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Lewis steers Hopewell Valley football team to victory in first varsity start

The Hopewell Valley football team listens to a postgame talk from coach Dave Caldwell, center, on Sept. 13 in Pennington.

Henry Lewis waited his whole football career for this moment.

Every young football player waits his whole career for this moment.

On Sept. 13 at Hopewell Valley Central High School, Lewis made his first varsity start under the lights before a packed house. Except Lewis not only got the moment, he also got to live every young player’s dream.

The junior running back ran wild, got the crowd chanting his name and sparked the Bulldogs to a 21-0 victory over Lawrence High School in their season opener. Hopewell Valley is 1-0– and Lewis is the biggest reason why.

He racked up 226 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. His 74-yard touchdown run up the middle in the first quarter broke a 0-0 tie. Lewis’ seven-yard touchdown run, also up the middle, late in the second quarter put the Bulldogs ahead by two scores.

The game was never close again, and Lewis was the biggest reason why. He added 76 more yards after halftime and helped the Bulldogs burn the clock. The junior powered an offense that picked up 13 first downs and recorded a 45-11 run-pass ratio.

In his first varsity start, Lewis provided solid proof that, despite the vociferous dogma of the analytics community, the running back position still matters. This is still football, after all, and if you can just overpower your opponent, you do it. Hopewell Valley could just overpower its opponent on Sept. 13, and Lewis was by far the biggest reason why.

It was a pretty decent first varsity start.

“I’m a little sore but I feel great,” Lewis said on the field after the game. “Offensive line, man, shout out to those guys.”

“Henry Lewis, that’s my brother, man,” said Hopewell Valley defensive lineman Terrance Peterson, a classmate of Lewis’. “This is his first start and I’m so proud. There’s no person more deserving of this than him.”

Peterson, a potential Division 1 prospect and perhaps the best player in Mercer County, was not making his first varsity start on Sept. 13. The junior started and thrived all of last year as a sophomore, breaking Hopewell Valley’s program record for tackles for a loss.

In the 2019 season opener, Peterson terrorized the Cardinals, lining up at defensive end, defensive tackle and even linebacker to keep Lawrence off guard. He recorded 13 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. More importantly, he opened up the field for his defensive teammates.

Hopewell Valley kept an athletic Cardinals offense in check all night, forcing four three and outs, two missed fourth down attempts and three turnovers.

“We just blend so well together,” Peterson said. “I’m really proud of our defense for rallying together to keep the shutout alive.”

Between Lewis and Peterson, between its power running game and playmaking defense, Hopewell Valley will be formidable this fall. The Bulldogs went 5-4 but missed the NJSIAA playoffs in 2018. Their goal for 2019 is to make the playoffs and then see what happens.

The Bulldogs are off to a great start, but they aren’t perfect. On those 11 passing calls against Lawrence, Hopewell Valley got sacked five times and went zero for six through the air.

But one weakness and two major strengths is a positive equation, especially after just one week.

Hopewell Valley will continue its season on Sept. 21 at Steinert High School. Kickoff is set for noon.

“Further improving, even after a shutout, is really important,” Peterson said.

“It’s just the beginning of the season,” Lewis added. “We have to get ready for next week.”

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