Updated: Aug 9, 2022
WOODBURY - When the clock struck zero for the final time on Saturday afternoon, Woodbury High School football coach Anthony Reagan began to experience one of the best moments of his life.
A moment that had been brewing for the last four years.
The fourth-year head coach began his tenure on North Broad Street when current senior captain Teddy Lockhart III was a freshman. The pair came up short in the sectional playoffs twice — a 27-0 defeat to Asbury Park in 2018 and a 54-7 trouncing by South Jersey Group 1 rival Penns Grove in 2019 — and were hungry for another opportunity.
A chance presented itself again and Woodbury washed away the sour taste of defeat as it squeezed past Woodstown 8-6 in the South Jersey Group 1 final on Saturday.
“It was just like elation,” Reagan said. “You visualize this and then to see it actually happen and knowing that it’s happening to this great group of young men was just priceless. That’s what this is all about. It’s all about the kids. For these guys to experience being champions on this field was awesome to witness.”
Teddy Lockhart III, left, and Woodbury head coach Anthony Reagan, right, pose with the 2021 South Jersey Group 1 trophy on November 20, 2022 in Woodbury, New Jersey. Kevin Emmons/Photojournalist
For Lockhart, the hunger for a championship began the very moment the Thundering Herd fell to Asbury Park in 2018. Lockhart — the class of 2022 President, a Board of Education student representative, an NJSIAA student ambassador (and now a South Jersey sectional champion) — could have vowed to take his football talents elsewhere, but remained committed to the blue and gold.
“I wasn’t even named head coach yet and he committed to coming to Woodbury,” Reagan said. “He could’ve went anywhere he wanted in South Jersey, but he wanted to be at Woodbury. For us to go through the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys, and for us to be here together to see this day was just special. Just looking at Teddy and knowing that he believed in me when I really didn’t even know what I was doing. He’s just an amazing young man. I’m gonna miss coaching him, but we still got a little bit more time left."
“We did the groundwork,” Lockhart said. “When we lost to Asbury Park in that first round, (Reagan) brought the freshmen into the office and he said, ‘look, it’s gonna start here with y’all. Y’all are gonna make the difference.’ Each year, we set out to make it to the championship and win. But it didn’t happen. We knew if we kept fighting we would get to that point.”
Lockhart and his teammates kept fighting. They made the difference and they got to that point.
“It was very emotional,” Lockhart said of the win. “I’ve dreamed of this since my freshman year. I knew I wanted to be a (part of the) Thundering Herd and come win a championship. To be able to give my coach his first championship as a head coach, it’s the best feeling. It’s so special.”
Woodbury trailed 6-0 at intermission as Woodstown’s Austin Leyman connected with Diante Hill for a touchdown as time expired in the first half. Leyman dropped back on fourth-and-goal from the 21-yard line and airmailed a pass to the back of the end zone.
It was one of those football plays that typically infuriate football coaches. A play that should not happen.
But Woodbury didn’t flinch.
“We felt like we played a great first half,” Reagan said. “We were actually confident. We knew we just had to trust the process and continue to stick in there one play at a time. That’s what the guys believed in and they stuck to it all the way through.”
The Thundering Herd opened the second half with a 12-play, 32-yard drive that spanned nearly six minutes. The end result was a turnover on downs in Woodstown territory.
Woodbury’s next two drives ended in a punt and another turnover on downs, respectively.
The Thundering Herd still didn’t waver.
On Woodbury’s first drive of the final stanza, the offense converted a double pass in which junior quarterback Bryan Johnson connected with Dominic Abbatelli and Abbatelli lofted a 27-yard pass to Ja’Bron Solomon. Nine plays later, the Thundering Herd faced third-and-goal from Woodstown’s 17-yard line before Johnson dumped a pass off to Angel Arocho to set up fourth-and-goal at the 1.
Insert the ‘President.’
Following a Woodbury timeout, Lockhart raced to the outside for a 1-yard touchdown to even the score at six with 3:55 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“My offensive coordinator, Coach White, was asking himself, ‘what do you think we should do,’” Lockhart said. “Coach Reagan came over and he said, ‘Teddy, you need to step up. This is your team, Teddy.’ (Johnson) tossed me the ball and I took it to the crib. It was just emotional for my coaches to believe that I was the one that was gonna score the touchdown.”
The job wasn’t done. The Thundering Herd needed to successfully convert their two-point conversion attempt or else the game would be destined for overtime.
Johnson’s completed pass to Solomon eliminated that dreaded possibility.
“My coach saw it from the sideline. He said that they were gonna follow the jet,” Solomon said. “So basically, he put all his trust in me. He could’ve given anybody that play. I trusted my brothers and they trusted me.”
Solomon almost didn’t play football. Basketball is his first sport of choice and he felt playing football would only increase his chances of getting injured. But Reagan called upon the junior to fulfill a role and he did just that.
Like Lockhart, Solomon remained loyal to Woodbury. Now he’s grateful to have fulfilled his coach’s request.
“I’m really a basketball player,” Solomon said. “I was just gonna focus on basketball, but Coach Nom shot me a text and was like, ‘we need you to complete this.’ I’ve been representing Woodbury since I was five years old. It feels good to win a championship in the city.”
The Thundering Herd sealed the victory with an interception by junior Derron Moore with less than two minutes remaining.
“I knew the situation,” Moore said. “We went deep. I play a linebacker role where I can drop back. I play a strong safety, linebacker type of role. Ja’Bron Solomon tipped it to me and I just caught it. That’s chemistry building up.”
The stadium erupted into cheers as Moore gained possession and weaved through his opponents looking to make a tackle out of desperation. The Woodbury fan base, particularly parents and classmates, realized the trophy was coming home.
“That’s the loudest the stadium’s been this year,” Moore said. “The stadium helps us a lot. Our parents are always here, they’re always contributing to us, they’re always helping with team dinners. We love them to death. Our parents, they made the most impact on us, they built us, and they made us come to Woodbury.”
The Thundering Herd improved their record to 11-0 and will face Gateway on Thanksgiving before battling South Jersey rival Salem in the South/Central Group 1 Regional Championship at Rutgers University on Sunday, December 5.
As for right now, Reagan will just cherish the moment with his guys and appreciate the time he has spent growing with his team over the past few months.
“We had a vision as far as being a successful program,” Reagan said. “Each and every week we looked at it one game at a time. We saw it starting to come into fruition and the guys just looked at it as one week championships. We knew this was our last time being on this football field together. We wanted to make sure we closed it down well and we did.”