ATLANTIC CITY - The Atlantic City High School football coaches watch Dayshawn Reynolds break long run after long run every day in practice.
On Friday night - when it mattered most - they finally saw it happen in a game.
Reynolds returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown with 6 minutes, 6 seconds left in the fourth quarter to propel the Vikings to a 13-9 upset of previously undefeated Hammonton. The victory in the Cape-Atlantic League interdivision game gives Atlantic City (6-1) a big boost toward making the South Jersey Group IV playoffs. The Blue Devils (6-1) are No. 4 in The Press Elite 11.
"This really, really means a lot," Reynolds said. "We're talking playoffs, confidence for the team."
Hammonton had just scored to take a 9-6 lead before Reynolds' return.
"This kid is a home run waiting to happen," Atlantic City coach Thomas Kelly said of Reynolds. "I saw this coming. He's got explosiveness. When you see him every day, on Friday nights you're waiting for this happen. It couldn't have happened at a better time."
The 6-foot, 171-pound Reynolds caught the kickoff at the Vikings' 8-yard line, but he bobbled the ball.
"I was just trying to get the ball and do the best I can," Reynolds said.
Once he had the ball secure in his hands, Reynolds hesitated, but not for long.
"I picked my head up and I saw the seam," he said. "I ran as fast I can, and it just opened up for me."
Reynolds found himself one-on-one with a Blue Devils defender.
"Coach Kelly always says, 'Beat the man in front of you,' " Reynolds said.
Reynolds' return capped an inspired effort by the Vikings. Since the schools renewed their rivalry in 2006, Atlantic City was 0-5 against Hammonton, a perennial power with five South Jersey titles.
Atlantic City slowed Hammonton's potent running game Friday.
Vikings linebacker Keyshawn Reynolds - Dayshawn's first cousin - set an early tone when tackled a Hammonton ball carrier for a 2-yard loss.
Atlantic City's Ahmaad Williams and his fellow linebackers prevented speedy Hammonton running back Russell Forchion from sweeping to the outside. Atlantic City's 6-4, 263-pound defensive lineman Jerron Searles helped stuff the Blue Devils inside.
"We just stayed low," Searles said, "and all week practiced for the double teams."
Atlantic City's stiff run defense forced Hammonton to throw and Blue Devils quarterback Christian Mortellite completed several big passes. That was almost enough to spark a Hammonton win.
Mortellite set up Hammonton's only touchdown with a 28-yard completion to Forchion. Dylan Rosu finished the drive when he dove across the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Blue Devils a 9-6 lead with 6:21 left in the game.
Kelly noticed the Vikings were a down after that score.
"It's our job as a staff to keep them up," he said. "We put a lot of time in our special teams. We kept preaching this is what we work for."
Reynolds' return was the next play.
Hammonton had the ball just once after the Reynolds touchdown. Vikings defensive back Tyshiek Wright intercepted a desperation pass with less than two minutes left to preserve the win. The turnover was Hammonton's third of the game. Atlantic City had only one turnover.
One of the Vikings' characteristics under Kelly has been the ability to win in the fourth quarter.
"We've been teaching them heart, heart, heart," said Kelly, who is in his second season. "Sometimes it's only rhetoric until you get out in a tough game and don't lay down. When you come back against a program like (Hammonton), it means a little more."
The win earned the Vikings plenty of power points, which will help them secure a playoff spot. The top eight teams with most power points in each enrollment group after next weekend's game will make the playoffs. Teams earn power points based on their opponents' enrollment and victories.
"Sometimes you have to hand it to the other team," Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta said. "There were a whole lot of power points available, and (Atlantic City) took the points."
But just as important as the power points was how the Vikings felt after the win and what it could mean for the rest of their season.
"Confidence is the big thing," Reynolds said. "You can't play in the playoffs without confidence."
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