MILLVILLE — Apparently the Mainland Regional High football players got sick of hearing for three months about how Millville was the best team in South Jersey. Consensus number 1, across the board, no argument from anybody.
The Mustangs made sure of that, big time.
Facing the team that kept the Mustangs from playing for a state championship last fall, Mainland unleashed 12 months of pent-up frustration in the form of a dominating effort from its offensive line and one of the best games in the career of senior running back Stephen Ordille. He ran the ball for 244 yards and four touchdowns as Mainland cruised to a 35-13 victory over the Thunderbolts in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week, capturing its second straight sectional championship. Last season, Mainland won the sectional tournament before falling to Millville, 18-14, in the Group 4 semifinals in a game the Mustangs led until the final few minutes.
Friday night provided a measure of sweet revenge, as Mainland used its power running game and ball control offense to neutralize the big-play ability of the highly athletic Thunderbolts. Millville got to within 21-13 as the third quarter expired on an 84-yard touchdown strike from Jacob Zamot to speedy receiver Lotzeir Brooks — who’s getting recruited by just about every big time college in the country.
But Mainland scored twice more in the fourth quarter, cementing one of the biggest victories in program history.
“This is what we have been preparing for all year. We knew we were going to have to play Millville at some point — we didn’t know if it was going to be the championship or not — but I’m just happy our guys came out here tonight and got it done,” said senior middle linebacker J.J. Sinclair. “Since that loss, back when I was a junior, that stung and that feeling has been inside me this whole year. I worked my butt off for this. We work so hard in the weight room every single day, and it’s a blessing to be out there.”
“Last year, that hurt,” said Mainland quarterback John Franchini. “Losing with those seniors hurt and that’s what drove us all offseason and to get back here and win is an amazing feeling.”
Mainland (12-0, 5-0 West Jersey Football League United) forced a 3-and-out on Millville’s first possession, then the Stangs’ offense got to work. Mainland — the No. 2 team all year in the South Jersey Glory Days/South Jersey Football Frenzy Show Best 11 rankings, behind Millville — marched down the field and Ordille punched it in from a couple yards out to put the Stangs up, 7-0. Mainland scored again on its next possession, following another Millville punt, pushing the lead to 14-0 on a 50-yard run down the left sideline by Ordille.
But the Thunderbolts (9-2, 5-0 WJFL American) came right back and scored on the next possession when Zamot found Syracuse recruit Ta’Ron Haile in the left corner of the end zone on a fade route, slicing the deficit to 14-7.
Mainland showed what its offense — designed around the Wing-T running game — is capable of, though, late in the second quarter when the Stangs mounted a five-minute drive that ended with Ordille rushing it in from 4 yards out. Solid work from guys such as Cohen Cook and Rocco DeBiaso in the backfield, along with Ordille, gave Mainland a 21-7 halftime lead.
“Working with (our running backs) in practice, it makes me better as a defensive player because they are so shifty,” Sinclair said. “One cut and they are gone, so they help me improve every day in my game.”
“Every day at practice they are making us work harder and they lead our team. Rocco is one of our best guys, and the first four touchdowns he blocked his tail off,” Franchini said. “And the line did amazing today, I have to give all the credit to them. When I got interviewed after last week’s win they asked me, ‘how are you going to stop their D-line?’ And our offensive line really stepped up. We had had to score early and they we just had to keep our foot on the gas. We couldn’t let up like we did last year. This feels amazing.”
“I’m just so excited. The whole week we were looked at as the underdogs; everybody thought Millville was going to win, so coming in here — we were not going to take that disrespect and we knew we needed to make a statement today,” DeBiaso said. “Our offensive line always controls the game, all five across the front and our tight end, wings and backs. We all block for each other to make plays.”
Midway through the third quarter Mainland caught a break when a 74-yard touchdown catch by Brooks was called back because of a penalty. The Bolts scored on their final possession of the third quarter to make it 21-13, but Mainland responded with a 7-yard touchdown run from Ordille on the next possession. That pushed the lead to 28-13 and it was all Stangs from there, as Millville had just two more possessions the rest of the way, one of which ended with an interception by Jake Blum.
“We just stayed disciplined in our keys and really focused on guys doing their jobs, and guys not overplaying them. They are a shifty team so we had to make sure we hit them low and wrapped up,” Sinclair said. “We had to lock in on our keys (in the second half), communicate and put guys in position to make plays.”
“It all starts with our defense. I’ll put our defense up against anyone. It doesn’t get the respect it deserves,” DeBiaso said. “And our offense, we did what we like to do, which is play power football. It all starts with (assistant coach Tim) Watson in the mindset room, he gets us really prepared. We want to be the mentally tougher team every time.”
Once again, Mainland is one win away from playing for a state championship. Standing in the Stangs’ way is Winslow, a 41-7 winner over Long Branch in the Central Jersey Group 4 championship game. The Eagles have won five straight games, scoring at least 30 points in four of them.
“This just feels like our hard work is paying off, and we don’t intend on stopping anytime soon,” Sinclair said. “We want to keep going, and end this journey with a state championship.”
Added DeBiaso, “we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing — stay prepared, work hard and give our best effort. I’m really confident that if we give full preparation and our best effort, nobody can beat us.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Mainland at Winslow, Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. in the Group 4 state semifinals. Millville hosts Vineland at 10:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Sully, as he’s known throughout South Jersey, began his newspaper career in 1995 and has worked for some of New Jersey’s top papers, including The Asbury Park Press and Press of Atlantic City, as a writer and editor. He’s earned several New Jersey Press Association awards and continues to produce high quality reporting, writing and photography.
A native of Ocean County, Sully played high school baseball at Lacey Township High and college baseball at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. After a successful 15-year career in the newspaper business, Sully launched Glory Days Magazine in 2013 and for nearly a decade has been bringing fans outstanding and insightful coverage of high school sports throughout South Jersey.