BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - The Vineland High School football team confronted adversity for the first time this season Friday night.
While past Fighting Clan teams probably would have crumbled, this one rallied.
Brian Winchester rushed 30 times for 290 yards as Vineland rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to beat St. Augustine Prep 28-21 in a Cape-Atlantic League American Division game.
Winchester scored the winning touchdown on a 59-yard run with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
"This is the beginning of a new start," Winchester said. "We want to show we're not the same Vineland."
The old Vineland rarely had comeback victories. Wins of any kind were hard to come by.
Vineland is 3-0 for the first time since 2003. The Fighting Clan won two games last season. Vineland's three wins betters or equals its victory total in three of the past six seasons.
Fans packed the home and visiting bleachers on a warm night to watch Friday's game.
The first 40 seconds had fans on both sides roaring.
Winchester broke a sweep for 84 yards on Vineland's first play from scrimmage to give the Fighting Clan a 7-0 lead.
St. Augustine running back John Barillo (15 carries for 163 yards) then scored on a 54-yard run on St. Augustine's first play from scrimmage.
The Hermits (0-3) built on the momentum of that play.
Linebacker Justyce Pollitt intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7 St. Augustine with 9 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Hermits made it 21-7 when Barillo grabbed a toss, cut back to avoid several Vineland defenders and ran 73 yards for another score with 3:25 left in the quarter.
Past Vineland teams would have been rattled. But the Fighting Clan kept their poise under first-year coach Josh Hedgemen.
"We talked about this," Hedgemen said. "Coming into a hostile environment and keeping our composure. If things don't go our way, we stay on an even keel, and they did a great job of that."
The Fighting Clan controlled the line of scrimmage and methodically worked their way back into the game.
The Hermits never stopped Winchester, who used his speed to break several sweeps. Quarterback Darius Flowers (7-of-10 for 75 yards) mixed in timely passes to keep St. Augustine's defense off-balance.
Linebacker Steve Ribot sparked a Vineland defense that shut down the St. Augustine offense from the second quarter on.
Winchester side-stepped several would-be tacklers on his winning touchdown run.
"That was the gut play," Winchester said. "I was just using my vision. After that, it was a race."
No Hermits caught him. Winchester sprinted untouched to the end zone.
St. Augustine's best chance to tie came late in the fourth quarter. The Hermits drove to the Vineland 20-yard line with four minutes left.
But Fighting Clan defenders knocked the ball loose from a St. Augustine ball carrier and Ribot recovered the fumble to stop the drive.
For St. Augustine, the game marked its third straight frustrating defeat. The Hermits led all of those games in the second half.
This year, St. Augustine is playing a tougher schedule, which features many Group IV teams, the state's largest enrollment group for public schools.
"We're playing Group IV schools with more numbers than us," St. Augustine coach Dennis Scuderi said. "Our kids come out in the second half, and our kids are just physically beat up."
Meanwhile, there is optimism around the Vineland program that hasn't been there since 2003. Hedgemen rebuilt Schalick into a winner in the early 2000s.
The coach said in the preseason he wanted to see how his team would react to adversity. He got his answer Friday.
"We had our hearts in the game," Winchester said.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Vineland 7 7 14 0 - 28
St. Augustine 21 0 0 0 - 21
VL - Winchester 84 run (Romano kick)
AUG - Barillo 54 run (Gough kick)
AUG - Pollitt 25 int return (Gough kick)
AUG - Barillo 73 run (Gough kick)
VL - Flowers 1 run (Romano kick)
VL - Nelson 7 run (kick blocked)
VL - Winchester 59 run (Winchester run)
First Downs - St. Augustine 2; Vineland 12
Rushing - Vineland 338; St. Augustine 165
Passing - Vineland 75; St. Augustine 57
Turnovers - Vineland 2; St. Augustine 2
Rushing - Vineland, Winchester 30-290, Nelson 18-42; St. Augustine, Barillo 15-163.
Passing - Vineland, Flowers 7-10-2-75; St. Augustine, Gatto 10-16-0-57.
Receiving - Vineland, Ribot 3-41; St. Augustine, Cass 3-25.
Records - Vineland 3-0; St. Augustine 0-3