Conventional wisdom suggests that Williamstown's championship season was three years in the making.

Wade Inge and J.C. Collins say it goes back way further than that.

"When we were little, we always used to say, 'We can't wait to play on the big-boy field,' " Inge said.

That was eight years ago, when Inge and Collins were playing together for the 85-pound team in the town's youth program.

"We were Lightning and Thunder, even back then," Collins said.

The senior two-way stars' bond is especially strong because they've been through hard times as well as successful seasons.

They were sophomore starters – 15-year-olds competing against one of South Jersey's most demanding schedules – when Williamstown went 3-7 in 2016, losing six in a row at one point.

"They took their lumps that year," Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola said.

They were juniors last season, when the Braves improved to 5-5 but still seemed a long way from championship contention, as demonstrated by lopsided losses to St. Augustine and Timber Creek.

Inge and Collins were tone-setters in the weight room, in off-season workouts, and through the long, hot summer, when the team's unquestioned leaders created the expectation that nothing less than perfection would be acceptable in their final campaign.

"I'm a firm believer that championships are won in the offseason," Collins said. "I believe we out-worked our opponents in the offseason. This is the result.

"I tell our guys all the time, 'Our season is predetermined. Our wins and our losses are set in stone based on what we did in the offseason.' "

It's one thing to dream about a perfect senior season. It's another to make it happen.

Inge set a Williasmtown record with 304 rushing yards in a 56-20 victory over Rancocas Valley in the South Jersey Group 5 title game.
AKIRA SUWA
Inge set a Williasmtown record with 304 rushing yards in a 56-20 victory over Rancocas Valley in the South Jersey Group 5 title game.

Inge and Collins have led Williamstown to a 12-0 record, culminating with a 56-20 victory over Rancocas Valley in the South Jersey Group 5 championship game on Saturday.

It was a special night for the Braves, their coaches, and fans, with an electric atmosphere in the stands, smoke-filled special effects, and the duo's fireworks on the field.

They provided one of the most dynamic two-man performances in South Jersey championship game history.

Inge, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound running back and defensive back and a Delaware State commit, rushed for a school-record 304 yards and four touchdowns.

Collins, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound quarterback and defensive back and Massachusetts commit, ran for 207 yards and three touchdowns.

That's a combined 511 yards of the Braves' 540 yards of offense.

"I think we could have had 600," Fucetola said.

It was validation for Inge and Collins, a payback for all those tough losses the last two seasons and fair exchange for all their hard work.

It also reminded them of their days in the youth program, when they would wear their uniform tops and watch Williamstown compete with the top teams in South Jersey.

"I used to go home and say, 'Dad, Williamstown always has these nice uniforms, and they always have different combinations,' " Collins said. "I used to try to figure out how many uniform combinations they had.

"This is all stuff that you looked forward to, hoping to come in and play for this program."

Collins, shown here aginst Shawnee, ran for 207 yards and three touchdowns in the sectional title game victory over Ranocas Valley.
AKIRA SUWA
Collins, shown here aginst Shawnee, ran for 207 yards and three touchdowns in the sectional title game victory over Ranocas Valley.

Inge can list the top players in recent Williamstown history.

"I grew up watching guys like Marcus Hampton; Ronnie Gordon; Harry Ulmer; my cousins, Bill Inge, Chris Inge; Danny Collins; John Chamberlain; Kali Boyce; Buddy Brown, guys like that," Inge said. "We came up and watched them all the time.

"The atmosphere here was always like, 'Wow, I can't wait to be out here.' We were looking up to them, and now it's crazy the roles are reversed. We've got kids in the youth program looking up to us."

It might have seemed a long way off when Williamstown was going 3-7.

It might have seemed beyond the Braves' reach when the team was 5-5.

But Collins and Inge said the foundation for this season's berth in the first Group 5 South/Central 'Bowl Game' against Sayreville on Friday night in MetLife Stadium was poured before the last two seasons.

What happened on Saturday, that was coming down the pike for years.

"You dream about it," Collins said. "You try to imagine what it would feel like.

"I remember when Williamstown won a championship in 2012, coach [Pat] Gallagher was my gym teacher. I was in sixth grade, and he was showing me the [championship] rings, and he was like, 'J.C., you're going to get one of these, too.'

"I really believed in that, and that's why we're where we are now."

This weekend’s South/Central Bowl Games

at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford

FRIDAY: South Jersey Group 5 champion Williamstown (12-0) vs. Central Jersey Group 5 champion Sayreville (10-1), 7:05 p.m.

Williamstown's road to the Meadowlands: Beat Washington Township., 34-3; Vineland, 28-7; and Rancocas Valley, 56-20.

Sayreville's road: Beat Hillsborough, 42-7; Manalapan, 24-14; and North Brunswick, 6-0.

Sayreville player to watch: Quarterback Mark Whitford is 111-for-185 passing for 1,333 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Williamstown player to watch: Defensive lineman Aaron Lewis is a disruptive force along the line of scrimmage.

Pick: Williamstown, 21-13.

SATURDAY: South Jersey Group 1 champion Penns Grove (12-0) vs. Central Jersey Group 1 champion Willingboro (7-4), 1:05 p.m.

Penns Grove's road to the Meadowlands: Beat Woodstown, 40-6; Buena, 17-6; and Salem, 14-7.

Willingboro's road: Beat Keyport, 54-7; Florence, 22-6; and Paulsboro, 22-14.

Penns Grove player to watch: All-purpose standout Tyreke Brown has rushed 97 times for 889 yards and 16 touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 484 yards and nine touchdowns.

Willingboro player to watch: Two-way standout Demie Sumo has 96 tackles and has rushed for 548 yards and five touchdowns.

Pick: Penns Grove, 24-20.