By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — The last time Ocean City beat arch-rival Mainland Regional, senior offensive lineman Eric Levai was in kindergarten, learning his A-B-Cs and hoping for chocolate chip cookies and nap time.
The 12-year losing streak came to an emphatic end on Friday night, as the visiting Red Raiders dominated the second half and pulled away for a 30-7 victory. The win put Ocean City at 3-3 and kept their playoff hopes alive.
Running backs Dan Walsh and Isaac Robertson scored a touchdown in each half, and the Red Raiders added two points on a safety, as the offensive line gained its footing in the second quarter and began to dominate. Mainland (0-6) came out strong, taking a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by Tahir Campbell, but after that it was all Ocean City. The Red Raiders answered with a touchdown of their own in the first quarter, scored again in the second to take a 14-7 halftime lead, then tacked on 16 points in the third quarter to pull away.
“Recently, we’ve been really trying to pound the rock, and it feels great to be able to do it against Mainland because they are our biggest rival. In the beginning of the season, that’s a game we circle on our schedule, and to get it done like that tonight — and with the offensive line dominating — that’s just a great feeling,” said senior lineman Mark Kolmer. “We’ve lost to Mainland the past two years and it feels so great to beat them. I’m going to remember this night for the rest of my life.”
“It all starts with us. We did a bad job in the first half, but we recovered in the second half. Next week we have to focus on Lower Cape May, and it all starts with (the offensive line),” added fellow senior offensive lineman Eric Levai. “All week we were thinking ‘this is our game, 100 percent, every single play.’ But the first quarter, they were even with us. But in the second quarter and into the second half, we gave it our all.”
The teams traded punts to start the game before Mainland launched a long scoring drive that featured plenty of Campbell and quarterback Sahmir Jones. The Mustangs pounded the ball on the ground, all the way to the Ocean City 16-yard line, forcing the Red Raiders to call a timeout in hopes of regrouping. Two plays later, Campbell ran the ball down to the 2-yard line, then punched it in on the following play to put Mainland up, 7-0.
Ocean City answered, marching 75 yards and tying the game when Robertson barreled his way in from two yards out on the final play of the first quarter. On Ocean City’s next drive, quarterback Andrew Donoghue connected with Garret Benvenuti for a big gain to help the Red Raiders set up shop inside Mainland’s 5-yard line. Three plays later, Donoghue rolled to his right and connected with Walsh, who was wide open in the end zone, to give Ocean City the lead for good, 14-7.
“Walsh hasn’t really played offense at all (in his career) but he’s come out his senior year and become our go-to back, short yardage, anything. He’s been doing it all and really been helping us out,” said junior offensive lineman Art Spackman. “Coach was telling us it’s been 12 years since we beat Mainland. This is our biggest game of the year. It’s a great rivalry, but the past few years we haven’t gotten the win. We got it tonight, and it felt great.”
Ocean City picked up a safety early in the third quarter to go ahead, 16-7, and a few minutes later Walsh broke free up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown run that pushed the lead to 23-7 and put the game out of reach. Robertson added a 5-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to cap Ocean City’s second straight victory.
Spackman said coach Kevin Smith tried to temper the Red Raiders’ enthusiasm about rivalry week, knowing the team needs more power points after the Mainland game to have a shot at the playoffs.
“Coach was telling us all week that this was our biggest game because it was our next game. We couldn’t look at it as being Mainland, we had to just play like it was any other game,” Spackman said. “We are at .500 right now with two wins a row, so we have to keep building on that.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN