This is a look behind the scenes as coach Mike Schatzman experienced his first game as football coach for the Minutemen.

At 8:15 on Friday night, Mike Schatzman stood in front of a disappointed group of Washington Township football players.

"I know, tonight was the night," Schatzman told the group gathered in the big room in the back of the school's athletic field house. "But tomorrow morning is the morning. We were going to get it done tonight. We'll get it done tomorrow."

A stormy night that gave way to a damp and dreary morning marked the two-day debut of Schatzman, the former two-sport standout for the Minutemen who has been charged with guiding the once-powerful football program back to prominence.

By 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, Schatzman was addressing his players again, this time as they knelt on the field, soaked and sad, following a 16-7 loss to Kingsway in a West Jersey Football League Royal Division game.

"It wasn't your heart, and it wasn't your toughness, and those are the things that matter," Schatzman said. "We can fix this. We will fix this. We're going to be a different football team in November than we are on September 8th."

Moments later, after the players stood on the track in front of the Washington Township band as it played the school's alma mater — "That's a tradition here, win, lose draw, and we're not changing that," Schatzman said — the new guy in charge assessed his first game as the Minutemen's football coach.

"They just made more plays than us," Schatzman said. "We competed. I thought we were tough. I thought the kids showed a lot of heart. But they just made a couple more plays.

"We're going to be OK. We're better now than we were two weeks ago, and we're going to continue to get better."

Friday

At 5:05 on Friday night, Schatzman gathered in the football office with his assistant coaches, almost all of whom played for the program that fashioned 25 consecutive winning seasons from 1984 through 2009, making eight appearances in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game and capturing three sectional titles.

But with a record of 14-26 over the previous four seasons, with no playoff wins since 2011 and with three head coaches in the last three years, the Minutemen had receded from their place among the premier programs in South Jersey.

"He's going to do great," said Washington Township volunteer assistant Will Fennel, a fixture with the program since 1992. "He's organized. He lays things out. He lets his coaches coach."

“There’s no place in the world I’d rather be than right here.” — Washington Township coach Mike Schatzman

Schatzman delegates a lot of authority to his assistant coaches. Former Lenape head coach Greg Harvey runs the offense. Former Washington Township star Jesse Cooper directs the defense.

Schatzman coaches the team's receivers, but mostly he is in charge of climate control. He also keeps his eyes on the big picture: The long-range plan to raise the profile of the program back to previous heights.

Walking to and from the field during warm-ups on Friday night, Schatzman was stopped numerous times by spectators wishing him luck. A cheerleader's mom stopped him outside the field house.

"Are you the new coach?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am," Schatzman said. "You playing tonight? No? Maybe next week."

At 6:45, Schatzman gathered the players in the big room.

"We're trying to get Washington Township football back on the map," Schatzman said. "At some point, it was lost. I'm not bringing it back. You are."

The Minutemen hit the field bursting with energy and enthusiasm. But they were soon back in the field house, as lighting strikes and heavy rain forced a delay and eventually a postponement until Saturday morning.

Lightning, rain and wind forced the postponement Friday night of the football game at Washington Township against Kingsway.
Elizabeth Robertson / Staff photographer
Lightning, rain and wind forced the postponement Friday night of the football game at Washington Township against Kingsway.

"I know you're disappointed," Schatzman told the players. "We're all disappointed. But get home, get some sleep and we get this done tomorrow."

Saturday

At 9:30 on Saturday morning, Cooper talked about the challenge of containing Kingsway junior quarterback Alex Odom.

"He's an athlete," Cooper said. "When I saw them in seven-on-seven, I thought he was a receiver."

Schatzman's second pregame pep talk echoed his first.

"A little deja vu, right?" he told the players at 9:45 a.m. "There's no place in the world I'd rather be than right here. Last night is over. It's a wash. Literally."

Schatzman shouts instructions from the sidelines on Saturday.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Schatzman shouts instructions from the sidelines on Saturday.

Saturday's morning game was played in a steady rain. Washington Township broke to a 7-0 lead on Andrew Nocille's 11-yard touchdown run. The Minutemen got some strong work from quarterback Roger Baldacci and wide receiver Brendan Leone, as well as defensive end Kyhmalee Wizzart, among others.

But they also lost all-purpose standout Joe McKillop, their most accomplished player, early in the first quarter to a knee injury.

In time, Kingsway took the lead on A.J. Butler's 29-yard touchdown run and a safety on a punt.

"Win the second half, win the game," Schatzman told the players in the locker room, with the team trailing, 9-7.

Kingsway converted a fake punt early in the fourth quarter and stretched its lead to 16-7 on Odom's 16-yard touchdown run.

"It's high school football, and he's tough to tackle," Schatzman said of Odom. "They've got some guys who made some plays. It's going to happen."

The Minutemen battled to the final whistle, with Wizzart coming up with a big fumble recovery, but couldn't regain command.

Moments after the final whistle, the 28-year-old Schatzman stood in front of his players for the last time on the first weekend of his coaching career.

Schatzman talks with his players after Saturday’s defeat to Kingsway.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Schatzman talks with his players after Saturday’s defeat to Kingsway.

"This had nothing to do with your heart and nothing to do with your toughness," Schatzman said. "That's there. Wipe this away. It'll sting for a little, but wipe it away.

"Let it go. Let it go. We're back here Monday, and we're looking to go 1-0 next week."