By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

If you took a look inside Mainland football coach Chuck Smith’s bedroom closet it wouldn’t be surprising if there wasn’t a stitch of red clothing to be found. Ocean City football coach Kevin Smith — no relation — probably doesn’t even wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

That’s the depth of this football rivalry, one of South Jersey’s best, and the two rival school separated only by the 9th Street Bridge and a few miles of asphalt go at it once again at 6 p.m. Thursday at the famed Carey Stadium between 5th and 6th streets in Ocean City.

Not much more than bragging rights will be on the line as these teams play in different divisions now in the West Jersey Football League, but the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week promises to be a good one nonetheless.

Mainland got off to a tremendous start to its 2022 season last Friday morning when the Mustangs blitzed rival Egg Harbor Township with 23 points in the second quarter en route to a dominating 37-0 win over the Eagles. Ocean City, on the other hand, will be smarting from a 21-0 loss to Pennsylvania power Neshaminy. Both games were part of the annual Battle at the Beach kickoff showcase at Ocean City.

The Mustangs don’t have who they thought was going to be their starting quarterback in Marlon Leslie, who transferred back to Pleasantville prior to the season opener, but offensively Mainland still cranked it up against EHT behind star running back Ja’Briel Mace (11 carries, 84 yards, 1 TD) and got some good play from the quarterback position. Freshman John Franchini threw for 57 yards and didn’t turn the ball over, while junior Cohen Cook rushed 12 times for 43 yards and a touchdown.

Mainland also got a boost from junior receiver and defensive back Jamie Tyson, who caught a 22-yard touchdown pass, scored on a 60-yard fumble recovery and also added an interception, all in the second quarter.

RECENT HISTORY: The Red Raiders have dominated the Mustangs in recent years, winning four of the last five meetings, including a 63-0 rout that ended Mainland’s 2020 season. Ocean City also eliminated Mainland from the state playoffs a year ago with a convincing 41-7 win. In the last five meetings, Ocean City has outscored Mainland 165-48.

Mainland has lost four straight games to rival Ocean City, but the Mustangs are coming off a huge season-opening win over Egg Harbor Township at the Battle at the Beach in Ocean City last weekend. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Can Mainland keep it up on offense or did the Stangs just have one really good game? That will be a key question to answer. Ocean City gave up a lot of rushing yards against Neshaminy, but only allowed 21 points and was down just 7-0 heading into halftime. The Red Raiders typically are fast and athletic on defense, which means Franchini and/or Cook will have to make quick decisions in the pocket.

INTERESTING MATCHUP: Ocean City quarterback Riley Gunnels vs. the Mainland secondary. Last week, Gunnels, a two-year starter, didn’t mind slinging the ball around. He had 19 attempts against Neshaminy and completed nine passes to five different receivers, so the Stangs’ secondary will have to have their heads on a swivel. Gunnels also loves to run the ball, and he’s a load to bring down at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.  

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Jack Hoag, Ocean City WR. He’s small and shifty and can get lost sometimes in the secondary, and the Red Raiders likely will use him in a variety of ways, from lining him up in the slot to getting him the ball on jet sweep plays. He also can be a factor in the return game. … Cohen Cook, Mainland QB/RB/WR. He’s kind of Chuck Smith’s Swiss Army knife. He can line up at quarterback and run the ball or split out wide as a receiver, and he’s a tough, solid kid at 6-foot and 190 pounds. … Joe Sheeran, Mainland DB. He’s a senior and seems to always have a knack for making a big play when the Mustangs need one. He’s a two-sport standout (baseball) who is no stranger to big games. … Dan DeFeo, Mainland OL. Had a really nice game as a sophomore against EHT and can move the pile at 250 pounds. Look for Mace to run a lot behind him and Paul Lombardo (6-3, 220). … Nate Keshey, Mainland PK. Just a freshman, he went 5-for-5 on PATs in the season opener, but this is a rivalry game and you never know how the wind is going to be blowing at night at Carey Stadium. He’ll need to stay focused because this game could be close heading into the fourth quarter.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays