ATLANTIC CITY - The Atlantic City High School boys basketball team will not win a third straight state championship this season.
The Vikings' quest for another title came to a shocking halt on Thursday night. Southern Regional's Jake Logue charged downcourt and made a layup at the buzzer to give the Rams a 57-56 upset in the South Jersey Group IV quarterfinals.
"I just took the ball up the sideline, and then the middle opened up," Logue said. "I saw it was wide open, I took a peek at the clock and saw there were three seconds left, and I just went for it."
With the victory, the seventh-seeded Rams (18-8) advanced to the semifinals. They will play at No. 6 Cherokee on Saturday.
Atlantic City (19-8), which energized the city while winning back-to-back state titles, saw another exciting season come to an end.
"It was a great run," Vikings coach Gene Allen said before walking up a deserted hallway. "But it's over."
It almost wasn't.
At the end of a tense, back-and-forth game, Vikings junior forward Kevin Allen was fouled with 7.6 seconds left in regulation and made the first of his two free throws to snap a 55-55 tie and give Atlantic City a one-point lead.
Fans who had erupted in cheers, however, wound up filing out of the gym in stunned silence.
Rather than call a timeout, Rams coach Eric Fierro opted to go for the win in hopes that the Vikings' defense wouldn't have a chance to get set. Guard Logan Sheehan dribbled a few steps before feeding the ball to Logue, who raced upcourt past the Rams' bench, then cut to the middle and laid the ball in off the backboard just before the buzzer sounded.
Southern's fans screamed and stormed the court, embracing the players. Senior center Mike Gesicki, who scored a team-high 20 points before fouling out at the end, let out a yell while punching his fist in the air. He then jumped on top of Logue.
"It's actually a good thing I fouled out," Gesicki said with a laugh. "I probably would have chucked the ball up from half-court at the end and we would have lost. We got lucky."
Southern, which nearly beat Atlantic City in last year's tournament, prevailed in a thrilling, intense contest that brought out the best in both teams.
Southern seized the momentum early in the fourth quarter when Gesicki hit a 3-pointer and fed Sheehan for a layup to put the Rams ahead 52-47 with 4:20 remaining in regulation.
Atlantic City refused to wilt. Jamie Prevard hit a jumper, Isiah Graves made a pair of free throws and Allen scored four points during an 8-0 surge that put the Vikings back in front 55-52 with 1:08 remaining. Graves led the Vikings with 20 points.
Gesicki tied it at 55-55 when he muscled through traffic during a 3-point play with :53.5 left. Gesicki finished the game with 1,852 career points, breaking the school record of 1,851 set by 1975 Southern graduate Robbie Hall.
"Me and my dad (Mike) have been staying after school all year shooting 3-pointers and foul shots and tonight that practice paid off," said Gesicki, who is headed to Penn State on a football scholarship. "He was even at the gym with me at 3 o'clock today before we came down here."
Southern came into the game prepared for the harsh spotlight that comes with playing at Atlantic City.
The Rams played a tough schedule this season that included games with St. Augustine Prep and an appearance in the Battle by the Bay, which is also held at Atlantic City.
And they saw it pay off with one of the biggest victories in school history.
"I didn't want us to go 20-2 by playing a weaker schedule and not be prepared for games like this," Fierro said. "As you saw out there tonight, all those tough games we played this season allowed us to keep our composure. This is pretty special."
Contact David Weinberg:
Southern 15 11 15 16 - 57
Atlantic City 14 13 18 11 - 56
S - Gesicki 8 4-2 20, Logue 3 0-0 6, Furlong 1 0-1 3, Halliday 1 2-2 4, Sheehan 5 2-3 16, DuBois 1 6-6 8. Totals 19 12-15 57.
AC - Graves 6 5-7 20, Allen 4 3-4 11, White 5 1-2 11, Thomas 4 0-0 10, Prevard 1 1-2 3, Nolan 0 1-4 1. Totals 20 11-19 56.
3-pointers - Sheehan (4), Gesicki (2), Furlong S; Graves (3), Thomas (2) AC.
Records- Southern 18-8; Atlantic City 19-8.