Best scores four times as Willingboro tops Point Pleasant Boro for 4th sectional title in five years
POINT PLEASANT BOROUGH (N.J.) - For the third year in a row, the Willingboro High School football team traveled to Point Pleasant Borough for a playoff showdown between the two schools.
For the second year in a row, Willingboro knocked off the Panthers on the road, but this time left with a trophy to show for it. The Chimeras earned a 26-21 victory in the Central Jersey Group 2 final on Friday night.
Willingboro captured its fourth sectional crown in five seasons.
Last year, Willingboro defeated the Panthers, 50-30, in the sectional semifinals en route to the Chimeras' third sectional title in four seasons. In 2021, Willingboro fell short to the Shore Conference power in the South Jersey Group 2 final.
Willingboro's Lamar Best (3) throws a pass in the Central Jersey Group 2 final game played at Point Pleasant Borough High School in Point Pleasant, New Jersey on Friday, November 10, 2023. Collin Conway/D2 Sports Network.
Quarterback Lamar Best showed up and showed out under the bright lights.
Best finished 12-for-18 passing for 217 yards and a score. The sophomore also added 125 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
In two starts against Point Pleasant Borough, Best owns a 2-0 record. He has completed 23 out of 32 pass attempts for 425 yards and seven touchdowns.
"I just go out there and try to win," Best said. "Winning feels great and beating a very good Point Pleasant Borough again feels even better because it was in the final this year."
The Panthers struck first in the contest as the school's all-time leading rusher, Jake Croce, scooted into the end zone on a 12-yard run.
Willingboro responded with an 80-yard strike from Best to Terrance Knighton in stride on the first play of the next drive. Best followed up on the next offensive possession with a 74-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive.
Point Pleasant Borough quarterback Matt Oliphant tied the contest before halftime with a 57-yard scramble to paydirt. The score also provided the Panthers with needed momentum at the intermission.
The Chimeras drifted from their traditional offensive philosophy and chewed up six minutes of clock with an 11-play drive in the third quarter. The March was capped by Best's second touchdown run in a Wing-T formation and style of play that mimicked Point Pleasant Borough's.
The unsung hero of Willingboro's offense was Mekhi Cottle. The sophomore stepped up with increased reps as teammates ahead of him on the depth chart were sidelined due to injury. Cottle ran for 61 yards in the second half. Cottle was the battering ram that set up Best and the Chimeras' offense with multiple scoring opportunities.
From a team that found itself as a sectional champion in a bracket full of chaos a year ago, to a state title contender this season, Willingboro has ironed out the kinks of inexperience and overcame several injuries and adversity to find success in 2023.
"This team is very tough mentally and physically," Willingboro coach Stephen Everette said. "They weren't satisfied with the sectional title last year and the loss in the state semifinal. They bought in this year and made sure they stay focused on the path ahead."
Knighton has flourished in an increased role this season. Confidence and patience was the key.
"I feel more confident this year in not just my play, but in the team as a whole," Knighton said. "We all have the goal that we want to win a state championship this year and we just have to keep on working towards that goal."
Everette has established a winning culture ag Willingboro and has turned the program into a powerhouse over the last half decade. The Chimeras have won four sectional titles in five seasons (2018, 2019, 2022 and 2023). Led by Lafayette's Ah-Shaun Davis and Rutgers' Chris Long in 2018 and 2019, the torch has been passed to Best and his teammates.
"Ah-Shaun is like a big brother to me," Best said. "He told me once he graduated, 'my records are for you to break.' "I don't know if he meant that literally, but I've just took it and ran."