MEDFORD >> The Shawnee High School football team isn’t accustomed to losing. The Renegades came into this season having won the last three South Jersey Group 4 championships.
This year, Shawnee managed to win just once, a 44-25 decision at Sparta on Nov. 20.
But the Renegades were a lot better than their 1-6 record would indicate.
Four of Shawnee’s six losses were by seven points or less and the Renegades were 45 seconds away from a victory over visiting Cherokee Oct. 23.
Sophomore Brandon Boria had other ideas as the sophomore scored from nine yards out in the last minute for a 24-21 victory for the then 4-0 Chiefs at the time.
“We competed hard in every game, but arguably played the most difficult schedule in South Jersey along with injuries which decimated our team,” said Shawnee head coach Tim Gushue, who has a 263-128-6 career record in 37 years.
Gushue was not at liberty to disclose those athletes who were injured, but did say: “We had three ACL tears and surgery, as well as one torn meniscus, which resulted in surgery. I am really not allowed to identify the injured players but they were all starters and one is a scholarship college Division 1 player.”
One of the winningest coaches in South Jersey history, Gushue was thankful just to be able to play this fall with the COVID-19 pandemic still very much a major health crisis in this country.
“Our athletic director, Rich Dodd, who was simply amazing keeping all of our fall sports teams playing the entire season,” said Gushue, when asked who he considered the unsung hero of this year’s squad.
Despite the struggles, Gushue said the team’s approach each week didn’t change.
“We used the same approach each week with a focus on discipline, fundamentals and hard work,” said Gushue. “Our players practiced everyday like we were undefeated and so did the coaches.”
The season was unlike any other that Gushue has been a part of in his nearly four decades of coaching.
“All the different protocols which we had to manage each day,” Gushue said when asked about the challenges in dealing with the pandemic. “Examples would be eating lunch outside every day, no indoor locker rooms, no indoor film review sessions, no access to the weight room, no pre-game meals, screening our players with temperature checks, quarantining when necessary, etc.”
The last time Shawnee managed just one win in a season was in 1988 when the Renegades finished 1-8.
“We played our best game versus Cherokee,” said Gushue. “In our 24-21 loss we gave them all we could muster. The game came down to the Chiefs making more key plays during clutch situations than we did. Our lack of success in the win-loss record was not indicative to how hard our team fought in every game.”
Shawnee’s lone victory came in the next-to-last game of the season Nov. 20 when the Renegades traveled 115 miles north for its first-ever meeting with Sparta.
“We had no idea of their offensive/defensive scheme,” said Gushue. “As we rode up to Sparta, we were watching Hulu clips of their team in action.”
The Renegades notched a season-high in points in the 44-25 victory over 5-2 Knights.
“They had a good, young quarterback (sophomore Austen Frattuna), who was very disciplined in their offensive attack.”
Excessive injuries allowed younger players to get some varsity experience this season.
“The upside of 2020 going into 2021 is that we had a lot of juniors and sophomores gain valuable experience during these seven games,” said Gushue.
Shawnee’s season ended with a 30-21 loss at Hammonton Nov. 25.
“We played much the way we played all season, but fell short due to untimely penalties and turnovers,” Gushue said when asked to assess his team’s showing against the 4-3 Blue Devils. “With 3:30 to go in the fourth quarter, we still had a chance to win.”
Junior quarterback Matt Welsey completed 51.6 percent of his passes (97-of-188) for 1,271 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Junior Ian Ver Steeg was the team’s leading receiver with 31 receptions for 524 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sophomore Josh Peluse led the team in tackles with 47, while senior defensive lineman Cole Catalano and junior linebacker Dean Bialous combined to register seven sacks between them.
In talking about the challenges of a one-win season, Gushue offered this comment:
“Last but not least, I think it is imperative to understand that these are high school student-athletes who are doing their very best. We, the coaching staff, love them like our own children. Learning how to be persistent through adversity may be the best lesson our young players can take from this season. I am proud of every one of them. As Permian High School head football coach Gary Gaines once said ‘… being ‘perfect’ is not about that scoreboard - it is about the relationships you form with your teammates and coaches during times of adversity.’”
Staff: Tim Gushue, head coach/running backs; Gene Shulman, defensive coordinator/defensive backs; Tim Welsh, offensive coordinator/wide receivers; Tony Escudero, offensive line; Andrew Fiorentino, wide receivers; Eric Hawkinson, offensive line assistant; Dennis Scuderi, Jr., quarterbacks; Jim Schaefer, defensive ends; Jim Horner, offensive line; Jeff Masci, tight ends/linebackers; Joe Patterson, freshman coach; Kyle Rodgers, freshman coach; Joe Majarowitz, volunteer/wide receivers; Luke Bonus, volunteer/linebackers; Patrick Touhey, elite performance coach (motivation).
Game-by-Game Results: Oct. 3, at Woodrow Wilson, L 34-27; Oct. 10, at Washington Township, L 20-13; Oct. 16, Camden, L 40-21; Oct. 23, Cherokee, L 24-21; Oct. 30, Lenape, L 10-3; Nov. 20, at Sparta, W 44-25; Nov. 25, at Hammonton, L 30-21.
Player Offensive Statistics: Passing - Matt Welsey 97-of-188 (51.6 percentage), 1,271 yards, 14 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; Rushing – Welsey 70-188, 5 TD; Tom Rebstock 70-223, TD; Dean Bialous 45-236, TD, fumble; Garrett Woodruff 11-35; Luke Anderson 2-4; Ian Ver Steeg 0-0, fumble; Receiving – Ian Ver Steeg 31-524, 7 TD; Nate Summerville 17-185, 2 TD; Avery Cohen 16-326, 3 TD; Luke Anderson 15-116, TD; Rebstock 7-35; Ethan Krauss 4-31; Bialous 2-55, TD; Erich Hartmann 2-8; Woodroff 1-(-1); Donovan Johnston 1-(-4).
Player Defensive Statistics: Josh Peluse 36 tackles, 11 assisted tackes (47 total tackles); Mike Jarvis 26-5-(31), 1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries; Evan Welsey 24-0-(24), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble; Nate Summerville 18-0-(18), 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble; Fred McAneny 18-2-(20); Pete Falzone 18-7-(25); Jason Blemlek 15-0-(15); Dean Bialous 15-10-(25), 3 sacks, 2 interceptions; Cole Catalano 14-4-(18), 4 sacks; Avery Cohen 13-2-(15), 2 interceptions; J.T. Trinity 12-3-(15); Ethan Krauss 9-11-(20); Brian Muller 4-2-(6); Sam Beamer 2-1-(3), 1 fumble recovery; Luke Anderson 1-0-(1), 1 interception; Donovan Johnston 1-0-(1); Ryan Budzynski 1-0-(1), 1 forced fumble; Jimmy Potter 0-3-(3), 1 sack; Jackson Harris 0-3-(3); Gavin Zaun 0-1-(1).
Kicking: Oliver Stern 2-of-3 field goals; 18-of-19 extra points.