By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
The Ocean City football team is fired up. Not only is it rivalry week, as the Red Raiders are set to visit Linwood tonight and take on Mainland, but Ocean City also is brimming with confidence after an electric, 40-37 win over Middle Township last week that kept their state playoff hopes alive.
A victory tonight (Ocean City at Mainland, 6 p.m.) would be huge for the Red Raiders (2-3), as they also have Lower Cape May and St. Joseph remaining on the schedule before the cutoff date for the playoffs, and they come into this week’s game just four power points behind Delsea Regional for the final playoff berth in South Jersey Group 3. And although Mainland (0-5) comes in winless, it’s still a rivalry game, and anything can happen when these two schools get together.
“I don’t know what makes it so special, but everybody has been focused at practice all week. I guess because we are so close and everyone has been playing against each other forever. Bragging rights are on the line,” said Ocean City senior quarterback Andrew Donoghue. “All the students in school are excited for this game. Even after the game (against Middle) people were excited about this game, traveling over the bridge to see us play them. It’s a crazy environment and there’s nothing like it.”
Part of the reason Ocean City is so confident is because Donoghue has been playing some very good football recently. In the win over Middle, he completed 16-of-26 passes for a career-high 341 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for another touchdown. Matt Lashley caught a pair of scoring passes, and Isaac Robertson has been a huge weapon in the passing game out of the backfield. Senior Dan Walsh and junior Liam Bergman have also been a big part of an offense that has scored 89 points in the past three games.
“Isaac has been a huge asset to this team and I’m glad he came out. He hasn’t played since middle school, he said, but he’s been doing great. Him, Danny and Liam have been doing great. They are different types of backs, so it puts pressure on the defense to game plan around them,” Donoghue said. “Isaac is shifty, Dan is powerful and can run people over, and Liam is kind of a combination of both. It adds great diversity to the offense. If I don’t see something I like, I know I always have one of those guys coming out of the backfield and I can dump the ball off and they are going to get some yards.”
Donoghue also plays basketball and baseball, and said he feels like he is in the kind of zone right now like in basketball, when it feels like every shot is going to fall, or in baseball when you feel like everything you hit is going to be a line drive up the middle.
“I didn’t realize until about the fourth quarter what type of game we were having (offensively) because the lead kept changing back and forth. In the fourth quarter, when I was on the sidelines, me and Harry Pfeifle were talking and we were saying what a great game the offense and the receivers were having. When we all get into that zone, we can do some cool stuff,” he said. “When you get that big pass, you just feel like you can teleport the football to your teammates, and you can stay in that zone for the whole game. It’s just like in basketball, hitting that shot and feeling like you’re on fire, or in baseball when you are on a hot streak every pitch looks like a balloon coming in. It’s a nice feeling to have.”
In a rivalry like this, that goes back decades and has seen both teams play in state championship games — even against each other — there is bound to be some trash talking. Ever the politically correct quarterback, Donoghue said he tries to keep his distance from that kind of stuff.
“Last year, there wasn’t too much,” Donoghue said. “But there will probably be a little bit of talking. There will be some words said in the trenches.”
The key for the Red Raiders, he said, is keeping composure when the emotions start to run high. Mainland week gets a lot of hype among the student body at Ocean City, and the student fan sections will go to great lengths to out-do each other.
“This whole week, (coach Kevin Smith) has been preaching discipline and execution. We just have to do what we are coached to do. When we do that, we are a pretty good team and can string some drives together,” Donoghue said. “We just have to trust in the coaches. It’s discipline, discipline, discipline, and execution.”
Other Friday night games
St. Augustine Prep (6-0) at Egg Harbor Township (0-5), 6 p.m.: The Eagles have come heartbreakingly close to winning their first game the past two weeks, falling 21-7 to Atlantic City when the Viking scored a pair of late touchdowns, then coming up a two-point conversion short of forcing overtime in a 23-21 loss to Washington Township. But this is a horse of a different color. Prep probably is the best and most complete team in South Jersey, and just throttled previously undefeated Holy Spirit 41-0 last Friday night. Could be a long night for the Eagles if they don’t get some early turnovers and short fields.
Buena Regional (2-4) at Holy Spirit (5-1), 6 p.m.: The host Spartans will be looking to bounce back after a shutout loss to St. Augustine last week. Expect heavy doses of Reggie Jean-Charles and Justin Figueroa, as Spirit will look to back to what it does best — controlling the line of scrimmage. Buena has a fine athlete at quarterback in Jake Maxwell, and it’s Wing-T offense can be tough to manage, but the Chiefs have been getting worn out in second halves of games because so many of their players play both offense and defense.
Millville (4-1) at Bridgeton (1-5), 7 p.m.: The host Bulldogs are coming off their first win of the season, but Millville has been playing well lately and is looking to move up the power points rankings in South Jersey Group 5. The Bolts currently are in fourth place, but only a point behind rival Vineland for the No. 3 spot in the group. A win tonight would go a long way toward Millville getting a home playoff game. Expect the Bolts to come out strong.
Cedar Creek (5-1) at St. Joseph (5-1), 1 p.m.: The West Jersey Football League Independence Division title is on the line in Hammonton, as both teams are 3-0. Oakcrest (5-1, 2-1) still has a shot, but has to hope St. Joe beats Cedar Creek and that Ocean City can pull an upset of St. Joe on Nov. 5. The Falcons would also have to beat Cedar Creek. If all those scenarios played out, it would create a three-way tie. So both the Pirates and Wildcats control their own destiny as far as the division race is concerned. This should be a wild one, featuring the punishing running game of St. Joe against the wide-open passing attack of Cedar Creek.
Pleasantville (3-2) at Lower Cape May (1-4), 1 p.m.: The Greyhounds are desperate for a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and have the talent to beat the Caper Tigers. They currently are 13 points behind Barnegat for the final playoff spot in South Jersey Group 2, so they can’t afford any kind of slip-up.
Atlantic City (3-2) at Vineland (5-0), 2 p.m.: Atlantic City is fighting for its playoff life, and this is not the team you want to go up against when you need power points. The Fighting Clan have been pounding people. Last week, they put up 61 points on a pretty good Clearview team. The Vikings better strap their helmets on tightly for this one.
*Oakcrest, Middle Township and Absegami are on bye weeks.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN