By Tim Kelly
It was the Brandon Lashley Show.
Ocean City High School’s 35-0 defeat of Washington Township on Thursday night was a team effort on both sides of the ball and special teams, but Lashley’s individual effort stood out.
All the senior wide receiver-safety did was set two school records, grab three touchdown passes of 40, 24, and 12 yards, and on defense pick off Minutemen quarterback Roger Baldacci twice.
One of the picks was three yards deep in the end zone and Lashley took it to the house. The 103-yard interception return was the longest in OC’s long grid history, and his three TDs gave him 13 for the season, another record.
“The blocking was there all night,” said Lashley, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior. “When I was running down the sideline, all I could hear was Coach (Kevin) Smith yelling ‘Build the wall!’ and the blockers were there for me.”
Ocean City (4-5) got off to a fast start and dominated Washington Township in a consolation game of the NJSIAA playoffs in the last home game of the season.
They could finish with a .500 record with a win on Thanksgiving at Pleasantville, but Friday night was all about getting back on the winning side of the ledger.
After winning their first three games, the Raiders dropped five straight, most in close, excruciating fashion. Four of those games could have gone the other way, and the Raiders made Washington Township (3-6) pay.
On their second possession, quarterback Ian Aungst, who came into the game looking to pad his own single-season passing yardage record of 1,633 yards, hooked up with a wide open Lashley on a deep post pattern. Kicker Henry Souto booted the first of his five extra points following the 40-yard TD.
“We’ve scored first in the last four games,” Smith said, “and tonight we were able to get over the hump and finish the job.”
The OC defense, which posted its second shutout of the season, got the ball back quickly with consecutive sacks of Baldacci by Michael Rhodes and Will Drain, forcing a punt that Lashley returned to the Township eight.
Two plays later, it was 14-0 on a Kevin King four-yard plunge and Souto conversion. The Raiders got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff when Travis Stoerrie forced the first of three Washington Township lost fumbles, recovered by Jake Schneider at the Minutemen 24.
On first down, Aungst lofted a pass for the right corner of the end zone, which Lashley snagged for a 21-0 first quarter lead.
“I saw that I was taller than (the defender) and I trusted Ian to get the ball to me,” Lashley said.
It only got worse for Township, a Gloucester County school representing the West Jersey Football League’s tough Royal division. The Minutemen seemed to finally get their offense on track, putting three first downs together in advancing the ball from their own 40 down to the Ocean City 20.
However, on a fourth down play from there, Baldacci looked for Brendan Leone in the end zone, where Lashley made his interception and 103-yard return.
It was just the crowning highlight of a defensive effort that limited Township to 62 yards rushing and constantly pressured Baldacci.
“We have a drill where we practice (interception returns),” said Smith. “As coaches, we get excited when we see the kids apply in a game what we spend time practicing on.”
Among the many great blocks on the return was a cruncher by Austin Green to help spring Lashley.
OC’s final TD came on a textbook 70-yard, 15-play drive highlighted by a 20-yard Aungst-to-Schneider hookup and capped by – What else? – a scoring pass to Lashley.
“We like to spread the field on offense, because we don’t have a lot of size,” said Smith. “And we like to make (the opposition) defend the whole width of the field.”
That was certainly the case Thursday night. Smith credited the offensive line of center Chris Armstrong, guards Zac Clark and Jack Baker and tackles Jackson Young and Dan Auberzinsky.
“When Ian has time to throw, and we gave up no sacks tonight, we can be a very good offense,” said Smith.