ATLANTIC CITY - Wide receiver Demond Cottman says he and his Atlantic City High School football teammates never look at the scoreboard.
But the Vikings who snuck a peak at the score probably shook their heads in dismay Friday night. Absegami led Atlantic City by 17 points in the fourth quarter of the South Jersey Group V quarterfinal.
Vikings coach Thomas Kelly looked at the score and thought this would be a terrible way for his team to be eliminated. Many of Atlantic City's own fans left the chilly field.
"I kept saying, 'One big play. One big play,' " Kelly said.
The Vikings gave their coach that one play and much more.
Quarterback Jarren McBryde sparked a stunning comeback as Atlantic City scored three touchdowns in the final 7 minutes, 49 seconds to win 34-30. McBryde (23-of-37 for 314 yards) scored the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 55.2 seconds left.
Fourth-seeded Atlantic City (7-2) plays at top-seeded Williamstown (9-0) in the semifinals on Nov. 30.
"We needed this one," McBryde said. "We're a tough group of kids."
McBryde completed 8-of-11 passes for 103 yards in the fourth quarter. He also ran eight times for 66 yards and two touchdowns in the final 12 minutes.
"I told everybody we would get through it," Atlantic City senior wide receiver Tyshiek Wright said. "We practiced hard since the summer time. While everybody was having fun at the beach, we were lifting weights."
Atlantic City began its winning drive at its own 35-yard line with three minutes left. McBryde completed passes of 12 and 23 yards to Cottman on the drive's first two plays.
From that point on, it seemed when - not if - the Vikings would score.
McBryde covered most of the drive's remaining 30 yards with his legs. The Atlantic City fans that remained roared when McBryde snuck across the goal line to give Atlantic City its first and only lead of the game.
The next play was almost as important as the touchdown. McBryde kicked the extra point to give Atlantic City a four-point lead. That meant Absegami had to score a touchdown and couldn't try a game-tying field goal with kicker Nick Della Vecchia, who made a 35-yarder in the third quarter.
Friday's game was one of the most anticipated of the opening weekend of the playoffs. Atlantic City had beaten Absegami 33-25 in a regular-season game last week.
On Friday, fifth-seeded Absegami (5-4) seemed poised to avenge that loss. The Braves dominated the third quarter. Running back Tyler Bing scored on a 68-yard run with 11:40 left in the game to put the Braves up 30-13. The speedy Bing had scored on a 39-yard run in the second quarter and a 67-yard run in the third.
"Those runs cut you at the heart," Atlantic City wide receiver and defensive back Dayshawn Reynolds said.
But after Bing's 68-yard touchdown run, the Atlantic City defense held Absegami without a first down on two straight possessions. Atlantic City defenders 0 Williams, Jamil Whitted and Rob Glanville all made tackles for losses on those possessions. Grant Nulty was a force on the defensive line.
Atlantic City's first fourth-quarter touchdown came on a McBryde 4-yard touchdown run with 7:49 left. Atlantic City running back Domaneek Brown-Hurd scored on a 3-yard run with 3:39 left to cut the lead to 30-27.
Absegami had one last possession after the Vikings took the lead. The Braves drove to the Atlantic City 39-yard line. Atlantic City knocked away a desperation pass near the goal line on the game's final play.
McBryde looked up at the sky when the game was over. Several Absegami players sank to the knees in disappointment.
The win came at the end of another difficult week for the Vikings. Reynolds' father, Antuoine LaQuay Harmon, died Sunday. Most of the Vikings attended Harmon's funeral Thursday.
"It's been a rough week," said Reynolds, who caught seven passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. "But when you have a group of guys like my teammates behind you, they make you feel better. They make you feel positive about yourself and that makes you want to keep going."
Just two weeks ago, the Vikings were dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The storm damaged the homes of several players.
"That's what makes it magical," Kelly said. "We have a million excuses, but we don't use them. We just come out and win football games."
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