ATLANTIC CITY - Coach Thomas Kelly of the Atlantic City High School football team talked all summer with his assistants about how good the Vikings' defense could be.
The coaches can stop talking.
The undefeated Vikings forced five turnovers and beat Egg Harbor Township 20-7 in a Cape-Atlantic League American Division game Friday night. Atlantic City has allowed a total of 26 points in its last four games.
"Our defense has been getting better every single week," Kelly said. "We're starting to turn into a real mean defense."
Atlantic City running back Jahmil Bailey rushed for a touchdown and helped clinch the victory with an 80-yard kickoff return for a score in the fourth quarter.
"When they kick the ball in the air, you have to do something with it," Kelly said. "That kid (Bailey) has been waiting to get the ball and when it landed on him, he housed it. There's not much more you can say."
The win continued Atlantic City's surprising success. The Vikings (5-0) finished 1-9 last season. But this year Atlantic City leads the division, is No. 9 in The Press Elite 11 and is a top contender for a South Jersey Group IV playoff spot.
The Vikings held EHT to just 42 yards in the first half. Atlantic City allowed just one touchdown in the second half despite being on the field for most of the third and fourth quarters.
Allen sparked the defense with an interception and four tackles for losses. Linebacker Shawn Barnes recovered a fumble and had a tackle for a loss. Linebacker Sam Martelli recovered a fumble and defensive backs Malik Wellman and KeSean Davis each intercepted a pass.
"You can't win a football game turning the ball over five times," EHT coach Tony DeRosa said. "We talked all week about ball security, ball security, ball security. They have some great speed, and we have some great speed. They were just a little faster (Friday)."
One turnover in particular turned the game in Atlantic City's favor.
With the game scoreless, EHT had the ball at the Atlantic City 10-yard line in the first quarter.
EHT dropped back to pass but Atlantic City defensive end Ismail Naji stripped the quarterback of the ball.
The ball sat on the grass, the while the Vikings' sideline yelled, "Get the ball!"
Barnes was nearby, but he thought the quarterback had been sacked and the play was over. Barnes then noticed other players scrambling for the ball. He picked it up and sprinted 77 yards to the EHT 3-yard line.
"I figured I'd grab it and go," Barnes said.
On the next play, Bailey scored on a 3-yard run to put the Vikings ahead 7-0.
"We came about a little bit flat," Barnes said, "But that play (his fumble recovery) changed the momentum of the game."
The Vikings controlled the game from that point but had some anxious moments in the fourth quarter. EHT's Stephan Thomas scored on a 1-yard run to cut Atlantic City's lead to 14-7 with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bailey caught the ball at the 20. He ran right up the middle, broke into the clear and sprinted untouched to the end zone to give Atlantic City a 20-7 lead.
"I saw all my teammates block," Bailey said. "I almost missed the (opening) but then I had to make it happen. When I crossed the goal line, all I thought was 'victory.' "
The Vikings and their fans are enjoying the program's resurgence. The cheerleaders and band chanted "5-0! 5-0!" in the final minutes.
The win boosted Atlantic City's credibility. The Vikings hadn't beaten opponent with a winning record before Friday. EHT (4-2) had won four straight games.
Atlantic City is off to its best start 2005, when it also began the season 5-0.
"It's been a long time since the Vikings (won) like this," Bailey said. "It's a very good feeling."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Egg Harbor Township 0 0 0 7-7
Atlantic City 6 8 0 6-20
AC-Bailey 3 run (kick failed)
AC-Tolbert 10 run (Gallagher pass from Anderson)
EHT-Thomas 1 run (Mason kick)
AC-Bailey 80 kickoff return (pass failed)
First Downs-EHT 12; Atlantic City 5
Rushing-EHT 64; Atlantic City 73
Passing-EHT 134; Atlantic City 7
Turnovers-EHT 5; Atlantic City 1
Rushing-Thomas 20-28, Moody 6-39 EHT; Tolbert 8-18, Bailey 9-52, Anderson 12-6 AC.
Passing-Kopistecki 14-31-3-134 EHT; Anderson 3-13-0-7 AC.
Receiving-Bolden 6-68, Marquez 5-31 EHT; Gallagher 1-6 AC.
Records-EHT 4-2; AC 5-0.