By TIM KELLY
Revenge is a dish best served piping hot.
At least that’s what the Ocean City High School football team and its fans could be thinking since the state football playoff pairings were announced earlier in the week.
The pairings gurus at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association decided it would be a good idea to renew one of the area’s most intense rivalries for a first round playoff game. It will come just eight days removed from the undefeated Mustangs’ 21-6 conquest at Mainland in front of a huge crowd.
Originally set for Friday night, the postseason game was re-scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Stangs’ Linwood campus, due to “unspecified security precautions,” according to published reports.
The Mustangs’ regular season victory last Friday put them in control of the West Jersey Football League’s Independence Division race and clinched at least a tie for the crown. They could win it outright if they knock off Egg Harbor Township on Nov. 28.
Ocean City (6-2) is still mathematically alive for a share of the title, although the Red Raiders would need help. No help is required for the immediate goal at hand: a win in their second chance opportunity against the Stangs.
The Red Raiders would like nothing more than to get back on the winning track, deny Mainland a chance to advance in the playoffs and hand the Mustangs their first loss in the process. The Raiders are the playoffs’ seventh-seeded team.
For Mainland, now 8-0 and the No. 2 seed in the tourney, back-to-back wins over Ocean City this year and the third in a row since 2017, would be the cherry on top of what to this point has been a perfect season.
“Thank you to everyone who came out and packed the place,” Ocean City Coach Kevin Smith told supporters in an e-mail. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t put on a better show. The good news is … we get a rematch! Let’s do it again only with a different result this time.”
Ocean City’s high-powered offense never got into synch in the first meeting, a situation the Mainland defense had a lot to do with.
The Mustangs sacked O.C. quarterback Joe Repetti eight times in the game, pressured him all night and limited the passing game to just 82 yards. In all, the Mustang defenders limited the Red Raiders to 182 yards of total offense, 100 of which came on the ground.
The most important stat, of course, is points, and the Mustangs limited Ocean City, which averaged almost 36 points per game, to just six.
“Mainland played well and we didn’t,” said Smith, “and that led to a disappointing loss.”
Ocean City had a number of scoring chances early in the game but failed to cash in. Mainland’s star freshman running back, JaBriel Mace, reeled off a 40-yard touchdown run before halftime on his way to 112 yards.
The game took a dark turn for the Raiders early in the third when they couldn’t mount a drive and the Stangs made it 14-0 on a Zack Graziotto-to-Jake Cook 56-yard bomb.
Although O.C. came back to cut the lead to 14-6, the Raiders never really got back in the game.
“Mainland made all the big plays and they were more physical than us. That was the difference in the game,” Smith said.
An Ocean City win on Saturday would not only wash that disappointment away, it would set up a second round game Nov. 15 against the winner of Friday night’s Highland-Long Branch matchup.
As the lowest seed among those three teams, O.C. would be on the road again. But that is getting ahead of things. First things first: a familiar opponent and a chance for redemption.