BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — The Buena Regional and Oakcrest high school football teams offered up an intriguing contrast of offensive styles Friday night.
Buena’s hard-pounding, bullish ground game, led by Shawn Rice, matched against the Falcons’ quick-strike, explosive attack, led by Jailen Heard.
Buena had the winning style in this one, edging Oakcrest 22-20 in an exciting West Jersey Football League interdivision game.
Rice bull-rushed through several Oakcrest defenders from 12 yards out, then scored on a two-point conversion to give the Chiefs a 22-14 lead with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the game.
But Heard and the Falcons weren’t done. The diminutive Oakcrest sparkplug scored on a 46-yard catch and run to shave the lead to two points with just over two minutes to play.
Heard got the ball on a two-point conversion try but was bottled up by the Buena defense, and the Falcons were called for a holding penalty that Buena declined.
The Chiefs recovered an onsides kick, and a big run by Byron Spellman put them in position to run out the clock, denying Heard and the Falcons another chance.
“Beautiful blocks, man,” said Rice, who rushed for 154 yards on 22 carries. “I had to run physical. I could never let one person tackle me. I love the physical hits.”
“Our offensive line did an amazing job tonight,” said Buena quarterback Nick Kotova. “This was really big for us. We can’t lose any more games, in my opinion, if we want to make the (Group I) playoffs.”
“When we get rolling, that’s who we’re going to feed,” Buena coach Jonathan Caputo said of runners Rice, Spellman and Jaden Roberts. “It was a tale of two halves. We were both trying to figure each other out, and we found it in the second half. They (Oakcrest) are a tough football team. Heard’s a tough kid to bring down.”
Buena bounced back from a disappointing overtime loss last week at Pleasantville to even its record at 1-1.
Oakcrest fell to 0-2 and will host winless Mainland Regional and former coach Chuck Smith next week in Mays Landing.
“I just wanted to get that (two-point conversion) so we could tie the game and then go into overtime and do something,” Heard said. “They knew a play was coming, and they all crashed down. I just tried to make something out of it. I’d rather it be my fault that anybody else, because I can take all the pressure.”
Heard almost single-handedly kept the Falcons in the game. His 15-yard touchdown run plus a two-point conversion run tied the game at 14 early in the third quarter. The Falcons’ Dom Daniel recovered a fumble at the Buena 30 yard line, but A.J. Long’s 37-yard field goal attempt was short.
Oakcrest quickly had another chance on an interception by Nate Chapman, getting the ball on the Buena 21 with 8:20 left, but the Falcons gave it right back on a fumble recovered by Riyuan Coleman.
Oakcrest kicker Long, a transfer from Pinelands Regional, opened the scoring with a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter, set up by an interception return by Naji Hart to the Buena 15.
After Buena took a 6-3 lead on a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Nick Kotova in the first quarter, Long connected on a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter to tie the game.
The Chiefs regained the lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Kotova to Isaiah Kennison, plus a two-point conversion pass to Aaron White with 2:28 left in the third quarter.
“It was a crazy game,” said Oakcrest coach Eric Anderson.
“There’s a lot of positives we can take out of this. We played together in the second half. Our offensive line finally came together and we were just driving up and down the field, and that was great. We played as a team, and sometimes you lose as a team. But Buena played a great game — hats off to them.”
Oakcrest 3 0 3 8 6 - 20
Buena 6 0 8 8 - 22
O - Long 24 FG
B - Kotova 3 run (kick failed)
B - Kennison 4 pass from Kotova (White pass from Kotova)
O - Heard 15 run (Heard run)
B - Rice 12 run (Rice run)
O - Heard 46 pass from Conti (run failed)
RECORDS: Oakcrest 0-2; Buena 1-1