GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Mud covered Radi Tolbert's white Atlantic City High School football uniform Friday night.
He was too tired to celebrate.
"I'm kind of relieved right now," Tolbert said.
Tolbert and the Vikings outlasted Absegami 32-27 in a Cape-Atlantic League American Division game. Atlantic City is an unexpected 3-0.
Tolbert rushed for two touchdowns and Vikings quarterback Kabir McCoy ran for one touchdown and threw for another in his first varsity start.
The Vikings overcame a superb effort from Absegami quarterback Rashad Kinlaw, who threw four touchdown passes, including three to Tyler Bing.
Atlantic City has made of habit winning close game in the fourth quarter under second-year coach Thomas Kelly.
"The one thing we've banked on is these kids' toughness," Kelly said. "We don't always play great. We don't always execute. But our kids have toughness. It's not about Xs and Os sometimes. Sometimes it's about beating the man in front of you and we get that done more often than not."
Friday's game was filled with big plays and momentum changes. The teams combined for 33 fourth-quarter points.
"It's an unbelievable feeling when it's over," Kelly said. "But during it, it's gut wrenching."
Lightening and heavy rains delayed the start of the game for 73 minutes. The teams warmed up three times before the opening kickoff.
Both teams waited out the storm inside the school.
"The delay got us more hyped," said Tolbert, who plays running back and quarterback in the wildcat formation. "We did a lot of chanting."
Atlantic City never trailed after Tolbert (26 carries for 128 yards) gave the Vikings a 7-6 lead with 2 minutes, 28 seconds left in the first half.
But the game wasn't decided until the fourth quarter, when both teams made plenty of big plays.
Atlantic City appeared headed for a comfortable win early in the final quarter.
McCoy (5-of-8 for 59 yards) sparked the Vikings to a 26-12 lead.
He threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ismail Naji with 10:09 left in the game. Naji broke three tackles after catching the pass and sprinted into the end zone.
McCoy also scored 6:31 left on a 5-yard run. The touchdown came after Vikings defender Ahmaad Williams returned a fumble 27 yards to the Absegami 13-yard line.
"It was nerve-racking, but I got through it," McCoy said of his first start.
McCoy sat behind a sophomore in Atlantic City's first two games.
"He's a senior kid who never pouted," Kelly said. "He was behind a sophomore. He showed up every day. For a 17-year-old kid, that was big for us. We thought he deserved the chance to get a start."
Despite the 14-point lead, Kinlaw (8-of-14 for 152 yards) made it impossible for the Vikings to relax.
He threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Bing to cut Atlantic City's lead to six with 4:38 left.
Atlantic City responded a little less than a minute later when Tolbert scored on a 23-yard run to push the Vikings lead back to 12.
Kinlaw then made one more big play. He threw a 59-yard touchdown pass on the run to cut Atlantic City's lead to five with 2:47 left.
Absegami got the ball once more at its own 36-yard line with no timeouts. Tolbert ended the game when he intercepted a Kinlaw pass deep down the middle of the field as time expired.
Atlantic City finished 7-4 and made the South Jersey Group IV playoffs last year in Kelly's first season. The Vikings graduated several standouts and feature plenty of underclassmen this season. Few expected them to be in position to repeat last year' success.
But that's where the Vikings are heading into their open week.
"We fought in every single game (this season). None of them were 'gimmes,' " Kelly said. "We said if we can get to 3-0 we'd set us ourselves up for a repeat of last year."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Atlantic City 0 7 6 19 – 32
Absegami 0 6 6 15 – 27
AB-Jenkins 14 pass from Kinlaw (kick missed)
AC-Tolbert 2 run (McCoy kick)
AC-Glanville 1 run (kick missed)
AB-Bing 22 pass from Kinlaw (kick missed)
AC-Naji 28 pass from McCoy (kick blocked)
AC-McCoy 5 run (McCoy kick)
AB-Bing 14 pass from Kinlaw (Kinlaw run)
AC-Tolbert 23 run (pass failed)
AB-Bing 59 pass from Kinlaw (Della Vecchia kick)
Rushing-Atlantic City, Tolbert 26-128. Absegami, Kinlaw 18-55, Bing 8-124.
Passing -Atlantic City, McCoy 5-8-0-59. Absegami, Kinlaw 8-14-1-116.
Receiving-Atlantic City, Naji 3-50. Absegami, Bing 4-107.
Records – Atlantic City 3-0; Absegami 1-2