By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MAYS LANDING — Xavier Bullock, a junior wide receiver at Egg Harbor Township, has been hearing a lot about older brother Aaron a lot so far this football season. Aaron is the quarterback at Oakcrest and was the talk of the town after getting the Falcons — who went 0-8 last year — off to a 2-0 start.
On Friday night, Xavier figured it was about time everybody knew there was another Bullock in the family.
The lanky wide receiver (6-foot-3, 165 pounds) came up with the biggest play of the night Friday, catching a pass on an inward slant pattern and crashing into the end zone with 47 seconds to play to lift Egg Harbor Township to its first win of the season, 13-7 over the Falcons. It was a huge win for the Eagles, who were staring down an 0-3 start after disappointing losses to Mainland Regional and Washington Township to start the season.
“I just ran my route. I wasn’t expecting the ball because that play wasn’t really meant for me. I wasn’t expecting it, but it came my way and I had to catch it,” Xavier Bullock said. “My confidence was a little low in the beginning (of the season) because I’m coming off an injury. Throughout the game my nerves started to calm down and I was good toward the end of the game.”
Oakcrest (2-1) still had a chance though, as Aaron Bullock drove the Falcons down the field in the final 45 seconds, using big passing plays to Asad Hunt and Marcus Holcomb to get the ball inside the Eagles’ 5-yard line with four seconds remaining. On the final play of the game, Bullock rolled right and had a receiver open in the corner of the end zone, but pressure from EHT linebacker Mike Simeon and defensive back Marco Algarin forced an errant throw.
“I was thinking we had to sack the quarterback. Obviously, we didn’t do that, but the DBs did what they had to do, and that’s all that matters. We’re happy for the win,” said EHT senior defensive lineman Michelot Sine. “If we went 0-3 it would be hard for us to make the playoffs, but now we’re 1-2 and next week we have to be 2-2. We have to keep building and hopefully we’ll get into the playoffs this year. That’s our goal.”
SLOPPY PLAY: Neither offense could get on track throughout the game. A lot of that had to do with good defense, but there also were a slew of penalties and plenty of incomplete passes. Oakcrest’s first possession of the game ended with an interception by EHT’s Tevon Belgrave, and EHT followed with a punt. That’s how much of the first half went until Oakcrest mounted a drive early in the second quarter that ended with Aaron Bullock plowing his way in from a few yards out to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead.
The Eagles (1-2) tied the game at 7 late in the second quarter, taking advantage of a turnover on downs at the Oakcrest 42-yard line. That led to a big run by senior Rondell Vaughan Jr. that set up Mohamed Soumaworo’s 7-yard scoring run around the left side. That was all either team could manage until the final minute of play.
“Messy field, messy routes, messy cuts — we just had to fight through it and come out on top. It felt good, especially the outcome. It was a dogfight to the end, and we earned it. Now we just have to build off of this,” said EHT senior quarterback Christian Rando. “It was nail-biting, but our defense had stopped them all game long, so I had confidence in my guys.”
“It was hard to contain (Bullock). You have to contain him because if you don’t he’s going to take the ball outside, and that’s when he can hurt you,” Sine added. “But we did a good job of that and we just have to continue doing that.”
THE TURNING POINT: With 3:25 remaining and Oakcrest taking over 1st-and-10 at its own 20, EHT defensive lineman Eugene Allen burst through the line and sacked Bullock for a loss of 10. On the next play, the Falcons were whistled for a flag and faced 2nd-and-25 at the 5-yard line. The drive stalled, and EHT got great field position following a punt, setting up shop at Oakcrest’s 27-yard line with 2:01 to play. That led to Rando’s game-winning pass to Xavier Bullock.
SIBLING RIVALRY: There was plenty of trash talk in the Bullock household leading up to Friday’s game, but when it came time to perform, both brothers did their jobs well. Xavier had some dropped passes in the first two games but came through big time for his team in this one, catching a screamer of a pass over the middle from Rando for the game-winner.
“We knew what routes we had and we’ve run them plenty of times in practice. We expected it (to be open),” Rando said. “The first couple games of varsity sometimes guys have shaky hands, but it settles down. We’re in the third game now and he’s had passes thrown his way. He’s settling down and making big plays.”
“All day this didn’t seem real. I’ve been on a team with my brother for like 10 years and this is the first time I’m playing without him. It didn’t feel real until we finally got to the field. I had to step up because I’m a big part of this offense,” Xavier Bullock said. “I was really nervous throughout the whole game. I was just encouraging my team. Then we scored, and on the sideline I was so nervous because they were about to score.
“(Aaron) has been really good this year, better than last year, and I’m looking to be better, too.”
Xavier said he didn’t know what to think or feel throughout the experience. He had always been on a team with his brother, and now they were forced to square off against each other on different sidelines.
“My mind is having a thousand thoughts right now,” Xavier Bullock said. “I can’t wait to get home and see my family — we had a lot of family members come in from out of town, so I can’t wait to see them. And I can’t wait to talk to my brother.”
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR OAKCREST: It means the Falcons have to work even harder to prove that 2-0 start was no fluke. Make no mistake, the Falcons have some dudes who can play, but they’ll have to clean up some of the penalties that held them back against EHT. Defensively Oakcrest is a good football team and that defense will keep them in games, but the Falcons will have to figure out how better to sustain drives, especially against the likes of upcoming opponents such as Delsea Regional, Cedar Creek and Ocean City.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR EHT: It’s a huge monkey off the back of coach Kevin Stetser and this team. The Eagles have some very good players and an 0-3 start could have been disastrous for this team’s confidence level, but now they’ll have some momentum heading into next week’s home game. Wins are critical now that EHT put itself in an 0-2 hole to start the season, so look for this squad to come out with some renewed energy next Friday night.
“It was a tough game, but we are happy with the win and we want to build from this,” Sine said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves though, we have to keep working and build from this and get another dub this week. That’s what we have to do. This was a tough game, really hard, but we got through it.”
WHAT’S NEXT: EHT hosts Cherry Hill West on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. Oakcrest hosts Delsea at 6 p.m. on Sept. 17.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays