By MARK TRIBLE
South Jersey Glory Days Senior Football Writer
MILLVILLE — Chuck Smith woke up at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday night.
He didn’t go back to sleep.
That morning in a staff meeting, the Mainland High football coach rewatched last year’s 18-14 loss to Millville in the state semifinals. For the rest of the day, he felt the frustration and pain all over again.
However, that late wake-up call provided Smith with a new view.
“I was confident because I said, you know what? We were the better team last year,” Smith said. “We shot ourselves in the foot and against a good team you can’t do that so many times. We were the better team last year.
“… So, this entire week we were confident that we were going to score points and shut them down. The kids proved it tonight.”
Boy, did they.
With a 35-13 runaway on the road, the Mustangs (12-0) hoisted the South Jersey Group 4 championship trophy.
They will play at Winslow next week in the state semifinals. The Eagles (10-2) rolled Long Branch 41-7 to claim the Central Jersey crown.
After vanquishing the demons of the Thunderbolts (9-2), Mainland finds itself back at the same step as 2022.
The Mustangs know they are better prepared. For a championship-caliber team, the fire can build up after a year of anguish. When the team first gathered in July, Smith reminded his club of the pain that came when it all crashed to a halt that blustery day at Cherokee High School.
The flames got fed with time. Now, the blaze roars.
No one brought more heat than senior back Stephen Ordille here at Wheaton Field. He ran 33 times for 244 yards and four touchdowns. Constantly, the Mustangs run game — called by legendary local coach Clyde Folsom — out-leveraged the hosts’ defense.
Before Friday, Millville allowed 685 yards on the ground all season. Ordille hit about 35 percent of that number. He doubled the total of rush touchdowns the Bolts had given up in the campaign.
Quite simply, Mainland took it right to its bully and never relented. No close calls, no missed opportunities, no could, would or should haves. They took a moment and made it theirs. That’s what second chances are all about.
“The whole year, I remember watching that game back and back and back,” Ordille said. “I wanted to see them again, and thankfully how everything turned out we were able to see them again on their field.
“To come out with a victory felt great.”
Outside linebacker and tight end Hunter Watson — all 6 feet, 5 inches of him — sees the strength that’s built up over the past 12 months.
“We definitely have more experience and in the second half of the season, we know what’s coming,” Watson said. “We expect these teams to be good because we played a lot of great teams last year.
“It’s really just our expectations now. We knew what to expect and we knew what was coming.”
Smith explained further.
“This really started four years ago with these guys,” the coach said. “A lot of these guys played as freshmen and sophomores, before their time. They took their lumps and stuck with it.
“… I’ve been around a lot of great teams at Mainland and these guys rank right up with the best of the best. It’s a tribute to them and their work ethic, their character and their families.”
While many across South Jersey and the state may have been stunned at the spread between the second-seeded Mustangs and No. 1 seed Thunderbolts, Smith wasn’t.
Neither were his players. Nor the assistant coaches.
They felt they should have beaten Millville last year and gone to the state finals. They righted the first error — they’ll get their shot at the second next week.
And odds are that Chuck Smith will sleep through the night.
Mark Trible is a special high school football writer for South Jersey Glory Days. You can follow him on Twitter @MTrible. Also, catch his high school football show (The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show) every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at facebook.com/sjglorydays.