It took 50 years, but the Linwood Panthers college football team is champion again.
The smallest team in the league to field a squad, took home the biggest prize in the Jersey Shore Youth Football League and ended their first season unbeaten with a 36-12 victory over the Hammonton Hawks.
This is the first time in 50 years that the Panthers have won the league’s highest crown, the last time in 1972 when they combined with Brigantine.
The championship comes five years after the Panthers seriously considered cutting the football program, when they only had two teams (Taxi and PeeWee) without JV and Varsity, and only 11 kids on Taxi and 13 kids on PeeWee .
Each team won only one match.
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“We seriously considered it (bending the agenda),” said John Franchini, the president of the Linwood Panthers.
“Before quitting smoking, we gathered a group of committed families and did everything we could to rebuild the program.”
In the championship game against a strong Hammonton team, Linwood quarterback Johnny Franchini hit wide receiver Joey Eyde for a 30-yard touchdown pass. Hammonton responded with a touchdown from Ethan Peterson, but the Panthers have an immediate response as Eyde kicked off the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, giving Linwood a 14-6 lead.
Linwood’s defense made its presence felt on Hammonton’s next two possessions, as Panther linebackers Chase Hoag and Dylan Grant, as well as defensive end Fin Fiore forced Hammonton’s fumbles, which were collected by Fiore and Dante Franchini.
Linwood’s offense took advantage of Hammonton’s turnovers, converting them to more points with a 10-yard run by Eyde and a 50-yard run by Franchini, giving Linwood a 28-6 lead.
These runs were made possible by the exceptional blocking of Will Hickman, Trevor Dill, Jasper Colville, Reese Gurwicz, TJ Santarpio, Nigel Hucey, Damon Herzchel and Joey Niceta.
Hammonton responded with a long scoring campaign, culminating in another Peterson touchdown on the last play of the first half, reducing Linwood’s lead to 28-12.
But Linwood’s defense headed for the opener of the second half, stopping Hammonton’s offense on his first possession, setting up a Franchini and then connected with Mykai Campbell on a 35 touchdown pass. yards to put the game out of reach, giving Linwood the ACJFL title.
“We weren’t thinking about the championships, or even the playoffs, we were thinking about survival,” admitted Franchini.
Franchini was quick to congratulate the Linwood community for the speed of execution of the programs.
“Our community – ‘Panther Nation’ as we call it – did this,” Franchini said.
“Our Mayor Darrin Mattick and our city leaders, Erid Ford, Matt Levinson and Tim Donovan, and city council are supporting us, we have a great cheer coordinator and our cheerleaders are just amazing.”
“They rain or shine and bring an energy that we feed off. We have a great football coordinator and amazing coaches who volunteer their time, many of whom do not have children on the team. Our parents, volunteers and alumni bring passion. “
The university team is made up of the following players:
Mike Brestle, Mykai Campbell, Angelo Caucci, Vincent Caucci, Elizer Ceballos, Jasper Coville, Lucas DeBiaso, Ford DeSalle, Trevor Dill, Logan Dreaper, Joey Eyde, Finn Fiore, Dante Franchini, Johnny Franchini, Andrew Gebhard, Dylan Grant, Jack Gregory , Reese Gurwicz, Damon Herschel, Will Hickman, Chase Hoag, Nigel Hucey, Justin Mazur, Joey Niceta, Jeremy Polanco, Dallas Rowell, TJ Santarpio, Sean Sharky, David Simpson
Coaches: Jim Barrett (Head Coach), Mike Blee, Mike Brestle, Tony DeSalle, John Franchini, Kevin LaMonaca