Marc Narducci: Washington Township rolls past Shawnee, 31-7

Washington Township's A.J. Ashton bowls over Shawnee's Dylan McCaughan as he returns the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

None of it really adds up, but that is what makes these high school football games so compelling.

Washington Township was coming off its worst effort of the season. Shawnee was coming off its best.

Both teams billed this as an elimination game, with a Group 4 playoff berth clearly on the line.

So the team that got bounced so badly to begin this week bounced back in impressive fashion.

Washington Township got rolling immediately with a 97-yard opening kickoff return by A.J. Ashton and carried the momentum to Friday's 31-7 victory over visiting Shawnee in a West Jersey Football League interdivisional game.

It appears as if Washington Township (6-2) has earned a South Jersey Group 4 playoff berth, although with 14 teams alive for the eight spots that will be officially announced Monday, Township's fate will be known after Saturday's games are played.

Shawnee (5-3) faces the longest of odds of getting in, and few could have predicted this based on recent results.

On Sunday, Washington Township suffered a 40-8 loss to Pennsauken. Granted, Pennsauken is among the be-st teams in South Jersey, but Township was a no-show that day.

Meanwhile, Shawnee was coming off a 21-17 win over previously unbeaten Williamstown.

One team was on a roll, the other was just trying to get up off the canvas.

"That wasn't our real team on Sunday," said Township quarterback Tom Hildebrand, who completed 11 of 20 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

It certainly wasn't the team on Friday.

Things started with Ashton's electrifying kickoff return. A senior, Ashton is basically just a special-teams performer, but a special one at that. He has the ability to take it to the house on any occasion. Ashton couldn't have picked a better time to begin the game in the end zone.

"I think a play like that really got us going," he said. "The blocking on that play was outstanding."

So was the running.

On Shawnee's first play from scrimmage, the Renegades fumbled the ball away, Township's Andrew O'Neill returned it 34 yards for a touchdown, and the Minutemen led, 14-0, just 31 seconds into the game.

When Township's Ben Palestino extended the lead to 24-0 with a 42-yard field goal midway through the third quarter, Shawnee wasn't coming back.

"They beat us in every phase of the game," Shawnee coach Tim Gushue said.

The reward should be a trip to the postseason, one that Washington Township detoured away from during last year's 3-7 season.

That was really an aberration for a program that had 25 consecutive .500-or-better seasons before last year.

Township wasn't highly regarded entering the season and didn't have the best of profiles as recently as Sunday, but that changed with what was easily its most impressive win of the year. And that takes into consideration an earlier 30-29 victory for Township over two-time defending South Jersey Group 4 champion Cherokee.

"All summer we worked for this, for the chance to be in the playoffs," Hildebrand said. "This just feels so good."

Shawnee 0 0 7 0 - 7

Washington Township 21 0 3 7 - 31

W: A.J. Ashton 97 kick return (Ben Palestino kick)

W: Andrew O'Neill 34 fumble return (Palestino kick)

W: Mike DeMarco 27 pass from Tom Hildebrand (Palestino kick)

W: Palestino 42 FG

S: Jamie Jackopin 5 run (Vince White kick)

W: Julian Allen 25 pass from Hildebrand (Palestino kick)

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225,, or @sjnard on Twitter.

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