to our ‘D’. Our ‘D’ is ahead of our ‘O’ right now and that’s OK.”
Haddonfield travels to Collingswood next Friday, in the first of four-straight road games.