By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — With a little more than six minutes remaining in Ocean City’s game against Williamstown on Saturday afternoon at Carey Stadium, Red Raiders running back Sean Mazzitelli ran around the right side and scored from 9 yards out. His celebration was a pretty spot-on rendition of Michael Jackson in the “Thriller” video. It’s Halloween weekend, why not have a little fun, right? Especially when you’re up 31-7 and about to improve to 9-0.
Williamstown was able to get a late score but by that time the outcome was decided, and the final score in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week read 31-14. Another dominating performance by Ocean City’s offensive line and rushing attack. Football is pretty darn fun at the shore these days, as the Red Raiders seemingly can do no wrong.
Now, tougher test are sure to come when the state playoffs begin next weekend, but on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, at least, all was right in Raider Land and the wins just keep on coming, even as the team deals with injuries to star players.
Stud defensive end Mike Gray went down in the first half with an ankle injury in the first half and was in street clothes for the second half, and senior running back Jacob Wilson has seen limited touches recently as he works his way back from a leg injury. But no matter, the Red Raiders have plenty of guys who can get the job done. Wilson did finish with 99 yards on 21 carries, as he seems to be rounding into playoff shape, and quarterback Riley Gunnels rushed for a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs. Mazzitelli rushed for an additional 91 yards on 18 carries as Ocean City ran the ball 50 times for 228 yards and four scores.
“When we scheduled this game we knew it would be a tune-up for the playoffs and we wanted to play a championship-caliber program. We got everything we wanted out of it,” said Ocean City head coach Kevin Smith. “Unfortunately, a couple of guys got banged up and we hope they’ll be OK, but from a football perspective it gives us great experience.”
“It took a little bit for us to get rolling. They changed defenses on us a couple times but once we got locked in on what we wanted to do, it turned out great,” said senior center and defensive tackle C.J. Conti.
THE TURNING POINT: Ocean City took a 14-7 halftime lead on a 4-yard Mazzitelli run late in the second quarter, and the third quarter started with a bang as Jack Hoag took the kickoff back more than 50 yards to set the Red Raiders up at Williamstown’s 27 yard line. Gunnels capped off the ensuing drive with his second touchdown run of the day, giving Ocean City a 21-0 lead.
And with the way Ocean City’s defense was playing, and has played this year (Williamstown is the only team to score more than eight points against the Raiders this season), a two-touchdown lead seemed pretty safe.
“They got a lucky one at the end, but we have that ‘next play’ mentality, and that keeps us in check. If they get a big play, OK, on the next play let’s go get a sack,” Conti said.
DOMINATING THE TRENCHES: It all starts up front for Ocean City with its offensive line of Conti surrounded on his left by guard Justin Gooden and tackle Zach Mazzitelli, and on his right by guard Micco Dawkins and Eddie Pearce, along with Gray at tight end.
The Red Raiders averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry against a pretty tough Williamstown defensive unit, and Ocean City was able to wear down the Braves in the second half, scoring three times, including twice in the third quarter on a Gunnels touchdown and a 27-yard field goal from placekicker Brendan McGonigle.
“We’re real tight, we all work hard and everyone gives 110 percent each play. Honestly, we’d be disappointed in each other if we didn’t,” Conti said. “Me and Z-Mazz, we’ve both been starting on the line for three years so we know our way around by now, and our new starters at right tackle, right guard and left guard are really starting to come around, and we’re working together as a team. We have three backs who are great and our linemen have been doing a great job. We just have to keep working hard every practice.
“It’s been a great season. We’ve all been together for several years and have played a lot of football together. We had a good sophomore season and a good junior season,” Zach Mazzitelli said. “We just focus on our technique. Our coaches are great and we have some young guys who came to coach us this year. We just follow the rules and get off the ball.”
Making things extra special is every time Sean Mazzitelli scores a touchdown he can turn around and thank his brother for paving the way.
“I love it. We’re all blocking for him and he’s doing great, and that’s a reflection on us so I love it,” Zach said. “We’ll remember this the rest of our lives.”
The defensive line, anchored by senior defensive tackle Brandon Bobb, was just as good, limiting Williamstown to 87 carries. Star running back Turner Inge did finish with 93 yards and two touchdowns but had to grind them out on 25 carries.
“The Inge kid is a great running back and our No. 1 priority was to tackle him, and be physical up front,” coach Smith said. “We wanted to match their physicality. We were able to accomplish both those things. If we can keep playing as physically as we did today, into the playoffs, that bodes well for us.”
NEW SEASON STARTS NOW: Everything has led up to this moment, as Ocean City now will begin preparing for the state playoffs. Two years ago the Red Raiders lost to Shawnee in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game. During last year’s covid-shortened season, Ocean City went 6-2 and lost to Williamstown in its final game.
The Red Raiders would love to be holding the trophy when all is said and done this season.
“It’s going to take practice. When you can stay focused on Tuesday and Wednesday, the next thing you know you’re winning championships,” Conti said.
Added Zach Mazzitelli, “we just have to keep going and think about what it took for us in the past to get (to a championship game), and just go out and play football every week.”
“This group of seniors is very businesslike and they practice so well. They show up on Tuesday with a Friday night mindset, and I think that’s been a huge thing for us this year,” Smith said. “Somebody might say this about you, or that about you, but for the most part these guys just go to work. That’s one thing I love about them is their mental approach. It’s good to beat a team like Williamstown because they are a championship type of program, but we’ve been in a lot of big games the last three or four years and have played a lot of good programs.
“You have to play complete football games in the playoffs and you can’t hurt yourself with mistakes. We made too many penalties today and you can’t do that against the top level teams.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays