Three Cape-Atlantic League high school football teams and Barnegat will play postseason games on the road tonight.
Their buses will most likely be silent on the way to the game. Their coaches almost certainly hope that's not the case on the way back.
The high school football playoffs continue this weekend with semifinal games. The championship games are scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 6-8.
Five CAL teams - Bridgeton, Millville, Holy Spirit, St. Joseph and St. Augustine Prep - and Barnegat are still in contention. Bridgeton plays at Woodstown. Millville travels to Eastern and Barnegat plays at Northern Burlington.
St. Augustine faces the longest trip of all, traveling to Jersey City to play St. Peter's Prep. Holy Spirit and St. Joseph host games.
Winning a road playoff contest can be one of the highlights of a team's season. The victories are unexpected. The higher seed hosts the game, so road teams are often underdogs.
"Anytime you can go into somebody else's venue and win the game, it's an added bonus," St. Augustine coach Mark Reardon said. "You're going into their house as our kids would say. The most important thing from our perspective about playing on the road is that we are unified."
Few South Jersey schools are as uniquely prepared to play on the road as Bridgeton.
Bridgeton is so isolated from the rest of its CAL opponents that the joke is even home games can be road trips for the Bulldogs.
"We start early in the season, and we bus our kids an hour for practice," Bridgeton coach Dave Ellen joked.
Whatever Bridgeton does, it works. The Bulldogs won at Barnegat in last year's playoffs. Sixth-seeded Bridgeton won at third-seeded Cinnaminson 46-27 last Friday.
"I think we like to upset some (home) fans," Bridgeton quarterback and defensive back Ronald Williams said with a laugh.
Most teams follow a detailed plan when it comes to road trips. St. Augustine won at St. Joseph (Metuchen) 45-28 last Saturday.
"It's a fact of life," Reardon said of playing on the road. "You have to do it. Keeping the kids on as much a schedule as you can and maintaining a sense of normalcy is important."
The biggest part of road games is the bus ride to the contest. Most teams travel in yellow school buses where passengers can feel every bump of a long trip. Still, the players often get lost in their own world.
"Some of us take naps. Some of us listen to music," Williams said. "I listen to music and look out the window."
Most coaches don't allow the players to talk on bus rides to games. But even if coaches did allow conversations in today's world of smart phones and iPods, there would probably still be silence.
"They would probably just text each other," Ellen said with a laugh.
Teams like to arrive at games as much as two hours before kickoff to shake off the effects of the bus ride.
"We like to give them time to decompress from the ride," Reardon said. "They get off the bus, walk around the field, get a feel for where they are playing and just hang for a little bit before we start our pregame stuff."
Once the game starts, players say the contest is not much different from playing at home. Football is not like basketball, where the crowd sits on top of the court.
The home fans pack the bleachers on the other side of the field. Their cheers are just distant rumbles. This time of year many visiting fans travel to support their school. Many schools send fan buses to away playoff games for students. St. Augustine fans filled the visiting bleachers at St. Joseph (Metuchen).
"That gave us some sense of home," Reardon said.
The bus ride home from a road game can be one of the best memories of high school sports. The Bridgeton players listened to music and sang on the ride home from Barnegat last year.
"It was like a party on the bus," Williams said.
A playoff loss, however, means a team is eliminated from the postseason, and in some case for teams without Thanksgiving Day games - like Bridgeton - a defeat ends a season.
"It's solemn," Ellen said of the bus ride after a loss. "It's such an abrupt ending. It's almost a shock. Football is done and that resonates on that bus ride. Not on the field, but on the bus ride."
For all the difficulties of playing on the road, coaches and players say teams are never more together than when they play an away game, and that feeling alone is worth the trip.
"We don't play for the crowd," Williams said. "We play for ourselves. The team is our family."
Contact Michael McGarry: