By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Ocean City star senior running back Jacob Wilson is on the shelf for a few weeks with an injury and on most other high school football teams that would spell trouble. But the Red Raiders these days are far from a one-man show. They’re more like a machine. Like one of those wood chippers — anything you put into it gets shredded to pieces.
On Friday night, it was rival Mainland the unfortunate road block in Ocean City’s quest for an undefeated championship season. The Mustangs had every reason to be motivated for this one — still smarting from last season’s 63-0 loss, the worst on record in the rivalry that now spans 50 games. But a team has to be more than just motivated to beat Ocean City this year.
Senior Sean Mazzitelli filled in quite nicely for Wilson, scoring on the Raiders’ first play from scrimmage and turning in a 140-yard, three touchdown performance as the featured back to lead Ocean City to a 34-6 win. Jack Hoag and quarterback Riley Gunnels also scored touchdowns, as Ocean City took a 13-0 halftime lead and blew the game open in the third quarter.
The Red Raiders were just as good defensively, where they were aiming for their fourth straight shutout to start the season. Mainland quarterback Marlon Leslie spoiled that when he scored from six yards out in the final minute of play, but it took a turnover by Ocean City’s second string offense — in there because the Raiders had a 34-0 lead — for the Mustangs to become the first team to even get into the red zone against Ocean City this year.
All in all, Red Raiders fans couldn’t have asked for a more thorough victory over their arch rivals.
“No matter what it’s a rivalry and it’s going to be a good game. Those kids want to come for us and we want to come for them — and that’s the best thing about it, it’s always a competitive game no matter how good each team is. We know it’s always going to be a good game,” said Ocean City senior defensive end Mike Gray. “It feels like a big win, but it’s not really a big win because we have a lot more games to come. The playoffs are still a long way down the road.”
MAZZ PIZZAZZ: Mazzitelli certainly opened some eyes, and it didn’t take long. After Ocean City’s defense forced a punt on Mainland’s opening possession, a good return from Hoag set the Raiders up at Mainland’s 15-yard line. One play later, Mazzitelli was in the end zone and Ocean City had a 7-0 lead. He scored the backbreaker early in the third quarter, going right up the middle for a 52-yard touchdown that pushed Ocean City’s lead to 20-0 and ended any comeback thoughts the Mustangs may have been harboring.
“We’ve been practicing our new run blocks, so we’ve been able to run the ball differently with new blocking techniques,” Gray said. “(Scoring early) really sets the tone. That get’s everyone going, everyone’s blood is pumping and we’re flying around the field.”
“It’s obviously satisfying, but at the end of the day, we’re on to the next game and we need to have another good week of practice and keep grinding. Jacob is a good player and a great leader for our team, and he pushes me. It’s unfortunate he can’t be out here, but at the end of the day we have to have that ‘next man up’ mentality. Guys have been stepping up, and we need to keep doing that,” Mazzitelli said. “It all starts up front. They set the tone at the line of scrimmage. They were creating holes and that makes the job easier for me. We were running it down their throat, and it all starts at the line of scrimmage and the coaches putting us in the best possible situations.”
“I’ve know that boy Mazz has been a dog since middle school. I’ve known that for a while,” said teammate Tommy Schutta, a defensive back. “He’s very north and south. (His performance) gives us even more confidence because we can run power football. We’re not one-dimensional — we can run the ball, we can throw the ball, and that makes our whole team confident.”
THE TURNING POINT: Even down 20-0, Mainland still wasn’t completely out of it — until the next offensive series. An errant snap while Leslie was in the shotgun formation led to a fumble that was recovered by Ocean City, and that set the Red Raiders up at Mainland’s 14-yard line. On 3rd-and-9, Gunnels found Ricky Wetsel along the right sideline, putting the ball at the 1-yard line. Mazzitelli punched it in, giving O.C. an insurmountable 27-0 lead with 6:49 remaining in the third quarter.
‘D’ FOR DAMNED GOOD DEFENSE!: Heading into this game, Ocean City hadn’t even let an opponent inside the red zone in racking up three straight shutouts. Mainland didn’t fare much better, scoring just six points and managing less than 200 yards of total offense. Take away Leslie’s 97 yards on 20 carries and the Stangs were limited to just 57 yards.
“From the start of the week we’ve been practicing getting off the ball fast and getting into the backfield to disrupt their quarterback, because we know they love to run the ball,” Gray said. “We knew if we stopped the run our defense would be looking good.”
Schutta said the reason Ocean City has been so good defensively so far this season is the tireless work of the Red Raiders’ assistant coaches.
“First of all, I’d like to thank our coach, Coach (Sean) Matthews and Coach (Frank) LaSasso — and all the coaches — they push us and put us in the right positions, and we just execute. The teams we’ve played are talented, but our line and our secondary has been playing better (each week). We just run and hit, to be honest. That’s what it comes down to, that and execution. Just running and hitting, and just doing what the coaches tell us to do,” Schutta said. “Props to the offense because they do everything in their power to score (to make it easier on us) and they have been great throughout the start to this season.”
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR MAINLAND: The Stangs certainly have a lot to clean up defensively, but they shouldn’t hang their heads too much. Ocean City is a really good football team, and at 2-2 Mainland can still put itself in position to be a postseason team.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR OCEAN CITY: That they’re a damned good football team with a lot of versatility and speed.
WHAT’S NEXT: Ocean City hosts Seneca on Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. Mainland travels to Burlington Township on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays