By Tim Kelly
There are no more moral victories.
“I’m not going to lie to you, this one hurts,” Ocean City head football coach Kevin Smith said after the Red Raiders’ crushing 20-14 overtime loss to Oakcrest on Friday night.
The Raiders’ third straight loss dropped their record to 3-3 overall, 3-1 in the West Jersey Football League’s Independence Division and put their playoff aspirations on hold for another week. They could have clinched a spot in the NJSIAA’s Group 4 tournament with a win, but the Falcons, who improved their overall record to 4-3, spoiled the party.
Keevon Berry rumbled eight yards for the winning score in overtime, but the Raiders still had a chance to win when they blocked David Connolley’s extra point and advanced the ball to the nine yard line on their overtime possession.
Quarterback Ian Aungst’s nine-yard completion to receiver Brendan Lashley gave OC a first and goal. On the next play, Aungst looked for Lashley on a fade route in the left corner of the end zone.
Lashley almost made a spectacular one-handed grab, but the officials ruled he did not have possession and control of the ball. Two plays later, Alec Rodriquez clinched the win for Oakcrest with an interception.
“That was just a great football game with two good teams going at it,” Oakcrest coach Eric Anderson said. “We have a bye week coming up so we can sit back and watch some games.”
Ocean City won’t have that luxury, but still has a golden opportunity for a championship season and a playoff berth.
The Red Raiders host archrival Mainland next Friday and a win over the ‘Stangs would clinch at least a share of the Independence Division title and their spot in the playoffs. That was of little solace on Friday, however, especially given the way Ocean City lost.
Following a scoreless first quarter, the Raiders drew first blood on an eight-play, 82-yard drive highlighted by an Aungst screen to Billy Kroeger for 46 yards and capped by a 23-yard hookup with Jake Schneider for the touchdown. Matt Mealey’s extra point made it 7-0.
Oakcrest answered with its own drive, which advanced to the Raider seven, but a defensive stand and a costly illegal formation penalty turned the ball over to the Raiders with 3:16 left in the half. Isaac Wilson’s run picked up 23 yards, a pair of completions to Schneider and another Wilson run advanced the ball inside the Oakcrest 30.
But an Ocean City fumble turned the ball over at the 24, which seemed to give the Falcons new life.
“That was a big momentum changer,” said Anderson, whose charges proceeded to march 76 yards on eight plays, capped by a Trey Sayers-to-Jalen Turney 16-yard post pattern.
Ocean City came back to regain the lead midway through the third when they nearly blocked an Oakcrest punt, which traveled only 16 yards from the line of scrimmage. This gave the Raiders the ball at the Oakcrest 35, and two plays later, it was 14-7 on Aungst’s 31-yard pass play to Lashley.
The Ocean City wideout caught the ball in space near the left sideline and made a sweet move to make the Oakcrest defender miss the tackle at about the 12 yard line and sprinted in the rest of the way.
Oakcrest answered with a 76-yard drive stretching across the third quarter and into the fourth. Marques Miller, the Falcons’ speedy and durable running back, had two runs of nine yards each and the climaxing 4-yard burst on the way to a game-high 110 yards rushing in regulation.
But the big play on the Oakcrest march was a 49-yard pass from Sayers to Angel Casanova. The extra point tied the game at 14.
Oakcrest threatened again late in regulation, driving to the OC 21, but junior cornerback Louis Conte ended the threat with a diving interception with 23 seconds remaining to set the stage for overtime.
Similar to the college OT format, each team had a chance to score from the opponent’s 25 yard line. After the final play, Smith expressed confidence in his team, despite their disappointment.
“We’ll bounce back. Mainland is our biggest rival. We will be ready to go,” he said.