Camden coach Robert Hinson lifts the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 trophy after the Panthers defeated Seneca, 21-0, in the sectional final in Tabernacle on Saturday, November 12, 2022. Joshua Guirguis/D2 Sports Network
TABERNACLE (N.J.) - Robert Hinson was a member of the Centerville Simbas youth football program the last time the Camden High School football program captured a sectional crown.
He was five years old.
And Rod Stewart's "Tonight's The Night" was the No. 1 song on the Billboard 100.
Camden's defense forced six turnovers en route to a 21-0 triumph over Seneca in the Central Jersey Group 3 final on Saturday night. The victory ended a 46-year sectional championship drought.
"It feels really good," Hinson said. "My staff has been together - they've either coached with me or played for me - and they know our goals don't really ever change. For us to get it done this time, it feels really good."
It's been a long time," Hinson added. "It's well-documented how long it's been. I'm just happy that I was able to finally get us over that hump along with my staff and the kids buying in."
Glimmers of hope shined in recent seasons. The Panthers found themselves in title contention, but external circumstances delayed any hopes of a trophy-hoisting ceremony.
Camden finished with a 4-1 record in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of a statewide postseason tournament.
A state-imposed postseason disqualification postponed the Panthers' sectional title hopes for another season in 2021, despite a serviceable 5-5 record.
"It's been a hard journey, but at least we got it done this year," defensive lineman Jahmye Tyson said. "My freshman year we went all the way to the same position, lost to Cedar Creek. Sophomore year was (affected by) COVID. Junior year we got kicked out the playoffs because we weren't disciplined enough. It feels really good."
The senior recovered a fumble and darted for a 28-yard touchdown to give Camden a 7-0 lead over Seneca with 3:46 left in the second quarter.
"I don't know who hit him, but I just saw the ball rolling and it was my opportunity to make a play," Tyson said. "It feels really good to be in the end zone."
The Panthers' defense has pitched four shutouts over their last fives games. Camden has outscored its opponents 87-0 in the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs in wins over Nottingham, Cedar Creek and Seneca.
Hamin Anderson, Tahmir Bush and Craig Walton all registered interceptions against the Golden Eagles. Anderson created two turnovers as the Panthers held their opponent to only two yards from scrimmage in the second half.
"I feel we got the best defensive team in the state if you ask me," Tyson said. "It's a lot of guys. From D-line to the secondary. It's a lot of guys that been working hard from January to now. We just get it done."
West Virginia commit James Heard, Jr. accumulated three sacks and a forced fumble.
Heard, Jr. spent his first three seasons at St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia and Eastern in Voorhees.
He's experienced his fair share of success on the gridiron, but nothing compared to contributing to his neighborhood's first sectional title since his father was born.
"It feels amazing," Heard, Jr. said. "I grew up in Camden my whole life almost. It feels amazing to know that (we won our) first sectional championship since my dad was born."
Taquan Brittingham returned a punt for a 58-yard touchdown and added a 10-yard rushing score on fourth-and-goal to complete the Panthers' 21-0 win.
"I saw a lot of opportunity," Brittingham said. "So I took it. When I actually get the ball in my hands, I want to be that dude to make the plays. I'm gonna take that opportunity when I get it."
Seneca finished its season with an impressive 10-1 record. The Eagles' made their first sectional championship appearance since 2006.
Camden will advance to face top-ranked Delsea in the NJSIAA Group 3 state semifinals at Cherokee High School on Saturday at 2 pm.
"We just got to improve on our offense and stay humble," Brittingham said. "That's all."