LACEY TOWNSHIP - Kyle Spatz heard all week about Central Regional High School running back Kalyph Hardy.
Spatz used the chatter as motivation Saturday afternoon.
The Lacey Township tailback rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns as the Lions beat Central 21-6 in a game with Shore Conference B South and South Jersey Group III playoff implications. Hardy, the Shore Conference's leading rusher, ran for 94 yards.
"Everything was about Hardy," said the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Spatz. "I wanted to show that I could do the same. I practiced as hard as I could this week. I studied them on film. I did what I had to do."
The win keeps Lacey (4-3) in contention for a South Jersey Group III playoff spot. Central (4-2) is also a South Jersey Group III contender.
Lacey's win also denied Central a chance to at least share the B South title. Barnegat (3-3) now can clinch the division with a win over Pinelands Regional (0-6) on Thanksgiving.
But possible playoff berths and division titles were only part of what drew a large crowd to Saturday's game. Fans filled the home and visiting bleachers. Others stood along the fence that circles the field.
Lacey and Central are neighborhood rivals. They used to play each other on Thanksgiving. After Saturday's win, Lacey leads the series 22-7.
Central hasn't beaten Lacey since 2002, and many Golden Eagles fans thought this was their year to beat the Lions. Hardy was a big reason for the optimism. He entered the game with 1,261 rushing yards.
It was also Central's last chance to beat Lacey for awhile. The schools will not play for at least the next two seasons because they are being realigned into different divisions.
"Everybody was picking them over us," Spatz said. "This is a big rivalry."
Lacey is the defending South Jersey Group III champion but graduated several standouts off that team. The Lions have struggled to score at times this season.
But Lacey moved the ball on Central from the start.
The Lions scored on their first possession, driving 91 yards in 13 plays. Spatz carried eight times on the drive, including a 2-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
Spatz ran so hard during the game that twice he lost his shoe and had to briefly leave the game. On the second occasion, sophomore Christian Tutela burst up the middle for a 53-yard touchdown to give the Lions a 15-point lead with 5:27 left in the game.
"I loved it," Spatz said of Tutela's touchdown. "Now I know we have a strong backup."
Meanwhile, the Lacey defense slowed Hardy. Linebacker Casey Sirotniak made two hard hits on Hardy. The Lions limited Hardy's ability to cut back for big gains. When Lacey defenders hit Hardy, more often than not the running back went down.
"We made sure this whole week of practice we wrapped up, drove our feet and tackled," Lions linebacker Jordan Powell said. "He's a good player, but we were training for it all week."
With Lacey ahead 14-6 in the fourth quarter, the Lions made consecutive defensive stands to prevent possible tying touchdowns.
Central drove to the Lacey 12-yard line, but Lions defensive back Chris Jensen ended that drive with an interception.
On its next possession, Central moved the ball to the Lacey 39-yard line. This time Lions defensive back Brandon Boos stopped the drive with an interception.
The win most likely gave Lacey control over its playoff future. The Lions host Neptune (5-1) next Saturday. If the Lions win, they probably will qualify. If not, the Lions will have to rely on other teams for help to make their seventh straight playoff appearance.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Central Regional 0 0 6 0-6
Lacey Township 7 0 7 7-21
LT-Spatz 2 run (Dolly kick)
LT-Spatz 22 run (Dolly kick)
CR-Hardy 4 run (kick blocked)
LT-Tutela 53 run (Dolly kick)
Rushing-K. Hardy 26-94 CR. Spatz 31-236 LT.
Passing-J. Hardy 3-9-2-64 CR. Kelly 4-of-8-0-51 LT.
Receiving-Gordon 3-64 CR. Tutela 3-28 LT.
Records-Central Regional 4-2; Lacey Township 4-3