ATCO — Jamie Tyson almost never talks about himself. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s one of the best football players in the state of New Jersey. He’s a receiver in a Wing-T offense, which means he doesn’t get a whole lot of catches. Just 24 this season, to be exact. And Mainland Regional has had so many blowouts this year that he’s rarely been tested on defense.
He reminded everyone on Friday night at Winslow why you always have to know where No. 16 is when you play the Mustangs.
Tyson had one of the best games of his high school career — when his team needed him the most — as he racked up a pair of interceptions, including a 75-yard pick-6, and had two receiving touchdowns as the Mustangs rolled past Winslow, 41-7, in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week and punched their ticket to the Group 4 state championship game. They’ll take on Ramapo, a 24-19 winner over Mt. Olive, the first weekend of December at Rutgers University.
Tyson caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Johnny Franchini to start the second quarter and give Mainland a 14-0 lead, then, as Winslow was driving on its next possession inside the Mainland 30-yard line, Tyson stepped in front of a pass to the sideline and raced 75 yards untouched to put the Stangs up, 21-0, and effectively put the game out of reach with six minutes to go before halftime.
“The player he has developed into is incredible,” said fellow senior Zachary Hodges. “Going from freshman year to now, he’s a whole different player. He’s a great leader, an incredible player — I don’t even have the words to describe how good he is.”
“He’s unbelievable,” added senior running back Stephen Ordille. “He’s one of our stars and he does it all. Touchdown passes, interceptions, pick-6’s — whatever you ask him to do, he does it.”
“It’s just a total team effort. Every week it’s somebody else stepping up. I can’t be more proud of this team, the overall effort of the team. At times, when we needed him to, Johnny could throw the ball, like tonight. Jamie was tremendous on both sides of the ball. They drove the ball on us from time to time, but we had some key turnovers. A couple of interceptions and a couple of big sacks when we needed them. It was just a great team effort tonight on both sides of the ball. We could give out a game ball to just about every single person on our team tonight, that’s what kind of game it was,” said Mainland head coach Chuck Smith. “Jamie is just one of those guys who, as the season has gone on — and he was a great player coming into the season — he’s just gotten better every week. And he’s covering everyone’s No. 1 receiver, so he always has the toughest assignment on defense. He’s just one of those guys who has a nose for the ball. He has great technique and a great burst of speed. He’s a great wide receiver also, and a humble kid. You could go on the bus right now and not even know he had the kind of game he did just now. He’s just a great person.”
Mainland — which lost to Millville in last year’s Group 4 semifinal game — dominated Winslow from start to finish. The Stangs got the ball first and marched 60 yards to take a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard touchdown run by Ordille a little more than three minutes into the game. And even after Winslow (10-3, 4-0 West Jersey Football League Independence) scored on a long pass from Deante Ruffin to Jaylan Hornsby late in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 21-7, Mainland (12-0, 5-0 WJFL United) answered with a clock-eating drive that ended with Franchini finding a wide-open Rocco DeBiaso in the right corner of the end zone to extend the lead to 27-7 just before halftime.
“It’s surreal right now. This is a big one,” Ordille said. “Losing in this spot last year, it feels great to come back and win it this year. We have confidence throughout everybody. Our whole team is full of confidence right now, but we’re just going to keep pushing. Coming in, we knew we just had to stick to what we do best, and we came out here and got the victory.”
Just to put another feather in his cap on this night, in the second half Tyson scored on a 30-yard halfback option pass from Cohen Cook — a pitcher on Mainland’s baseball team — to extend Mainland’s lead to 34-7 and effectively put the game on ice with 10 minutes to play.
“It feels great. We have to keep our heads down, we can’t get complacent,” Hodges said. “One thing we keep drilling every single day, every minute, every second, is mentality. No matter where you’re at, no matter how good you’re doing or how bad you’re doing in the game, you just have to keep going 110 percent. Going into the second half, it would have been easy for a lot of teams to get complacent when they’re up 27-7, but we didn’t. We just kept grinding and kept going, and that showed on the scoreboard.”
Smith said his team took one night to celebrate its big win over Millville last week in the South Jersey Group 4 sectional title game, then it was on to Winslow. The Stangs didn’t even watch the film of the Millville game. That’s how focused this team is.
“Coming off that big win last week you get worried about how you’re going to respond to it, and I’m not lying, our kids didn’t even talk about the Millville game. There wasn’t anything,” Smith said. “The student body was talking about the win all through the week, but our kids didn’t even talk about it. We didn’t even watch the film as a team because we wanted to move right on. This is where we got to last year and that’s what we harped on — that feeling we had when we walked off the field last year, we could have been at the state championship game but we weren’t. That was our focus, to get there. Whatever it took, we had to do it.”
“It feels very vindicating,” Hodges added. “Last year, we lost in this very game, and coming into the year we weren’t even ranked among the top 10 public schools in Group 4. But we’re undeniable now. We beat Millville last week, this week we beat Winslow 41-7. Now we just have to keep it going.”
Ordille said he plans to soak up every moment of the state championship experience.
“Obviously, we had a stud team last year, but we knew this year we were bringing back a lot of great players. We had high hopes this year, and the ultimate one was to get to Rutgers,” he said. “It’s going to be surreal and I’m going to take it all in, every second of it. It’s going to be a great time.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Mainland vs. Ramapo in the Group 4 state championship game at Rutgers, date and time TBD. Winslow’s season is complete.
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.