Phil Anastasia: Pennsauken has 'special' win in opener

Junior running back Nahzir Russell ran back a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown in the opener.

Clint Tabb was telling his team all week: This game was going to be decided by something special.

Special teams, that is.

“We talked about it and talked about it,” said Tabb, Pennsauken High School’s football coach.. “Coach [Tim] Gushue [of Shawnee] talks about it all the time. You can win a game on special teams. You can lose a game on special teams.

“We really felt coming into this game that we needed to play really well in that area and it could make a difference. And you saw what happened.”

Pennsauken got off the season off to a good start with a 19-12 victory over Winslow Township in a West Jersey Football League Constitution Division game on Saturday at Vince McAneney Field.

The Indians got strong work from their defense, with a pair of late interceptions, and a big play from the combination of senior quarterback Koi White and senior wide receiver Braheem Whitfield, who hooked up for a 54-yard touchdown pass.

But the key to the victory was the work of the special teams. Pennsauken got an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from junior Nahzir Russell and another touchdown was set up by a blocked punt by junior Benito Morales.

“I was telling the kids all week, ‘Special teams is going to be the difference in this game,’ ” Tabb said.

The Indians, who play 0-1 Triton on Friday, were led by Russell, a track speedster who has replaced graduated former track speedster Martin Booker Jr. as the team’s primary running back.

Russell ran for 107 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage. But it was his kickoff return, plus junior Alex Fravel’s extra point, that gave the Indians the lead for good at 13-12 early in the fourth quarter.

“Anytime you can take a kick back, it’s big,” Russell said. “I wanted to make a play. I was hoping to make a play. I saw the hole and I was gone.”

Russell finished the scoring with a 7-yard burst into the end zone after Morales’ blocked punt set up the Indians at the Eagles’ 15. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Russell showed a willingness to run inside and lower his shoulder, displaying power as well as speed.

“He’s probably a better pure running back than ‘Book,’ ” Tabb said. “‘Book’ was strong and so fast. But Nahzir has great vision, great understanding of the position.”

Winning debut. Eastern won its first game under new coach John Doherty, beating Clearview, 19-6, in the WJFL National Division opener for both teams.

Doherty had high praise for junior T.J. Franden, who was “all over the field” with two forced fumblse and 10 tackles as well as some hard running on offense.

Doherty said that sophomore linebacker Moe Howard led the defense and that junior running back Manny Azuonwo gained 99 yards with a touchdown in just 14 carries.

The Vikings hope to get a boost in the next few weeks with the return of senior two-way lineman Cheston Bulgin, a first-team all-conference selection on defense last season who has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Fast start. No wide receiver is off to a better statistical start than Gloucester senior Jai’Mere Colon, who has six touchdowns in the Lions’ first two games, both victories.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Colon caught four touchdown passes in a 37-0 win over Maple Shade in the “Zero Week” opener Sept. 2 and added two more scoring receptions in last Friday night’s 29-7 victory over Clayton.

Gloucester visits 1-0 Palmyra on Friday night.

“Sai’Mere has done a great job this year,” Gloucester coach Ed Malone said. “He is a big receiver and runs well. He has been doing all the little things right, especially blocking on run plays and his coverage from safety.”

New quarterback shines. Burlington Township beat Notre Dame, 28-6, in the WJFL Capitol Division opener for both teams as junior quarterback Dan Grozozski was 7-for-11 passing for 131 yards and a touchdown.

Burlington Township coach Tom Maderia said Grozozski “did very well in his first varsity start.”

The Falcons also got strong work from junior Justin Johnson, who generated 93 yards and a touchdown on two punt returns, and sophomore Semi Robertson, who ran for 85 yards and a score.

The victory was the 180th of Maderia’s career, with exactly 90 at Holy Cross and 90 at Burlington Township.

Reserve standout. With senior quarterback Jeff Undercuffler nursing an ankle injury, Holy Cross turned to junior Andrew Paolini in Friday night’s opener vs. Bordentown.

Paolini passed for 154 yards and three touchdowns, all in the second quarter, in a 42-7 victory in the WJFL Liberty Division opener for both teams.

“Once he settled down, he was excellent,” Holy Cross coach Frank Holmes said of Paolini. “I have 100 percent confidence in that kid. One of the more coachable kids I’ve ever had.”

Undercuffler, an Albany recruit, was limited but played a couple of series in the second half and threw a touchdown pass.

Holmes said Undercuffler should be “good to go” for Saturday’s clash between the No. 23 Lancers and No. 19 Haddonfield at Cherry Hill West.

This and that. After last weekend’s 45-6 win over rival Camden in the WJFL Constitiution Division opener for both teams, Camden Catholic is 27-4 under fourth-year coach Nick Strom and the Irish have scored 30 or more in 21 of those victories. … Senior Dan Kurp ran for 101 yards and a touchdown in Seneca’s 31-28 victory over Cherry Hill West. … Senior Nick Bard ran for 231 yards and a touchdown as Pennsville beat rival Woodstown, 18-12, in coach Mike Healy’s first game. … After Saturday’s 28-6 win over Trenton in the WJFL Capitol Division opener for both teams, Lenape has allowed a touchdown or less in 24 games since the start of the 2014 season. … Cedar Creek beat Absegami, 29-7, in the opener as sophomore quarterback Louis Barrios made a strong debut. “He has a chance to be special,” Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said.