LINWOOD -- There's no doubt that the members of the St. Augustine Prep and host Mainland Regional football teams couldn't wait to lace 'em up and really get at each other on the field Thursday night.
But the weather wasn't cooperating. The warm-ups went off without a hitch, but regular lightning strikes started occurring after the first series of the game, leading to an eventual postponement. The game resumes today at 4:30 p.m. so as not to coincide with the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, which starts at sundown.
More on the bizarre circumstances surrounding the postponement in a minute. Before the game, I spotted Mainland's Jim Cooper chatting with two members of the school's boys' soccer team, which had beaten Oakcrest on the road 2-0 earlier in the day.
At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Cooper cuts an imposing figure. Yet as tall and burly as the kid looks, he couldn't be any more polite or soft-spoken. There's a real buzz surrounding Cooper, who does all the kicking ... field goals, PATs, kickoffs and punting ... for the Mustangs. He told me he can kick field goals in excess of 60 yards, which should put him square in the crosshairs of college scouts in a few years' time.
But, as he also said Thursday night, "no one listens to the kicker." All of his teammates ignored his entreaties to catch a few balls boomed off his foot so he could test the significant wind that was blowing. That's why he was talking to the soccer players ... he needed a few volunteers (he even asked me!). Unsuccessful, he just roamed the bench area firing up his fellow Mustangs.
Meanwhile, over on the other bench, injured Hermits players Alexander DiPietro, a sophomore, and freshman Ryan Piscitelli looked on wistfully as their teammates warmed up for the big game. The two boys were philosophical about missing out, but you could still see the hurt in their eyes. One thing a football player wants to do most is play. Piscitelli even spoke about how he "missed the hitting."
Back to the circumstances surrounding the postponement. After an initial Mainland series that ended in a punt (only 17 yards by Cooper, by the way, but it was kicked against a howling wind), lightning forced a minimum 30-minute delay. After about 40 minutes, the fans, bands and cheerleaders started returning, only to be told over the public-address system that the game was postponed until 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Only, that really wasn't the official line from the athletic directors of both schools. St. Augustine A.D. Tony Iaconelli was upset, as was head coach Dennis Scuderi, who told me, "We shouldn't have started the game because there was lightning in the warm-ups, but now we should be playing. I haven't seen lightning in a half-hour."
Mainland A.D. George Evinski admitted there was a "breakdown in communication that has been corrected so it will never happen again." He said that both schools had wanted to wait a little longer before postponing, but somehow the announcement was made anyway. It all became a moot point, however, when the skies lit up again about 10 minutes after the locker rooms finally started to clear out.
Game referee Larry Blohm said in his 35 years of refereeing, he had never experienced a lightning delay. But, he cautioned, "This rule is in place for the safety of everyone involved. It's not life or death ... it's a game."