ORLANDO, FL - Watchung Hills Pop Warner Jr. PeeWee Wolverines finished their 2014 season after competing in the Pop Warner National Championships at Disney World in Orlando, Florida from Dec. 6 through Dec. 9. The team, comprised of boys ages 10 to 12 from the Warren area, qualified for national competition after winning the Jersey Valley Conference title and then the 5-state Eastern Region playoffs, which culminated with a 12-0 win over the Pennsylvania state champion, the Lenape Valley Indians. The 2014 Jr. PeeWees are the first team from Watchung Hills Pop Warner to qualify for Disney since 2006 and they are also the first football team from the JVC/MVC conference, across all levels to qualify for Disney since 2007.
After earning their ticket to the national playoffs on Nov. 28 with their win against Lenape, the team had a short 5 days to prepare and raise monies to help off-set the travel and lodging expenses. Head coach, Andy Marion, was overwhelmed by the support from the community. “The support we received from families, local business and anonymous donors was amazing. We could not have taken on this trip without their assistance and we are very thankful for their generosity.”
The Jr. PeeWee Wolverines were one of eight regional winners in the country who competed for the national title. Watchung Hills was selected to play the Pacific Northwest Champion, Kelso Highlanders, from Washington state in their quarter final matchup on Saturday, Dec. 6t. The Wolverines battled through several costly first half penalties which forced a touchdown to be wiped off the scoreboard and allowed Kelso to sustain a long second quarter drive consuming most of the period. Both teams entered half-time stalemated at 0 to 0. Despite the score, Coach Andy Marion wasn’t concerned. “I felt we were in charge even though we hadn’t scored,” said Marion. “We had a couple of misalignments with our inside linebackers and we made adjustments. Offensively, we weren’t able to do anything because they controlled the ball for most of the second quarter.”
Starting the second half, the Wolverines got their Wing T offense rolling, marching 52 yards on the opening series. Key runs by Luke Marion of 17 yards and Justin Ferreira of 16 and was capped off with Marion’s four-yard run, Watchung Hills began its full-scale domination. “The kids were very composed at halftime,” Marion said. “We’ve been tied or behind a few times at half this year. We felt we’d get the job done and once we had that first series it was all Watchung Hills from there on.”
Aided by Justin Drews onside kick following Marion’s score that was recovered by Josh Claxton, the Wolverines held the ball for nearly 16 of the final 20 minutes of the contest, while the defense limited the Highlanders to a mere 18 second-half yards, with almost all of that coming on a final desperation drive as the clock ticked down.
Claxton led another stout defensive effort with 11 tackles and that fumble recovery, while Luke Marion finished with seven stops, and Mac McAteer, Thomas Johnson and Billy Black recorded four each. Shane Kelly also had an interception.
“Josh (Claxton) is an absolute beast,” Coach Marion said of his linebacker. “He is a very physical kid.” After Claxton recovered the onside kick, Quarterback, Ty Marion, handed off to Drews who ripped off a 45-yard run behind an offensive line that executed its blocking schemes to perfection. The Wolverines split end, Johnny King had a big block on the edge which allowed Drews to break free. One play later, Luke Marion went off tackle and cut it up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead with barely four minutes gone by in the second half.
“Our offense uses sophisticated blocking schemes, with a lot of calls made at the line of scrimmage,” Marion said. “We do a lot of white board and film work. The kids are attentive and they soak it up.”
Claxton, Kaden Everly, Ellis Wilson, Thomas Johnson, Shane Kelly and McAteer provided all the push that Ferreira (15 carries for 156 yards), Drews (7 for 76), Jack Valenti (3 for 68) and Marion (8 for 54) needed. The Wolverines piled up 343 rushing yards. The team from Washington only recorded 69 total yards for the game.
“It’s a luxury to have four backs who are all very dangerous,” Marion said. “They can focus on one of our backs but it’s very hard to stop all of the options we have.” After a four-and-out by the Highlanders, the Wolverines rolled down the field again, requiring only four plays to cover 48 yards. The big plays were Ferreira’s 24-yard run to the 15 and Valenti’s 14-yard carry to the one. Luke Marion scored his third touchdown and his kick made it 21-0 late in the third.
Kelly’s pick less than a minute later set up the Wolverines at their own 45. On the fifth play of the drive, Ferreira got to show the folks at Disney and all those watching ESPN3’s live broadcast of the game what Watchung Hills fans have witnessed all season as he took a toss sweep around the right end and outraced the defense 34 yards to set the final margin.
With the victory over Kelso, the Wolverines advanced to the national semi-finals and were matched up against the undefeated Hoffman Estate Red Hawks from Chicago, Illinois. The Red Hawks, having won the mid-America region, entered Disney having only given up 12 first downs all year and one touchdown. They advanced to the quarter finals with an 18-12 victory over the Stanley Blue Devils from North Carolina.
Hoffman Estates got off to a quick start with a 40-yard touchdown run and a successful point after kick, giving them an early 8 - 0 lead. They scored again after a fumble by the Wolverines on their own 5-yard line, which extended the score to 16 - 0. The Wolverines bounced back with a successful drive of their own which culminated in a touchdown run by running back, Justin Ferreira, closing the gap to 16 to 6. The Red Hawk offense was hard to control as they took the ensuing possession and scored another touchdown extending their lead to 22 - 6. However, the Wolverines would not give up and marched down the field on the next possession culminating in another touchdown by Justin Ferreira making the score 22 -12 at the half.
Both teams played strong defense in the third quarter with neither team scoring. The Wolverine defense line was anchored by strong play from Jack Reale, Julian Sanchez, Dylan Braunstein, Peter O’Mara, and Anthony Beteh. However, in the fourth quarter after the Wolverines were stopped for a fake punt attempt on 4th and long with 8 minutes to go, the Red Hawks were able to add another score with a 5-yard run, increasing their lead to 29-12. In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter the Red Hawks struck again with a 35-yard touchdown run by their quarterback to complete the scoring at 35 -12.
While the outcome of the game was not what Coach Marion expected, he stressed how proud he was of his boys and all they accomplished. “This is a gutsy group of boys who have high football intellect and are willing to listen and learn.” Our assistant coaches have done a superb job preparing our boys all season long. We are very proud of all their accomplishments, especially being the second team in the program’s history to make it to Disney.
The 2014 Jr. PeeWee Wolverines will now celebrate their amazing season at the programs year-end banquet on Sunday, January 11th, at the Stone House at Stirling Ridge in Warren, NJ. Tickets can be purchased on-line at www.WHPW.org.
The program will open up its 2015 registration shortly after the start of the new year and welcomes all boys and girls to join its football and cheer teams who are between the ages of 5 and 15. For more information, please visit the Watchung Hills Pop Warner website at www. WHPW.org.
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