BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP - The Barnegat Township High School football team relied for three quarters on long passes to combat an option rushing attack by visiting Point Pleasant Boro that netted 397 yards on the ground.
But in the end, it was the Bengals' ability to run the ball that helped them win the first home playoff game in school history, 35-31, and advance to the second round of the South Jersey Group II playoffs.
The third-seeded Bengals (6-3) will play at second-seeded West Deptford next week.
The Bengals spotted the sixth-seeded Panthers (5-4) the game's first 10 points but closed out the first half with two consecutive Mark McCoy touchdown passes of more than 60 yards. The future Wake Forest baseball player finished with 355 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
"They did a good job taking away the run early, but we're a balanced team and showed that we could throw the ball a little bit, too," Barnegat coach Rob Davis said. "Our guys didn't give up, they kept fighting. And they deserve this win."
With six minutes left in the second quarter, McCoy launched a pass from his own 24-yard line and connected with junior wide out Pat Moran for a 76-yard strike down the left side. Moran finished with five catches for 169 yards.
After Point Borough's next drive stalled on the Barnegat 38-yard line, McCoy hit senior wide receiver Jordan Salt on the opposite side of the field for a 62-yard touchdown. The two seniors connected again on Barnegat's first drive of the second half on a 31-yard pass to take a 21-10 lead.
"Jordan is an amazing athlete. He can jump right out of the gym," said McCoy, who also had a touchdown rushing. "After the first touchdown pass, he told me to just throw the ball up to him and he would get it. And that's what he did."
But two crucial second half Barnegat turnovers - one on the Point Pleasant goal line - and Panthers touchdown runs of 79, 24 and 65 yards had the Bengals trailing 35-31 as they faced a third-and-14 late in fourth quarter.
"We said to ourselves that this is where we either win it or lose it," said McCoy, who then connected on a newly installed play in the Barnegat playbook - a Waggle throwback pass - with senior running back David Smithman for a 32-yard pass that gave the Bengals a first down on the Panthers' 4-yard line.
Smithman scored on a 2-yard run two plays later.
"All I was thinking about was getting in the end zone. And we did it as a team," said Smithman, who had 79 of his 86 rushing yards in the second half.
Point Borough seemed to immediately take the momentum back with a 44-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by junior running back Chris Oliphant with less than four minutes left in the game. However, the Panthers fumbled the ball back to Barnegat a few plays later.
The Bengals, behind bruising runs from Smithman and a nifty naked bootleg by McCoy, were able to run out the rest of the clock.
Barnegat will travel to second-seeded West Deptford next week.
"They beat our butts so bad last year (56-7) that it left a bad taste in our mouth," McCoy said. "We are definitely thinking about getting some revenge, so we can show them what Barnegat football is all about."
Contact Robert Spahr:
Point Pleasant Borough 3 7 7 14- 31
Barnegat Township 0 14 7 14-35
PB-Blank 38-yard field goal
PB-Trainor 2 run (Blank kick)
B-Moran 76 pass from McCoy (Moran kick)
B-Salt 62 pass from McCoy (Moran kick)
B-Salt 31 pass from McCoy (Moran kick)
PB – Dunbar 79 run (Blank kick)
PB-Dunbar 24 run (Blank kick)
B-McCoy 1 run (Moran kick)
PB-Vitale 65 run (Blank kick)
B-Smithman 2 run (Moran kick)
PASSING-Point Borough, Dunbar 1-7-29-0. Barnegat, McCoy 12-22-355-3.
RUSHING-Point Borough, Dunbar 22-221, Vitale 12-131, Trainor 10-38, Oliphant 2-5, Benschoten1-2. Barnegat, Smithman 17-86, McCoy 7-15, Salt 1-(-10).
RECEIVING-Point Borough, McGarry 1-29. Barnegat, Moran 5-169, Salt 3-125, Smithman 2-35, Morris 1-6, Knierim 1-20.
RECORDS-Point Pleasant Borough 5-4, Barnegat 6-3.