CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - Vance Matthews was happy that many of his Lower Cape May Regional High School football teammates made big contributions to the Caper Tigers' 33-6 win over Middle Township in the Anchor Bowl on Thursday.
No one did more than Matthews, starting with the first play from scrimmage.
The senior, playing defensive back, picked off a pass and returned it 38 yards down the right side for a touchdown just 20 seconds into the game.
The victory not only evened the Caper Tigers' final record at 5-5 but also tied the Anchor Bowl series at 8-8. Middle leads the all-time series 40-24-2, but their annual game became known as the Anchor Bowl in 1996. The prize is a plaque small anchor that came from a boat owned by the father of former Lower Cape May coach Bill Garrison.
The Caper Tigers hoisted the plaque after the game and posed for pictures and videos.
"It's good to cap off the season with a win against our county rival," said Matthews, 17, a resident of the Erma section of Lower Township. "The way we did it was spread the ball around so everyone got some touches. That was a good way to end it for our seniors."
Both teams pulled out all the stops for their season finale, and that showed itself on the next touchdown as Lower Cape May pulled off a perfectly executed hook-and-lateral. From the Panthers' 13 yard line, LCM quarterback Mike Mulligan tossed to wide receiver Matthews in the right flat. Matthews then flipped a lateral to running back Jackson Sole, who was moving at full speed and scored easily.
"If it's executed well, it works every time because it catches them off-guard," Matthews said.
Mulligan, 18, a senior from the Villas section of Lower Township added, "It's always fun to run trick plays. It feels awesome to go out a winner my senior year and tie (the Anchor Bowl series) up."
The game didn't turn into a rout once it got to be 14-0 because the Middle Township defense adjusted and stopped the Caper Tigers on their next six possessions.
Lower finally scored again when Sole went 16 yards around right end for a touchdown with 1 minute, 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
"We were trying to make something happen, so we got away from our game plan, which is run off-tackle, power, power, power," Lower Cape May coach Mike Wilson said. "(Running back) Frankie Zeigler opens everything up for the guys. Frankie and Mike Mulligan give us the ability to do a lot of things."
Zeigler's longest gain was 10 yards, but he rushed for 109 yards on 24 carries. Sole had 61 yards on eight carries.
Mulligan's 33-yard pass to Matthews (5 catches for 61 yards) set up the fourth touchdown - Zeigler's 2-yard run up the middle on the first play of the fourth quarter. Mulligan's PAT made it 27-0. Matthews caught a 6-yard TD pass for the final LCM score with 5:15 left.
Middle executed a trick of its own as running back Ben Keith took a handoff from freshman quarterback Joe Durso and passed to wide receiver Terrance Toney for a 54-yard TD. The Panthers' top running back in the game was Nigel Case, who had 52 yards on 17 carries.
Durso, who took over the quarterback duties in Week 3, showed potential for the future. The Panthers consisted mostly of underclassmen and could improve next year.
"I thought we played well and the effort was there," said Middle coach Mike Wilson, who is unrelated to Lower's head coach of the same name. "We're a young team and we're a lot better than we were at this point last year. I played at Lower and this is a great rivalry. The kids all know each other."
Contact Guy Gargan:
Middle Township 0 0 0 6-6
Lower Cape May Regional 14 0 6 13-33
LCM-Matthews 38 interception return (Mulligan kick)
LCM-Sole 11 run after lateral, after Matthews 2 pass from Mulligan (Mulligan kick)
LCM-Sole 16 run (kick failed)
LCM-Zeigler 2 run (Mulligan kick)
MT-Toney 54 pass from Keith (run failed)
LCM-Matthews 6 pass from Mulligan (run failed)
TEAM STATS MT LCM
First downs 8 12
Rushing 73 167
Passing 71 61
Turnovers 3 2
Rushing-Middle, Durso 4-(-13), Keith 6-18, Case 17-52, Velazquez 1-2, McNeal 3-14. LCM, Zeigler 24-109, Sole 8-61, Mulligan 7-(-9), Matthews 1-6.
Passing-Middle, Durso 5-14-2-17, Keith 1-1-0-54. LCM, Mulligan 5-13-1-61.
Receiving-Middle, Smith 1-5, Toney 2-57, Allen 1-1, Cruz 1-5, Case 1-3. LCM, Matthews 5-61.
Records-Lower 5-5; Middle 2-8.