By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Its seems as though nothing has come easily for the Absegami football team this season. And Mainland wasn’t about to make earning a trip to the state playoffs easy for the Braves on Friday night.
Absegami was in a win-and-you’re-in situation, needing a victory over the Mustangs to clinch a spot in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament. But even after taking a 27-13 lead, closing out the Mustangs was not an easy task. Mainland cut the lead to 27-20, then later sliced into a 34-20 Absegami advantage, but a late interception by Josh Coursey helped seal a 34-27, nail-biting win for the Braves.
“This is a very good team and they were ready to fight the whole game,” Absegami senior wide receiver Josh Coursey said of Mainland. “The same thing happened last year, we came in a little lackadaisical and they were ready to fight. You can never count a team out. We thought we had it early on, but we really had to buckle down and fight for it. They have some good athletes and they played really hard. They were ready to fight tonight.”
Absegami (4-4, 1-3 WJFL Independence Division) chewed up most of the first quarter with a drive that ended when quarterback Andrew Marcucci scrambled to his left and found Jonte Jones in the end zone. The 6-0 lead didn’t last, however, as Mainland (1-7, 1-4) mounted a long drive of its own and took a 7-6 lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Cook to Joe Massari.
The Braves scored twice in the second quarter — on a 2-yard run by Jaden Johnson following a Mainland turnover and a touchdown pass from Marcucci to Coursey with 10 seconds left in the half — and led 27-13 midway through the third quarter. But the Mustangs answered each Absegami scoring drive with one of its own. Massari closed the gap to 20-13 with a 42-yard run down the left sideline on a jet sweep, and later in the third quarter senior running back Kobe Roberts raced in from nine yards to cut the deficit to 27-20.
“We just had to come together as a team, keep working hard, wrap up, run to the ball and just come out of this game with a win,” said Absegami senior linebacker Dante Cooper. “We were prepared for their offense, but we just had to get to the ball and not get washed out so much.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Braves linebacker Ryan Morris picked off a deflected pass and returned it to the Mainland 26-yard line. Coursey then went in motion, took a handoff from Marcucci on a jet sweep, made one cut and raced untouched into the end zone to give the Braves a 34-20 lead.
“My freshman year, I played a lot of running back when I was at Holy Spirit. I was in the backfield a lot. I love running the ball, so my coach likes to get me in the backfield to confuse people and mix it up,” Coursey said. “When I’m catching the ball a lot, teams like to double cover me, so a couple of running plays to confuse them and throw them off usually works.”
“Josh is our star player. I love that kid, that’s my brother right there,” Cooper said. “This has been a tough season, but all the seniors had to step up and put the team on our backs. The turning point was after Ocean City. We thought we were out of it, but we came back and beat Buena and realized we still had a chance (to make the playoffs).”
The teams traded possessions and Mainland got the ball back with 5:43 remaining, and a 15-yard penalty on the Braves set up a 10-yard scoring run by Tyquan Campbell, which shaved the lead to 34-27. Mainland forced an Absegami punt with two minutes to go, but Coursey effectively sealed the game with an interception at midfield.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays