By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — The Pleasantville vs. Ocean City Thanksgiving Day football rivalry dates back to the middle of World War I. For 100 years the Greyhounds and Red Raiders have been battling it out on the field for bragging rights, and the 2017 game likely will go down as one of the better ones in this long and storied history.
It was fitting that a game featuring two teams that had a lot to play for came down to one play with no time left on the clock. Visiting Pleasantville needed to convert a two-point conversion to force a tie, and overtime — and a win would give the Greyhounds an 8-2 record just two years after going 0-10. Ocean City needed one last defensive stand to secure a 7-3 season and continue building momentum that began last year and this season saw the Red Raiders’ first playoff berth since 2008.
Pleasantville gave the ball to its best player, Mohamed Toure, and it was the hard-charging junior running back vs. the Red Raiders’ senior-laden defensive line. Toure plowed into the line, but came up a foot short of the goal line, allowing Ocean City to hold onto a 34-32 victory.
“We were happy we finished 7-3, and we made our goal of making the playoffs. We fought hard in every game we played. It’s sad that it’s over. We’re all one big family and we all love each other. It means a lot that we finished up 7-3, it’s just disappointing that it’s over. But it couldn’t have been a better game to go out on. Obviously, it didn’t go how we wanted it, with it coming down to the two-point conversion. But I’m glad for our defense did the job, I’m so happy we were able to execute and win the game,” said senior quarterback and defensive back Harry Pfeifle. “Pleasantville has moved up, just like us. Their program has gotten so much better. They have phenomenal athletes, they worked hard and they had just as good a game as us. Toure is good. He’s a heck of a player and he’s hard to tackle.”
“It was a really good game. It came down to the wire. We were all just watching from the sidelines, hoping it would be a storybook ending, and it was. It’s a great way to go out for our senior year. They were a tough team, and both teams played hard. I knew this was going to be a close game. Our entire team knew we had to come out and play hard, and that’s what we did,” said Ocean City senior offensive lineman Sam Holmes. “I knew it was going to be sad (once the game ended) because it’s my last game. But it was a great game, and a great way to go out.”
Pleasantville (7-3) took a 20-7 lead late in the first half when Toure picked off a Pfeifle pass and took it 35 yards to the house, but the Red Raiders (7-3) responded, scoring twice in the final 4:25 of the second quarter to tie the game at 20 heading into halftime. A pass from Pfeifle to Issac Robertson and a big run by Liam Bergman set up Pfeifle’s 5-yard touchdown run to pull Ocean City within 20-14, and after the Red Raiders allowed a Pleasantville drive to continue with a roughing-the-kicker penalty on a punt, Robertson picked off a pass and returned it to the Greyhounds’ 23-yard line. Pfeifle then hooked up with Bobby Shallcross on a short pass, and Shallcross took it down the right sideline to score with just 21 seconds left before halftime.
Ocean City pulled ahead, 34-20, on a touchdown run by Robertson late in the third quarter and another by Berman early in the fourth, but Pleasantville refused to go away. With 6:16 remaining, quarterback Sahmir Jones found Toure on a screen pass, and Toure took it 45 yard to the end zone. Robertson blocked the extra point, leaving the Greyhounds trailing by eight, 34-26.
A couple of first downs would have iced the game for Ocean City, but Pleasantville’s defense held strong, and a fake punt didn’t fool the Greyhounds. They set up shop at the Red Raiders’ 48-yard line with 2:07 to go, and after a pass from Jones to Dan Samuel and a couple of Toure runs, Pleasantville had one last shot with the ball resting on the 3-yard line with nine seconds left. Jones rolled to his left and hooked up with Brian Stalworth in the back of the end zone as the clock hit triple zeroes, setting up the decisive two-point conversion.
“I was hoping they would run my way because I felt like we could stop them. Me and two other teammates, we pulled it in at the end. I was just praying to God. I don’t even know who was with me, it was just two angels and me,” said senior defensive lineman Jimmy Rice, who was among several Red Raiders players who stopped Toure just inches short of the goal line. “It was a hard pill to swallow, losing in the first round of the playoffs, but coming out here and beating Pleasantville on Thanksgiving — I can’t ask for more. It’s perfect. It hurts that my high school career is over, but now it’s on to bigger things. All the seniors, we all watched this program build from the ground up to where we are now, being 7-3. This feels amazing. I’m waiting to cry. The tears are going to come.”
The victory also was special for senior two-way lineman Victor Mahar, who had to sit out the first 30 days of the season after transferring back to his hometown school from St. Augustine Prep.
“This was an amazing experience, coming here for my senior year. This is what we were all about, just coming together and grinding it out, and we got the outcome we wanted. Sitting out 30 days was rough, but it humbled me a little bit. Once I got back out there, I was happy as ever,” he said. “This is setting the standard for the young guys for next year. It’s an amazing feeling. Words can’t describe it.”
Pfeifle and Toure didn’t disappoint in a matchup that featured two of the top athletes in South Jersey. Pfeiffle rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another, while Toure scored twice and played an outstanding game at his middle linebacker position. Pleasantville senior Le’Quai Athill chipped in with two touchdowns in his final game as a Greyhound.
“It’s bittersweet,” Pfeifle said. “We’re happy we went out on a positive note, but, like I said, we’re one big family, so it’s sad (that it’s over). There’s not much more I can say.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays