GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The Oakcrest High School football team picked up a key first down on a fake punt late in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons were starting to drive, trailing by three points. Absegami needed a big play.
Junior linebacker Tiger Kirvay delivered.
Kirvay tracked down Oakcrest quarterback Danny Smith from behind on third-and-9 for a sack and an 11-yard loss. Kirvay and fellow defenders Nate Ross, Bruce Seldon, Darryl Loveland and Kyle Wiggins were just a few of the players who led an impressive defensive effort in the Braves' 9-6 win against district rival Oakcrest on Thursday.
Both teams finished the season 5-5.
"I just try to get to the ball," Kirvay said. "I get off that edge and I want to make a big play, especially in that situation. You have to do what you have to do in that situation."
Smith was rolling right as he looked for an open receiver downfield.
"My feet are pumping, my heart is racing and I just can't wait to get to him," Kirvay said. "I just want it."
Kirvay made another big play after Oakcrest got the ball back in the final minutes of the game. Kirvay came off the edge again and stopped Oakcrest's attempt at a halfback pass when he sacked Quaashie Jetter for another big loss.
"It's unexplainable," Kirvay said. "There is not a better feeling in the world than that, especially coming with the victory because it's nothing if you don't win the game.
"Before the game we talked about tradition and what it means to the people who played here and the seniors that are leaving, and we wanted to send them out on a good note."
And that's exactly what the Braves did.
Absegami took home the Joe Mohr Trophy, named after the longtime athletic director at Oakcrest as well as the long-closed Egg Harbor City High School, and now leads the series 18-17.
Both teams struggled to move the ball in the second half. Neither team scored in the third and fourth quarters, both of which were played almost entirely between the 20s.
"At that point in the game it really is who wants it more because neither team was moving the football," Absegami coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. said. "It was a matter of we had the lead and were able to hold onto it. The defense played outstanding today."
Absegami's first drive was the best it had all day. The Braves moved the ball 62 yards on 11 plays. The drive ended on an interception.
But the interception wound up helping the Braves, who took a 2-0 lead when Oakcrest's first snap of the game sailed over Smith's head and through the end zone.
The Falcons answered back.
A 13-yard pass to Mark Clements and a pair of penalties set up Smith's 9-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter to put the Falcons ahead 6-2.
But Absegami's defense delivered again in setting up its offense with good field position.
Absegami lineman Collin Lynch recovered an Oakcrest fumble. The Braves took advantage of the good field position and scored the final points for either team on David Hood's 3-yard touchdown run.
"We had high hopes at the beginning of the year," Scuderi said. "We've had some injuries, but our kids kept battling and I really believe they played as hard as they could in every game. To be able to send our seniors out of here on the right note means a lot to me."
Oakcrest's Brandon Bell had a big day. Bell led the Falcons with eight tackles, five of which came for a loss.
"I'm definitely hunting for the ball," Bell said. "I don't want them to get any yards whatsoever, so I try to keep them behind the line at all times. I try to be physical."
Bell is only a junior and will be back for one more season.
"It was tough for the seniors," Bell said. "Nobody wants to go out their last game with a loss, but it's always a war with Absegami.
"We fought hard, but we made too many mistakes."
Contact John O'Kane:
Oakcrest 0 6 0 0-6
Absegami 2 7 0 0-9
A-Safety (ball snapped through the end zone)
O-Smith 9 run (conversion failed)
A-Hood 3 run (Della Vecchia kick)
TEAM STATS Oak Abs
Rushing 81 80
Passing 89 63
First downs 12 9
Penalties 10-78 5-55
Turnovers 2 2
Rushing-Oakcrest, Smith 17-55, Santiago 4-25, Adkisson 3-7, Bell 3-(-3), Jetter 4-(-3). Absegami, Hood 17-50, Dolan 5-18, Bing 14-12.
Passing-Oakcrest, Smith 8-16-1-89, Jetter 0-2-0-0. Absegami, Dolan 1-5-1-63.
Receiving-Oakcrest, Clements 3-61, Adkisson 2-11, Muhammad 1-10, Jetter 1-5, Santiago 1-2. Absegami, Bing 1-63.
Records-Oakcrest 5-5; Absegami 5-5,