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Ray’Mir Johnson’s move to running back pays dividends as Willingboro defeats Eastside

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Willingboro's Ray'Mir Johnson rushed for 93 yards, a touchdown and snared two interceptions in the fourth quarter as the Chimeras held off Eastside, 24-20, in a West Jersey Football League Liberty Division showdown in Camden, New Jersey on Saturday, September 30, 2023. Kevin Emmons/South Jersey Sports Zone

CAMDEN (N.J.) - Ray'Mir Johnson didn't expect to play running back when he relocated north of the Rancocas Creek from Cherokee to Willingboro.

Chimeras coach Stephen Everette didn't plan on it either.

The senior moved to Twin Hills Park with his grandmother and expected to make contributions at linebacker - a role he grew accustomed to with his former program.

That was until the Chimeras were in need of a replacement after standout running back Derrick Bryant tore his ACL and meniscus in practice.

Johnson rose to the occasion.

The senior rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown as Willingboro held off Eastside, 24-20, in a West Jersey Football League Liberty Division showdown on Saturday afternoon. The Chimeras improved their record to 4-2.

"At first, coming to Willingboro, I was playing linebacker," Johnson said. "My coaches trusted me when our starting running back went out to put the ball in my hands (and) play linebacker, too. They just put a lot of trust in me and I had to own up to the trust."

Johnson also exploded for 177 rushing yards and a touchdown in a 44-0 triumph over St. Joseph Academy last weekend.

"We were not expecting him to be the bell cow," Everette said. "He's just a tough-minded kid and he's going to give us everything that he's got. We got some younger guys that are ready to step up and are learning from him."

The Chimeras capitalized on an erratic snap that resulted in a safety. Eastside quarterback Nazir Flack secured the loose ball in the end zone to give Willingboro a 2-0 lead with 4:08 left in the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Flack completed a pair of passes to Monmouth commit Marshall Washington, Jr. to help set up a two-yard rushing score on a quarterback sneak. The Tigers led 8-2 with 4:16 left in the second quarter.

Willingboro increased its tempo on the following drive to put together a march that concluded with a 32-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Lamar Best to Terrance Knighton in tight coverage. The score helped the Chimeras establish a 10-8 advantage with only 50 seconds left in the opening half.

"We were kind of setting it up all game," Best said. "Coach said he trusted our guy. When I looked at the press coverage I understood we got a baller, too. It's not just them. So I gave my guy a shot and he went and made a great play."

Best completed five out of nine pass attempts for 79 yards and a score. The defending South Jersey Sports Zone Rookie of the Year also ran for 44 yards and a touchdown.

Eastside didn't waver.

On the next drive, Flack spiraled a 21-yard touchdown pass to four-star recruit Willy Love as time expired in the second quarter. The Tigers led 14-10 at the intermission. Love currently holds offers from Georgia, Penn State, Oregon, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Rutgers, Syracuse, Michigan State, Cincinnati, Boston College and Nebraska, among others. The senior has visited Rutgers three times since March.

Johnson was limited to only 23 yards on his first 12 rush attempts of the contest. The senior established a rhythm in the second half, and provided Willingboro with a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion run to build an 18-14 lead with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.

"I felt like the halftime, the speeches (the coaches) all gave," Johnson said, "(boosted) everyone's energy up. We knew what we wanted to do. I had to make my team proud so I had to run the ball hard."

Then adversity hit.

Johnson fumbled on a run to surrender possession to the Tigers. The senior responded with an interception on the next play from scrimmage that he returned to Eastside's 10-yard line. Best capitalized on the turnover with a four-yard touchdown run a few plays later.

The Chimeras led 24-14 with 8:09 left to play.

"My teammates, they helped me up," Johnson said. "It was like next play, best play. I told myself I had to get the ball back. We had to go get this win."

Flack connected with Washington, Jr. again for a 63-yard touchdown to keep the Tigers within striking distance with only 3:05 left in regulation.

Johnson sealed the victory with his second interception as time expired.

"It felt amazing," the senior linebacker said. "We wanted this win bad. ... It was a great matchup. I felt like we had a lot to prove."

Everette prepared for the Tigers through his evaluation of their defensive performance in a win against Cedar Creek on September 16. He anticipated Saturday's matchup to transform into a battle of field position.

It turned out to be a deciding factor in the outcome.

"That is one hard-nosed defense," Everette said. "Kenny (Scott) is doing an absolutely fantastic job coaching up that defense. With the field conditions being what they were, I knew were going to have to knuckle this thing up and we got the bad snap early. It worked in our favor. We were definitely playing that game with them."

The Chimeras limited Eastside to only 64 rushing yards.

"At the end of the day, this is high school football and bigs matter," Everette said. "We were able to wear those guys down.

"Our defensive coordinator did a great job with our scheme. Our defensive ends did a heck of a job pressuring that quarterback. That quarterback's been running around for the past five weeks. The fact that he didn't get a whole bunch of big plays running the ball is just a tribute to our guys running around and running to the ball."

Willingboro has defeated Eastside in five out of the last six meetings in the series since 2017.

"Definitely one of the best rivalries in South Jersey," Everette said.

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