By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Mainland Regional senior defensive linemen Hunter Watson and Zach Hodges had spent their entire careers — before Friday night — coming up on the losing end against bitter rival Ocean City. The last five meetings, including two in the state playoffs, had gone the way of the Red Raiders, to the tune of the Mustangs being outscored 180-47.
That stretch featured a 41-7 playoff embarrassment in 2021 and a 63-0 thrashing to end the covid-shortened 2020 season.
The boys in Kelly green took out their frustrations in a big way this weekend, ending that five-game skid with a dominating 35-0 victory in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week that featured the mercy rule running clock throughout the fourth quarter.
“It feels great. They won the last five years and we couldn’t let them get No. 6, that’s never happened in this series before, so we had to stop them,” Hodges said.
Senior running back Stephen Ordille got things started with a 23-yard touchdown run down the left sideline in the first quarter to put Mainland up, 7-0, but Ocean City responded on its next drive as Duke Guenther had a couple of big runs to set the Raiders up with a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Two plays later, however, Ocean City fumbled and Mainland’s Cohen Cook pounced on the ball in the end zone, keeping the shutout intact.
That play was huge and completely swung the momentum back to Mainland, which scored twice more before halftime to take a 21-0 lead into the break.
“We had momentum (after that),” Watson said. “That’s really just our defense flying around. That embodies our effort and our attitude, we fly around and make plays.”
Mainland (2-0, 0-0 West Jersey Football League United) punted immediately following the turnover, but forced a punt for Ocean City and took over again at the Red Raiders’ 45-yard line. Quarterback John Franchini found Jamie Tyson down the left sideline for a 43-yard gain, down to the 2-yard line, and that set up Ordille’s second touchdown of the game as the Mustangs took a 13-0 lead.
“He’s been awesome,” Watson said of the Stangs’ sophomore signal caller. “He’s been a big culture guy and a leader, a locker room guy. We all kind of look up to him, even if we’re older than him. He’s definitely a little more confident. This is our second year under (assistant coach Clyde) Folsom’s offense, so we’re more developed in the offense and getting better every week.”
Ocean (1-1, 0-0 WJFL Independence) City drove down the field again early in the second quarter and was threatening before Tyson picked off a pass in the corner of the end zone. That sparked another Mainland scoring drive, as later in the quarter Cook broke several tackles on an impressive 42-yard burst up the middle. He then caught a pass from Franchini on the two-point conversion as the lead reached 21-0, and that sealed the game even before the halftime whistle.
In the third quarter, Rocco DeBiaso scored on a 21-yard run and Franchini added a passing touchdown, hooking up with Liam Kennedy for a 5-yard score.
Watson said it wasn’t difficult to put the emotion of playing such a bitter rival aside because this Mainland team is so focused on what it’s trying to do every Friday night — it doesn’t matter who the opponent is.
“It was definitely a great feeling,” he said. “We return a good senior class and we’re all coming together and we’re looking good. I thought it was easy (to keep emotions in check), we just had to focus in on the goal and that was, ultimately, to get the goose egg, but most importantly, the win. It was easy to stay focused.”
Hodges said this Mustangs defense is looking to gain some respect and it will get its opportunity soon, as in the next four weeks Mainland takes on the likes of Atlantic City and Absegami, two teams that have shown the ability to put up points. Absegami scored 48 on Friday night in a 50-48 loss to district rival Cedar Creek, and Atlantic City scored 28 in a win over Clearview. Mainland has outscored its opponents 61-7 so far this season in two games.
“We expected to be good this year, but if you look at rankings, we weren’t even ranked in the top 10 in public schools in South Jersey (coming into the season). Nobody expected this out of us, but we always knew we had this in us, and we’ll keep showing it as the year goes on. We’re all dogs on the defensive line, the linebackers — everybody. We all just want to get to the ball and put people in the dirt. That’s all we want to do,” he said. “That’s our goal for the rest of the year — we don’t want anybody to score on us. We want a big, fat goose egg every game the rest of the year.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Mainland hosts Oakcrest on Friday at 6 p.m. Ocean City hosts Cedar Creek on Friday at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays