By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

MAYS LANDING — Last week, the Mainland Regional High football team suffered a humbling loss as the Mustangs blew an early lead and lost, 21-20, to arch rival Ocean City.

On Friday night, it was time to get back to basics against upstart Oakcrest, which came into the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week sporting a 2-0 record and a ton of confidence.

Those good feelings from wins over Vineland and Middle Township to start the season turned very sour, very quickly for the host Falcons, as Mainland running back Ja’Briel Mace ran roughshod throughout the first half, racking up 153 yards and five touchdowns before a line even formed at the snack stand.

The Villanova-bound senior finished with 207 yards and an eye-popping six touchdowns as Mainland cruised, 49-0, in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week and bounced back in a big way from its only loss of the season so far.

Mainland offensive lineman Paul Lombardo hoists running back Ja’Briel Mace into the air after Mace scored one of his six touchdowns against Oakcrest. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“The reason why I did all that tonight was because of my offensive line. Those guys did a helluva job today,” said Mace, who has rushed for more than 300 yards the past two weeks. “I talked to them this week and said, ‘hey, we have something to prove.’ Especially after last week, letting Ocean City come back in that second half. We’re going to play the rest of this season with a chip on our shoulders like we have something to prove.”

“He’s a very strong runner and he has great vision. He sees the creases that I don’t even see from the sideline, or what the guys see from up top. He sees those creases, is able to put his foot in the dirt and change directions,” said Mainland head coach Chuck Smith. “He’s a great running back and has that breakaway speed, but he’s also a strong runner inside the tackles. A lot of people think he’s just a speed guy.

“We were doing whatever they were giving us, and it just worked out tonight that it was a lot of No. 4.”

Mainland won the opening coin toss and elected to defer and start the game on defense — an interesting decision considering the Mustangs have a Division I running back who could set the tone right off the bat. But coach Smith wanted his defense to get the first chance to show how this game was going to go, and they did just that. Mainland’s defensive unit stuffed Oakcrest on three straight plays, forcing the first of a lot of punts throughout the first half.

Oakcrest (2-1, 0-1 West Jersey Football League United) struggled all night to get its offense going, and never really threatened. The Falcons tried a little bit of everything, including using star receiver Aldrich Doe as a quarterback in the wildcat formation, but the Mustangs (2-1, 2-0 WJFL United) were ready for everything. Mainland even got a pick-6 from defensive back Jamie Tyson late in the second quarter that pushed the lead to 35-0 and put the game out of reach.  

Mainland linebacker J.J. Sinclair (5) reacts after intercepting a tipped pass during the first half. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“Our run defense has been pretty good. We knew they could throw the ball around, they have some very good athletes, and the quarterback — when he has time — can find his receivers and really do damage,” Smith said. “We were trying to get some pressure on the quarterback to have him make quick decisions. We didn’t want him to have time to find those guys down the field because they can go up and get the ball. But, all around, our defense just played a solid game across the board and gave our offense, time and time again, great field position and great opportunities, and we were able to cash in.”

Mace got things going from Mainland’s opening possession, breaking tackles up the middle and eventually taking it outside and down the right sideline to score from 36 yards out. He added scoring runs of 5 and 27 yards to push the lead to 21-0 before even two minutes had gone by in the second quarter.

Following an Oakcrest punt, Mainland got a great pitch-and-catch from freshman John Franchini to Rocco DeBiaso, and that set up another Mace touchdown, this one from 4 yards out that made it 28-0 with 5:25 left before halftime.

It was clear throughout the night that Mainland had a lot of frustration built up after last week’s loss to Ocean City, and the Mustangs took it out on the Falcons early and often.

“All the credit goes to my guys on the offensive line. At the end of the day, it’s about getting a win and that’s what we did. We’re playing this year with a chip on our shoulders and every week we have to go out and prove ourselves,” Mace said. “We let one get away last week, so we came out here with something to prove. That’s our mindset every week.”

Added coach Smith, “it stung last week, obviously, when you lose to your arch rival — and the way we lost to them — we really came in on Monday and tried to refocus on everything. We tried to refocus on putting teams away early. We’ve gotten up in every game this year, have had a big lead, and kind of eased off a little bit. That bit us in the butt last week, but as long as we learn from it — and it looked like tonight we learned from it — it’s a step in the right direction.”

What’s next: Mainland hosts Atlantic City on Friday, Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. Oakcrest travels to Bridgeton on Friday, Sept. 16 at 6 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays