MILLVILLE - Absegami High School place-kicker Nick Della Vecchia squinted at the goal posts through the driving rain Friday night and tried to ignore the screams from the Millville fans in the bleachers at Wheaton Field.
The senior booted a 31-yard field goal with 2.4 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Braves a 24-21 victory over Millville in a thrilling Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game.
"As a kicker, you only get so many chances to get on the field," Della Vecchia said. "You dream about being in that situation, with the game on the line. Once I got out there, I tried to block everything out and just stay focused. I wasn't thinking about the rain or anything else except making that kick."
Della Vecchia's second field goal of the season - he also made a 34-yarder in the season-opener against St. Joseph - was part of an 18-point rally that enabled Absegami to erase a 15-point Millville lead.
Quarterback Mike Dolan, who is also Della Vecchia's holder, set up the kick by completing five passes for 27 yards, including a 13-yard toss to Dustin Miller on a fourth-and-11 play, and then scrambling for 8 yards to reach Millville's 14-yard line. Dolan completed 15-of-28 passes for 205 yards.
"We basically drew up that quarterback draw in the dirt," Absegami coach Dennis Scuderi said. "We just wanted to get close to the 15-yard line to give Nick a chance. That was a real pressure kick and a great kick."
Braves running back David Hood contributed a pair of touchdowns. In the second quarter, Hood followed a 58-yard reception on a pass from quarterback Mike Dolan, with a 7-yard TD on a reverse on the final play of the first half that cut the Thunderbolts' lead to 21-14.
Following a scoreless third quarter. Hood and Della Vecchia tied the game. Hood scored on a 3-yard run, then Della Vecchia provided the extra point for a 21-21 tie with 11 minutes, 5 seconds left in regulation.
Hood, a junior, rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for 66 yards.
"When we got behind, nobody gave up," Hood said. "At halftime we told ourselves to believe in each other. And once the fourth quarter began, we just kept believing. The reason why we run extra sprints in practice is for situations like this. You never know when you're going to have to make a play."
Absegami (3-1) owned a 6-0 lead after the first quarter, but Millville (2-2), the No. 10 team in The Press Elite 11, showed its big-play ability while scoring 21 unanswered points in the second period.
Thunderbolts running back Rob Ennis brought the fans to their feet when he burst through a big hole on the right side and dashed down the right sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. Ennis, a sophomore, then scored on a 3-yard run to give Millville its first lead at 14-6. He rushed for a game-high 139 yards on 20 carries.
Senior DeQuan Bowman provided Millville's biggest play with an electric, 72-yard punt return. He caught the ball on the run and received a terrific block by lineman Zach Brown en route to the end zone.
Millville quarterback Rashon Sorrell sat out the last six minutes of the game with an unspecified injury.
With the victory, Absegami remained in second place in the CAL American Conference and got a major boost in its bid to qualify for the new South Jersey Group V playoffs.
"That was a classic battle between two big-boy teams," Scuderi said. "I'm proud of my team for continuing to fight."
Contact David Weinberg:
Absegami 6 8 0 10 - 24
Millville 0 21 0 0 - 21
A - Bing 32 pass from Dolan (kick failed)
M - Ennis 65 run (kick failed)
M - Ennis 2 run (McShane pass from Sorrell)
M - Bowman 72 punt return. (VanDemark kick)
A - Hood 7 run. (Loveland pass from Dolan)
A - Hood 3 run. (Della Vecchia kick)
A - Della Vecchia 31 field goal.
First Downs - A 12; M 8
Total Rushing - A 142; M 168
Total Passing - A 205; M 77
Turnovers - A 1; M 3
Rushing: Hood 18-73, Bing 6-20, Dolan 9-19, Davis 6-14, Armstead 1-11, Robinson 1-5 A; Ennis 20-139, Sorrell 7-21, Downing 1-8 M.
Passing: Dolan 15-28-205 A; Sorrell 3-8-48, Rivera 2-4-29 M.
Receiving: Bing 3-68, Hood 3-66, Gilbert 3-23, Miller 1-13, Loveland 2-12, Robinson 1-8 A; Bowman 2-45, McShane 1-33, Hoover 1-28, Ennis 1-1 M.
RECORDS: Absegami 3-1; Millville 2-2.