McLaughlin blossoming for Bulldogs

Haddonfield's Mr. November: Mike McLaughlin led a stunning ouster of top seed Camden. LOU RABITO / Staff
Haddonfield's Mr. November: Mike McLaughlin led a stunning ouster of top seed Camden. LOU RABITO / Staff
Posted: November 25, 2013

A little more than halfway through his senior season, Mike McLaughlin was a slightly-better-than-average quarterback of a slightly-better-than-average football team.

No shame in that. He was doing OK. His team was doing OK, too.

Haddonfield was 4-2 and looked like the third-best team the Colonial Conference Liberty Division. McLaughlin had six touchdown passes and looked like a baseball star who was doing some solid work in his second-best sport.

Then the calendar changed to November.

Then McLaughlin changed to Mr. Football.

Then Haddonfield changed to Delsea in 2005.

"The game slowed down for him," Haddonfield coach Frank DeLano said of McLaughlin's emergence as the playmaking leader of South Jersey's most surprising team.

McLaughlin led Haddonfield to a 45-19 victory over top-seeded and previously undefeated Camden in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals on Saturday.

If the result, margin of victory, and overall dominance by the visitors were stunning, the source of Haddonfield's strength was pretty predictable.

The Bulldogs received great work from both front lines and big plays from athletes such as Mike DeFeo, Tyler Klaus, Teddy Stavetski, Mark Walker, and Jake Walter, among others.

But it all started with the quarterback, as McLaughlin ran for the game's first touchdown, passed for another, and set the tone for the Bulldogs with smart, tough play at the sport's most important position.

"I've gotten a lot more comfortable," McLaughlin said. "When you get more comfortable, you get more confident."

McLaughlin ran 12 times for 68 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown on a fourth and goal late in the first quarter. He was 4-for-9 passing for 89 yards and another touchdown on a picturesque, 28-yard strike to Klaus in the fourth quarter.

"As good a throw as I've seen in a long time," DeLano said of that one.

Most significantly, McLaughlin didn't commit a turnover and made a hundred sound decisions on a cold, dreary day when Haddonfield's ability to limit its mistakes stood in stark contrast to Camden's choppy play.

"He's been running the offense so well," DeLano said. "You see his desire to win, and the kids are following. It's been special to watch."

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound McLaughlin has been better known as a baseball player. He already has more than 100 hits before his senior season.

His football career has been marked by nagging injuries. He is competing on a sore knee this season, which is one reason he has stopped playing defensive back.

But over the last four weeks, McLaughlin has become a football star who also plays baseball. He has thrown nine touchdown passes as Haddonfield has beaten four teams that entered play with a combined record of 29-1.

"His reads have been amazing. His throws have been amazing," DeFeo said. "But the big thing has been how he has been as a leader. The whole team has congregated around him."

McLaughlin can't explain it. He didn't reach up one day and pull the cord on a light fixture.

He just kept playing, and his teammates kept playing, and October turned to November, and suddenly things were different.

"I've been very confident," McLaughlin said. "But it's not just me. The offensive line has stepped up in a huge way. The receivers have stepped up in a big way. We just kept believing in ourselves."

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