Delsea quarterback Zach Maxwell under center. (Photo by Catalina Saracen - JSN)

Delsea pulls away from West Essex in the second half to win NJSIAA Group 3 State Championship

The Delsea Crusaders (12-1) cruised past the West Essex Knights (10-4) 28-3 in the NJSIAA Group 3 State Championship game at SHI Stadium (Rutgers University) in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Delsea entered the game on a 10-game winning streak, including a 28-12 victory over Camden in the semifinals. Conversely, West Essex had won eight in a row and edged past West Morris 21-20.

Both teams faced inclement conditions with a driving rainstorm and gusty winds. Delsea received the opening kickoff and ran seven times in a row, which resulted in a one-yard touchdown by running back Dan Russo. However, the extra point attempt was no good as the Crusaders led 6-0 with eight minutes left.

West Essex started from their 15-yard line to start the second quarter. The Knights can advance the ball further up the field on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Sam Long to running back Ryan Lasher.

A roughing of the passer penalty assessed against the Delsea defense moved the ball to the Crusader's 36-yard line. Long connected on another pass to wide receiver Anthony Drago for 11 yards.

West Essex attempted to gain further yardage on the ground, but the Delsea dug a line in the trenches, thus forcing a field goal attempt. Despite the limited visibility, Knights kicker John Moss belted home a 27-yard field goal with 5:20 remaining that trimmed the Crusader's lead to 6-3.

Once the third quarter commenced, the Crusader's defense forced a quick three and out. Delsea's offense started with an outstanding field position at their 48-yard line.

Behind a stout offensive line, running back Dan Russo plowed through for 17 yards on first down. With second down and seven at the West Essex 32-yard line, Wayne Adair took the handoff from quarterback Zach Maxwell, then turned the corner and rumbled down the right side of the field into the end zone for the score with eight and half minutes to go.

The Crusaders attempted the two-point conversion with Maxwell taking the snap, rolling out to his right, and lofting a pass to a wide-open tight end, Jonathan Harris, extending the Delsea advantage to 14-3.

Not even a minute later, the Crusaders were back in business. Once again, they controlled the edge in field position with the ball near midfield. Dan Russo received most of the carries by running the ball thrice. Zach Maxwell busted through for an 18-yard run that pushed the ball down to the Knights' 11-yard line.

Wayne Adair cranked out a 9-yard run to move the ball inside the five-yard line. On first and goal at the one-yard line, Maxwell took the snap and surged ahead into the end zone for the touchdown with three and half minutes left. The extra point kick was wide as Delsea widened their lead to 20-3.

In the fourth quarter, the Crusaders cemented their NJSIAA Group 3 State Championship win with Dan Russo taking the handoff from Zach Maxwell and barreling straight into the end zone for the two-yard score with seven and half minutes remaining.

Delsea elected to go for the two-point, which turned out to be successful, with Maxwell taking the snap and then pitching the ball to Wayne Adair and Adair managing to scamper into the end zone, expanding the Crusaders' lead to 28-3.

For more scenes from the 2023 NJSIAA Football Group 3 Championship, check out more of Catalina Saracen’s photos from the game.

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