By TIM KELLY
Ocean City’s formula for a successful football season, running the ball to set up the pass, worked to perfection Friday night. Unfortunately, it worked for Millville in a 40-3 rout of the Red Raiders in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game.
Nevertheless, the Raiders enjoyed a special season, one of the greatest in school history, and there could still be some good history to come on Thanksgiving Day.
“We had our opportunities early in the game. We just couldn’t take advantage of them,” Ocean City Head Coach Kevin Smith said. “Things got away from us in the fourth quarter.”
Millville, the highest-ranked public school in New Jersey and top seed in the tournament, opened the game holding Ocean City to a three-and-out, and then going on a methodical eight-play, 53-yard drive. Senior back LeQuint Allen ran it seven of the eight plays, including the final seven yards for a 7-0 lead after Jaden Raynis’ PAT.
Allen would go on to rush for another score, and Nate Robbins would pass for three more, to put the Thunderbolts (10-1) in the state final against the winner of the Shawnee-Winslow Township game.
Ocean City, which went into the game at 11-0 for only the second time in school history, could become the first Raider squad ever to win 12 games with a victory over traditional Thanksgiving Day rival Pleasantville. The Raiders also won the West Jersey Football League Independence Division championship.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team and what we accomplished,” Smith said. “We’re looking forward closing things out the right way on Thanksgiving.”
After Millville’s opening drive, Ocean City again had to punt after three plays. But on its next possession, spanning the last three minutes of the quarter and the first two minutes of the second, they went 67 yards on 12 plays, culminating in Brendan McGonigle’s 29-yard field goal.
Along the way, quarterback Riley Gunnels connected with Jack Hoag for 23 yards, and running back Sean Mazzitelli, who earlier went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark, chipped in with several nice runs.
McGonigle’s kick, which drew Ocean City to within four points of Millville, was his 13th career field goal, a new Cape Atlantic League record. The rest of the night was pretty much all Millville.
On Millville’s next series, Robbins hooked up with frosh receiving sensation Lotzeir Brooks to make it 13-3. Ocean City came back with its own drive, aided by consecutive Millville penalties for pass interference and off-sides.
With the Ocean City running game stalled, Millville’s defensive backs were able to concentrate on covering the Raider receivers. They did not bite on play action fakes since the Millville interior defense was swallowing up most rushing attempts.
“Millville is third in the state for a reason,” Ocean City Assistant Coach Frank LaSasso said. “We have to identify negatives and turn them into positives. Hopefully, our underclassmen will use this as a learning experience.”
The Thunderbolts delivered the dagger in the third quarter, with Allen rushing six times on an 11-play drive, including the final yard. Allen, who is headed to Syracuse University next year, rushed for 135 yards, threw two passes for 50 yards (unofficial stats) and made some big defensive stops.
Despite Allen’s performance and the final score, LaSasso said the Raiders should hold their heads high.
“We are proud of our players and proud of what we accomplished,” he said. “We just came up short of our ultimate goal. We are looking forward to having one more game with our seniors, who have done so much for this program.”