LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - The Pinelands Regional High School football team was stunned after Friday's loss to Manasquan.

The Wildcats were shocked with the way they played in a 28-6 loss to the visiting Big Blue Warriors.

"We wanted to come in here and prove we could play ball," said Pinelands junior running back Matt McLain. "We shut down. We were down a couple of scores and just gave in."

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Pinelands entered the game with a 2-0 record for the first time since 2002. The Wildcats (2-1) were anxious to see where they stood against a perennial Shore Conference power.

They lost 28-7 last year, but were now ready to take on the Warriors (3-0).

The teams were evenly matched in the first half. The Wildcats gave up one big play, an 82-yard touchdown pass to Neal Sterling. Other than that, Pinelands gave up just 58 offensive yards and picked up two turnovers.

"The score was 28-6, but it didn't really feel like a 28-6 game," Pinelands coach Sean DeRosa said. "We did some good things, but I'm disappointed we gave them the game."

The start of the second half broke Pinelands' momentum. Manasquan took the kickoff 60 yards and gave itself solid field position for the entire second half.

"That just changed the entire tempo right away," DeRosa said. "We were pretty confident coming out in the second half. Except they had field position the entire second half and it was hard for us to get out of the hole."

This is Pinelands' first season with permanent lights around the football field and the support has been tremendous.

Rowdy, passionate fans filled the bleachers. They cheered the Wildcats to the very end, even when it was obvious Pinelands wouldn't be able to come back.

They rooted for Pinelands to get one last touchdown, but it didn't come.

"Attitude played a big factor in this and we didn't come with enough attitude," McLain said. "We didn't have enough heart like we did in the Barnegat game."

The final drive was typical of Pinelands' play throughout the second half.

The Wildcats brought it down to the 3-yard line with a minute left in the game. The fans were certain Pinelands would score. They were on their feet, ringing their cowbells while the cheerleaders urged their team on.

But Pinelands fumbled the snap and the ball flew past junior quarterback Michael Keller for a 17-yard loss. Then, Keller threw an incomplete pass and was sacked on the final play.

"We had some mental breakdowns," DeRosa said. "We need to practice better. We need to be more intense in practice and those things don't happen in the red zone."

Pinelands, which defeated Barnegat 20-19 last week, dominated the first quarter. McLain had 67 of his 135 yards in the period. McLain cut with precision and found the right holes.

He moved Pinelands up and down the field, but the Wildcats couldn't finish in the red zone.

Pinelands punted on four of its first five possessions and gave up the fifth on downs.

The Wildcats didn't score until near the end of the first half. McLain ran the ball 65 yards on six carries on the drive. Three of the runs were for more than 10 yards, including the 15-yard touchdown run with 4 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 14-6.

Manasquan added two late scores in the fourth quarter to put the Wildcats away. Senior James Stovall led the Warriors with 149 yards on 18 carries.

"It wasn't enough to win," McLain said. "My line was making good holes. I just couldn't see enough to win the game."

E-mail Susan Lulgjuraj:

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