BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - The Lower Cape May High School Regional football team came into this season having won just one game over the previous two years.
The Caper Tigers routinely have more cheerleaders in uniform than football players.
Sounds like a program in shambles, right?
Lower is right where it wants to be.
The Caper Tigers took a big step closer to clinching only the third playoff berth in school history with a 6-0 win Friday night against Buena Regional in a Cape-Atlantic League United Division game.
The Caper Tigers dressed just 26 players Friday and a handful of those were junior-varsity players who suited up for the game.
"That makes it that much better," Lower coach Mike Wilson said. "It's a small nucleus of kids and they're working hard. For a team lacking numbers, we're playing really well. I'm really proud of these kids. They're doing everything they can to win a football game."
Frankie Zeigler led Lower with 140 yards on 22 carries and added three catches for 18 yards.
"I just try to go hard every play," Zeigler said. "Every time I touch the ball I run as hard as I can and I have a touchdown in my head. I just go hard for the team. You can't let the team down."
The sophomore running back scored the game's only points late in the second quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Mike Mulligan.
"He's a tough kid," Wilson said of Zeigler. "He runs with his heart. All my backs do."
The team's running game didn't skip a beat when junior back Jimmy Hall left the game with an ankle injury suffered while blocking on the extra-point attempt after Lower's touchdown.
Lower (5-2) won its first four games this season, making it the best start in school history. They have a chance at hosting a playoff game with a win next week against Pleasantville and would like to try to make even more history by getting the school's first playoff victory.
"These kids really want to make history and that's our goal right now," Wilson said. "We want a home playoff game and to win the first round and we'll go from there."
Zeigler said this team has the potential to succeed in the postseason.
"We're ready to win," Zeigler said. "We're ready to be the first team in school history to win a playoff game, then keep going and advancing. Hopefully we'll do good and make it all the way."
Lower's defense was stellar.
Buena (2-6) didn't surpass 100 yards of offense until early in the fourth quarter when Michael Haygood broke free for a 33-yard run. The Chiefs only crossed midfield twice and never moved the ball inside Lower's 20-yard line.
Buena's best chance came in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-12 when senior wide receiver Phil Guilford and quaterback Sawyer Brown almost connected on a long pass near the end zone.
"They're a tough team," Buena coach Paul Callahan said. "They played very good defense. If you would have said we would hold them to six points, I would have felt pretty good about our chances."
Haygood finished with 88 yards on 16 carries. Mulligan and Tyler Sole each had interceptions for Lower.
Notes: Wilson said Hall "rolled his ankle" on the extra-point attempt and will be re-evaluated during the coming week. …Buena senior captain Eric Hensel, a standout offensive lineman and linebacker, missed Friday's game with a knee injury suffered in last week's loss against Mainland.
Contact John O'Kane:
Lower Cape May 0 6 0 0-6
Buena Regional 0 0 0 0-0
LCM-Zeigler 4 pass by Mulligan (kick failed)
Rushing 179 114
Passing 58 10
First Downs 13 6
Penalties 6-45 1-5
Turnovers 0 2
Rushing-Lower Cape May, Zeigler 22-140, Sole 5-20, Hall 4-15, Alicea 2-5, Mulligan 10-(-1). Buena, Haygood 16-88, McKinnon 7-17, Austin 2-9.
Passing-Lower Cape May, Mulligan 7-13-58-0. Buena, McKinnon 1-6-10-1, Brown 0-2-0-1.
Receiving-Lower Cape May, Zeigler 3-18, Alicea 2-16, Hazel 1-12, Matthews 1-12. Buena, Haygood 1-10.
Records-Lower 5-2; Buena 2-6.