By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Every coach in America tells their team after the season opener that there is a ton yet to work on and that even with a win the boys shouldn’t be satisfied and get complacent.
Ocean City coach Kevin Smith told his Red Raiders exactly that late Friday night at Carey Stadium at the end of Day 1 of the Battle at the Beach showcase — and he’s right, there is plenty for Ocean City to work on. But overall they looked pretty good in a convincing 21-0 win over visiting Vineland.
The Red Raiders got off to a bit of a slow start, scoring just once in the first half, but added short touchdown runs from senior running back Jacob Wilson and junior quarterback Riley Gunnels in the third quarter to take command. From there, the Red Raiders relied on a suffocating defense that limited the Fighting Clan to less than 50 yards of total offense and just five first downs. Vineland was barely able to move the ball at all in the second half.
“I felt like I played pretty well, my teammates played well and our defense played really well. The seniors, they led the defense and shut them out,” said Wilson, who scored the game’s first touchdown by rumbling in from a few yards out late in the first quarter.
“We started out a little shaky, you saw the first half, but in the second half we got better,” said senior C.J. Conti, a two-way lineman for Ocean City. “The atmosphere was great with people all around. It was a blast. This was one of the most fun football games I’ve ever played in.”
The day started out with a bang as St. Joseph Academy, out of Hammonton, took down Northeast (Philly) 31-19, then Salem rallied for a huge 22-20 win over Camden, which came in as the No. 18-ranked team in the state, according to nj.com. In the third of four games on Friday, Marple Newtown (Pa.) edged Collingswood, 14-8.
THE TURNING POINT: After kind of a lackluster first half by both teams, Ocean City got its power running game going in the third quarter behind Runnels, making his first career start after taking over for the graduated Joe Repetti, who now is at Muhlenberg. The Red Raiders went 3-and-out on their first drive of the second half but then got into gear. They took over inside the Vineland 45-yard line, and during the drive Runnels converted a third-and-3 at the 22 to keep the drive alive.
That play was huge because a few plays later Wilson carried a couple of Vineland defenders into the end zone, scoring from six yards out. Brendan McGonigle’s extra point made it 14-0 with 6:18 left in the third. Ocean City tacked on, scoring on its next drive after the defense provided yet another 3-and-out.
“We have some returning starters on the offensive line and they’ve been working their tail off. I trust running the ball behind them,” Wilson said.
“We have a lot of new people and it’s great to get some confidence going. We have things to work out, obviously, but I like how we’ve started,” Conte added. “I feel like we are really starting to find our identity. We’re usually not a power running team, but we got into it today and it was working. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, you know what I’m saying? It works.”
WAITING GAME: It wasn’t a typical Friday night, as some wacky weather delayed some of the earlier games, meaning Ocean City and Vineland didn’t kick off until about 9 p.m., and the game didn’t end until after 11. Players had to just deal with the waiting around.
“I came in and watched the morning games, the St. Joe game and the Camden game, then went and got some food and saw the weather was getting a little crazy. I rested, came here and I was just locked in,” Wilson said. “I just put my music on and was just trying to roll.”
STARS OF THE NIGHT: Wilson proved he’s one of the better backs in Cape May and Atlantic counties with his two touchdowns, and Gunnels was sharp with his decision making in the power option run game in his first start. Conte was really good playing both ways on the line, as was fellow senior Zach Mazzitelli. And he may get overlooked because he’s only listed at 132 pounds, but junior Jack Hoag played pretty well in the defensive backfield and also in the return game.
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR VINELAND: The Fighting Clan don’t have much time to sit around and feel sorry for themselves — they have to figure out ways to move the ball offensively, and quickly. Next up is a home game against Clearview that kicks off a pretty brutal stretch for Vineland. It has to contend with Lenape and Hammonton on the road and also faces Shawnee, Mainland, St. Augustine Prep and Williamstown, all before October is done.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR OCEAN CITY: It’s nice to get a win in the season opener, but the Red Raiders can’t start sitting around thinking they are world beaters. Their September stretch features Hammonton, Absegami, Mainland Regional and Seneca. And Mainland will be out for revenge after Ocean City whipped the Mustangs 63-0 a year ago.
But there was plenty to build on for Ocean City. The defense played with intensity and flocked around the ball, and the offense was able to move the ball on certain drives. This is a team that will continue to get better as the season progresses.
“We have the effort and the talent, we just need the leadership,” explained Wilson. “We need people to step up, and I’m going to do my best to step up and help lead this team.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Ocean City hosts Hammonton (1-0 after a 32-13 win over Absegami on Friday night) on Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. Vineland hosts Clearview on Sept. 3 at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays