LACEY TOWNSHIP - The Clearview Regional High School football team had a few objectives on its mind as its members boarded the bus and braced themselves for a playoff showdown with Lacey.
One of them was to prove the doubters wrong.
The other was to carry the proud tradition of Pioneers football.
Both goals could be sustained with one result.
The Pioneers did just that as they upset third-seeded Lacey 34-14 in the Central Jersey Group 4 quarterfinals on Friday night. Clearview improved its record to 6-3 and will advance to face second-seeded Shawnee in the sectional semifinals next week.
“We all stay together,” senior captain Aiden McCullough said. “My brother was a senior playing in the (South Jersey Group 4) championship (against Shawnee in 2018). I always looked up to them guys. We’re here. It’s real. Time flies, but we’re ready to go on a run.”
This year’s group joined the 1986 and 2018 teams as the only groups to win a playoff game in program history.
“They’re phenomenal,” Clearview coach Steve Scanlon said. “Our program’s really cool because it’s kind of like the (Philadelphia) Eagles before they won the Super Bowl. It matters so much in town and we have so much pride for the people that played before us. We carry that with us.”
Following a four-and-out on the game’s first drive, the Pioneers responded by forcing a fumble on Lacey’s first play of its first drive. Two snaps later, senior Forrest Love plunged for a 4-yard touchdown to give Clearview a 6-0 lead with 9:03 left in the first quarter.
The Pioneers’ ability to send a message early on helped set the tone.
“It’s huge,” Love said. “One thing about us is that we get better every game we play. We came out here and everyone wrote us off. We came out and made a statement. I just can’t wait for the next round. People are going to keep doubting us and we’re just gonna keep proving them wrong.”
The Lions next drive resulted in a failed 27-yard field goal attempt. As a result, Clearview put together a five-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 35-yard touchdown run by senior Bobby Counsellor. Counsellor accounted for all 80 yards on the drive. The Pioneers led 13-0 with 36.6 seconds left in the first quarter.
The senior finished the contest with two touchdowns.
“It’s really special,” Counsellor said. “A lot of hard work has been put into this and it pays off. This group has been together for a very long time. We stick together and we’re gonna go for a run. We’re very excited. We got a big week of practice ahead of us. As long as we keep practicing like we have been, we’ll be fine.”
Counsellor and his teammates decided they weren’t done after a two possession advantage.
Clearview increased its lead to 20-0 on a trick play that resulted in a 45-yard touchdown strike from A.J. Palumbo to Counsellor with 11:03 left in the second quarter.
“I lined up and realized nobody was covering me down the field,” Counsellor said. “Ball fell right into my hands. It felt like it was going to slip out, but luckily I hung onto it and just ran right in for a touchdown.”
Lacey responded with a 1-yard touchdown run by John Scott Stevens to cut the deficit to 20-7 with 5:55 left in the second quarter.
The Pioneers then added a 1-yard touchdown run by Quinn O’Mara to extend their lead to 27-7 at halftime.
Following the break, Stevens picked up his second touchdown of the night on a 3-yard rush with 6:48 left in the third quarter. Lacey trailed 27-14.
The Lions began to apply pressure.
Until Love finished the night right where he started.
The senior intercepted a pass by Lacey’s Noah Brunatti with 3:59 left in the game. On the ensuing play, Love rushed for a 4-yard touchdown to give Clearview a 34-14 lead with 3:54 remaining in regulation.
Love was thankful to help secure the victory for his teammates.
“It feels so great,” Love said. “My coach has put in a couple more formations where I’m more involved. I’m really happy that we put in this new system. I feel like I can play to my best ability and get it done. All credit to my line, though. They really were getting the job done.”
“As for the interception, I was just, ‘right spot, right time.’ I did my assignment right and the ball came right to me.”
Love also finished the contest with two touchdowns. The senior grew emotional when explaining the importance of Clearview football to himself and his family.
“My whole family is from Clearview,” Love said. “My dad right there — he was actually part of the first team that went to the championship in ‘86. He was a senior captain on that team. Clearview football I’ve played my whole life. My whole family’s here tonight. Everyone who could’ve made it came. My brother is at college right now, (but) I’m sure (he) was watching online. I just have the best support system. It’s amazing. I love it.”
The Pioneers’ statement win not only defined Harrison Township or Mantua Township. It also affirmed the quality of South Jersey football as a whole.
“I’m a believer in the West Jersey Football League,” Scanlon said. “When you compete with these coaches, these players, it rises all the ships. I learn when I go against great teams. We’re very proud to represent where we come from.”