By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MARLTON — For more than 50 years, 1010 WINS has been a news outlet in the New York metropolitan area and it’s famous slogan has been, “Give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world.”
Well, during the NJSIAA football playoffs, the slogan may have well been, “Give Jacob Zamot three minutes and he’ll give you a state playoff victory.”
For the second straight week Zamot, the starting quarterback for Millville, delivered a heart-thumping come-from-behind victory that kept his Thunderbolts alive for a state championship. Last week he directed his club past Hammonton in the waning moments in a sloppy rain, and on Sunday he and his team fought through bitter temperatures and a stiff wind at Cherokee High School to pull off a miraculous 18-14 win over Mainland Regional.
The Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week was a slow slog most of the way, with each team trying to capitalize when it had the wind at its back, but the last few minutes provided a game’s worth of excitement. Millville drove 75 yards in less than three minutes to steal a victory that puts the Bolts into the Group 4 state championship game on Dec. 3. They’ll take on Northern Highlands at 6 p.m. at Rutgers University.
The drive started when Millville (10-2, 4-1 West Jersey Football League American) stopped a Mainland drive and forced a short punt into the wind, setting the Bolts up at their own 25-yard line. Had the Mustangs (10-2, 5-0 WJFL United) gone for it on 4th-and-2 at the Millville 40 and gotten it, they would have had the chance to run much more time off the clock.
“It feels great. When our defense got that stop with three minutes left on the clock, I had no doubt in my mind that our team was going to go down and score. We did it last week (against Hammonton). We’re just built for those kinds of clutch moments, and we showed that today,” said Zamot, a junior and first-year starter, and younger brother of former Holy Spirit standout quarterback Josh Zamot. “We’ve been here before, I’ve been here before, and I have all the confidence in myself. I’m just so grateful to be in this moment.”
The stiff wind thwarted both teams throughout the game, and made it particularly tough on Millville, which relies heavily on Zamot and the passing game to generate points. Mainland drove 41 yards on its opening drive of the game — with the wind at its back — to take a 7-0 lead on a 16-yard pass from freshman quarterback John Franchini to wideout Jamie Tyson. Millville answered later in the first quarter, cutting the deficit to 7-6 when Bricere Hunter scooped up a fumble and raced 44 yards to pay dirt.
Mainland extended its lead to 14-6 on its first possession of the second half — again with the wind at its back. Franchini hit Cohen Cook on a big swing pass that went all the way down to the Millville 15-yard line, and a few plays later Stephen Ordille rushed in from 9 yards out. Nate Kashey’s second extra point gave the Stangs an eight-point lead.
“We went from rain to tornado-like winds. Mainland played a heck of a game, I’m not trying to take anything away from them, but I do feel like we were limited. The ball was hanging up in the air, and in regular conditions (we probably score more),” said Millville first-year coach Humberto Ayala. “But we just had to fight. We’re Millville. We’ve been there. Last week we were there. We’ve been in those moments and experienced those situations to be able to prevail like that. I can’t say enough about this team. We have guys I know I can trust, and the moment is not bigger than them.”
Despite being down, having its offense nearly shut down by the weather and a very good Mainland defense, and committing a slew of penalties, Millville’s never-say-die attitude had the Bolts within 14-12 after Hunter punched it in from a yard out to cap off a lengthy drive early in the fourth quarter. Still, the Bolts needed a huge defensive stand moments later to even have a chance at the end.
Mainland superstar running back Ja’Briel Mace took the ensuing kickoff back about 80 yards before being tripped up at the Millville 3-yard line. Millville then shut Mainland down on four straight plays to stay within 14-12.
Later in the fourth quarter, Millville made good on its final opportunity to score. Zamot came up with a huge play, gaining a chunk of yards to the Mainland 16-yard line on a quarterback draw with less than a minute to go.
“I saw they had no linebackers there and the box was practically empty, so I thought I’d go with a QB draw,” he explained. “I dropped back as if I was going to pass, stepped up into the middle and just got the first down. It was just simple football.”
That set up Na’eem Sharp’s touchdown run with 39 seconds that gave Millville the winning 18-14 margin.
“It was tough. It was freezing and the whole game I was freezing, but that last drive I just had to remain calm and keep my guys calm,” said Zamot, who threw for 142 yards on 14-of-26 passing. “That allowed us to just go out there and do what we do. It feels great. I’m so blessed to be able to have this opportunity.”
“We were just trying to take advantage of what they gave us and finish out strong. When you have the guys we have, you can be confident. It wasn’t how we would like it, but we’re giving people their money’s worth. There were some great games all weekend, and this was one of them,” Ayala added. “I don’t know what to say about it. We have a group of guys — I think (South Jersey Glory Days Senior Football Writer Mark) Trible said it best, if you’re going to take any offense in the state to have to drive that far with three minutes left, it’s probably Millville. Because we have the weapons.
“This is amazing. I’m fortunate, I’m happy, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
What’s next: Millville vs. Northern Highlands on Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at Rutgers University for the Group 4 state championship. (Millville travels to Vineland on Thanksgiving at 10:30 a.m. for its annual rivalry game.) Mainland’s season is complete.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays