By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
The newly-installed turf at Ocean City High School’s Carey Stadium may be artificial, but the talk about the Red Raiders reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008 is real.
The Red Raiders are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season, counting on confidence they gained finishing strong in 2015, a veteran quarterback, and a new competitive schedule to power their way to a possible playoff berth this fall.
“That is our No. 1 goal,” said senior quarterback Andrew Donoghue, who is entering his third season as a starter. “If we give effort and intensity a hundred percent of the time in all of our games, we definitely can do that. We just have to make sure to go as hard as we can every play and leave everything on the field.”
“We definitely going to have a shot at the playoffs,” said senior linebacker Dan Walsh. “Our whole team put in a ton of work this summer and over the course of the offseason. I’m excited to see how that work pays off in our games.”
Ocean City finished the season 4-6 last year, but won four of its last six games, and three of the Red Raiders’ losses were by a touchdown or less. The Red Raiders were routed by perennial private school powers St. Joseph and St. Augustine, but were in almost every other game from start to finish.
That is one of the reasons why the Red Raiders believe they are much closer to being a winning team with a chance at a playoff berth.
“It showed that we can play with these teams,” Ocean City coach Kevin Smith said. “I think it was an important year from a confidence standpoint. This year, I think we know we can compete with the public schools. I think in we understand in many ways that we caught up and now it’s about doing all the right things to win those games.”
The Red Raiders’ first year in the West Jersey League’s Independence Division pits them against familiar teams such as Mainland, Absegami and St. Joseph. Also in the division is Oakcrest and Cedar Creek.
Ocean City will also revive county rivalries with Lower Cape May and Middle Township in their crossover schedule, which also features West Windsor-Plainsboro South. The Red Raiders also retain their Thanksgiving Day rivalry with Pleasantville.
The new schedule features smaller schools compared to the schedule in the past, which included Atlantic City, Millville, Vineland, Egg Harbor Township and St. Augustine.
However, the Red Raiders still have to produce on the field no matter who they are lining up against. With Donoghue under center, Ocean City will have one of the most experienced quarterbacks in South Jersey.
“He is doing great. I think he really understands the offense now,” Smith said. “He has command of not just the route concepts, but also understanding coverages and recognizing protections that are called and where to go with the ball. He has also grown into a leadership role.”
Donoghue will have fellow seniors Anthony Kenny, Garrett Benvenuti and Luciano Lubrano at wide receivers, and Walsh — a standout outside linebacker —will add running back to his resume this season.
Walsh and juniors Liam Bergman and Issac Robertson will be running behind an offensive line led by returning starters Eric Levai, Mark Kolmer and Art Spackman. Kolmer is a goalie in lacrosse who helped lead the Red Raiders to the Cape-Atlantic League championship this past spring.
The defense will be relatively young, and will be hoping the interior lineman and linebackers progress quickly, Smith said. If the defense settles and the offense continues to improve, the playoffs just might be within reach for the Red Raiders.
“The bigger picture is Group 3 playoffs,” explained Smith. “Basically, that is our goal. We are in a position that we can talk about it realistically.”
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO