LINWOOD - The football teams of Mainland Regional High School and Absegami hooked up in a wild game Friday night, in which both teams seemed destined to dominate. There were big plays, long runs, long passes, trick plays and plenty of crucial moments.
Finally, things calmed down in a scoreless fourth quarter and Mainland won the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game 32-22.
"This was the kind of game where you have to have a short memory," Mainland coach Bob Coffey said. "Our big plays turned the game around."
Going into the game, Mainland and Absegami each had a shot at the playoffs. The winner also needed losses from Southern Regional and Eastern, which happened.
However, unofficial power point calculations have Mainland (5-3 overall, 5-2 conference) falling just short of Eastern for the final playoff spot. Official results will be released Monday.
Absegami, which had previously lost only to then-unbeaten Hammonton, Egg Harbor Township and Delsea Regional, is now 4-4 overall and 4-3 in the conference.
The Mustangs battled back from a 14-3 deficit to lead 18-14 at halftime. They came up with a huge play with just less than four minutes gone in the third quarter when defensive end Clifford Farrell picked off a screen pass at the Braves' 5-yard line and took it into the end zone for a touchdown. Kicker Mark Slotoroff added the extra point and the Mustangs were up 25-14.
"I felt like I came up too easy, so I stayed around (in the Absegami backfield)," Farrell said. "It felt like it came right into my hands."
Absegami, with the running of Ben Martin, David Hood and Dylan Ross, moved the ball well all night and came right back. The Braves' drive seemed to stall, but John Harvey pulled off a fake punt and threw a 45-yard pass to Trevon Chance.
The visitors were back in business with a first down at the Mainland 15, and Hood ran 15 yards for a touchdown on the next play. Hood added the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 25-22.
But late in the third quarter, Mainland got a little creative, too. The Mustangs partially blocked an Absegami punt and took over at the Braves' 37. On first down, quarterback Tom Bradway flipped a lateral to running back Dan Boudreau and the senior tossed a perfect pass to wide receiver Billy Wilcox, who was wide open and romped to the end zone. Slotoroff added the extra point and it was 32-22.
"We've been practicing that," Boudreau said of the trickery. "We didn't use it against Millville and Oakcrest (Mainland's previous games), but tonight we got it in."
Absegami seemed unstoppable early in the game. Ross threw over the middle to Hood for a 35-yard touchdown to make it 6-0. Mainland got a 32-yard field goal from freshman Jim Cooper, but Martin broke through the line and easily outran everyone for a 59-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. The Braves pulled a fake-kick on the conversion and Hood ran for two points to put his team ahead 14-3.
Martin finished with 23 rushes for 147 yards.
The Mustangs didn't fold, and Gordon Prince swept around the right end for a 10-yard Mainland touchdown. Bradway passed to Eddie Irizarry for two points and the home team trailed 14-11. Less than three minutes later, Mainland took the lead for good as Bradway sent an arching 18-yard TD pass that Irizarry caught over his shoulder at the right sideline.
The loss eliminates Absegami from playoff contention.
"That interception killed us," Absegami coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. said of the crucial turnover on the screen pass. "I thought we played a pretty good game, but we did a couple things on special teams that hurt us.
"Tom Macauley, our punter and kicker, had the flu today and didn't play. We made some mistakes and you can't do that. Mainland did a nice job. They're tough and well-coached, and they don't make mistakes."
Contact Guy Gargan:
Absegami 6 8 8 0 - 22
Mainland Regional 3 15 14 0 - 32
A-Hood 35 pass from Ross (kick blocked)
M-Cooper 32-yard field goal
A-Martin 59 run (Hood run)
M-Prince 10 run (Irizarry pass from Bradway)
M-Irizarry 18 pass from Bradway (Slotoroff kick)
M-Farrell 5-yard interception return (Slotoroff kick)
A-Hood 15 run (Hood run)
M-Wilcox 37 pass from Boudreau (Slotoroff kick)
TEAM STATS A M
First downs 16 6
Rushing 229 72
Passing 100 82
Turnovers3 3 2
Rushing - Martin 23-147, Hood 11-39, Ross 13-43 A; Bradway 19-44, Boudreau 8-12, Evanss 4-10, Prince 2-6 M.
Passing - Ross 8-22-2-100 A; Bradway 5-7-0-45, Boudreau 1-1-0-37 M.
Receiving - Hood 2-50, Pynn 2-25, R. Irwin 1-6, Martin 2-21, Harvey 2-11 A; Kaczmarski 2-7, Prince 2-20, Irizarry 1-18, Wilcox 1-37 M.
RECORDS - Mainland 5-3; Absegami 4-4.