MILLVILLE - Millville High School junior Anthony Felice could hardly believe what he saw. A snap flew over Vineland punter John Ketcham's head into the end zone.
Felice raced to the spot, tackled Ketcham in the end zone and got Millville two points on a safety. Just two points, but it made all the difference in the Thunderbolts' 23-21 win Thursday on Thanksgiving.
"I took off for the outside. A couple of guys missed (Ketcham). I was in the right place at the right time," Felice said.
"I am glad the seniors got the win they wanted. I wanted nothing more than to get it done. It took a lot of character to pull it out."
In the 12th oldest high school football rivalry in the country, one that started in 1893, fans will talk about this game for years. Vineland now leads the overall series 63-56-19.
The safety by Millville (5-5) came with 2 minutes, 24 seconds left, breaking a 21-21 tie. It completed a comeback from a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit.
Vineland coach Ed Belfi resigned after the game.
"I felt I took this team as far I can take it," said Belfi, 51, who compiled a 30-60 record after nine seasons. "Maybe it was the personality of me, the community and the kids, but I don't believe I can take it any further. It was a very tough decision."
Belfi, a physical education teacher at Vineland High School, said he made the decision at the start of the season and finalized it just a month ago.
He entered the game with a heavy heart and a lean roster. The Fighting Clan were without five two-way players who were suspended due to an on-field fight in their consolation game two weeks ago against Deptford.
"A lot of the kids playing two ways were not used to it," Belfi said. "They just wore us down at the end."
The Thunderbolts tied the game with 3:47 left. They gained great field position starting on Vineland's 38-yard line. With a few passing plays and a big pass interference penalty on the Fighting Clan (2-8), senior Dominick Askins scored on a 6-yard run.
"I was nervous because I didn't think we were going to progress how we did. It had us shaken up to see the score," Askins said. "When we tied the game, I was just happy because my brothers came through when we needed them the most."
Askins and the rest of the seniors were emotional following the win. This is the first time the senior class has defeated Vineland in the annual rivalry game. Once the Thunderbolts didn't qualify for the playoffs this season, beating the Fighting Clan was all any of the Millville players thought about.
They practiced for two weeks thinking this game was their championship.
"Through the summer when it was hot, we stuck through it. My brothers, right here, we did what we had to do and stuck with each other," said senior Rashad Johnson, who had 72 yards on 16 carries. "We wanted playoffs this year, but we didn't get it. After that, we had to be ready for Vineland. This was all we needed right here to leave our senior year."
Millville didn't make it easy. Johnson scored on a 1-yard touchdown with 8:06 to go in the fourth quarter bringing the score closer. But the Thunderbolts missed the extra point. They needed a 2-point conversion on Askins' touchdown to force the tie.
Daron Moore and Khalil Wallace knew before the touchdown it would come down to them. They practiced a specific play over the last two weeks and did it once during the season. Moore received the snap and threw a jump pass to Wallace for the 2-point conversion.
"Before we scored the touchdown, we were talking and I said, 'Khalil, you got to go up and get it.' " said Moore, a junior, who also had an interception. "We knew we were going to need it. It was a bad ball by me, but I had confidence in Khalil. We knew it was up to us to tie the game and get our team more momentum."
Millville hurt itself in the first half. The Thunderbolts were called for nine penalties for 62 yards. Vineland took advantage of the mistakes.
In the Fighting Clan's first possession, they used three Millville penalties to get downfield and finished off the drive with a 3-yard run from junior Steven Ribot to make it 7-0.
In Vineland's scoring drive in the second quarter, the Thunderbolts committed another two penalties, but the big play was junior quarterback Darrius Flowers (5-for-8, 75 yards) hitting senior Michael Hampton on a 29-yard touchdown pass with 15.4 seconds to go before halftime.
The Fighting Clan missed the extra point, but got the points back on their third-quarter touchdown. Senior Darrel Chestnut ran in a 3-yard score and Ribot caught a pass for the 2-point conversion to make it 21-7 with 7:41 left in the third quarter.
From there, it was all Millville despite the Fighting Clan dominating the game up until that point. Vineland had more yards (250-167), more first downs (11-6) and fewer turnovers (2-1). However, the Thunderbolts revamped themselves in the second half.
"We spoke to them about being more disciplined and calming themselves down a little bit," Millville coach Jason Durham said. "I think at halftime we were able to get them back in the right mindset."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:
Vineland 7 6 8 0-21
Millville 0 7 0 16-23
V-Ribot 3 run (Ketcham kick)
M-Moore 27 pass from Robbins (Serra kick)
V-Hampton 29 pass from Flowers (kick failed)
V-Chestnut 3 run (Ribot pass)
M-Johnson 1 run (kick failed)
M-Askins 6 run (Moore pass to Wallace)
M-safety, punter tackled in end zone
First downs 11 6
Rushing 154 92
Passing 96 75
Turnovers 1 2
Rushing-Lee 4-62, Chestnut 13-41, Ribot 6-32, Morgan 6- -4, Flowers 7-23 V; Johnson 16-72, Moore 2-5, Askins 9-33, Robbins 3- -18 M;
Receiving-Romano 3-43, Savery 1-3, Hampton 3-47, Lee 1-1 V; Moore 2-36, Wallace 2-35, Rogers 1-4 M;
Passing-Flowers 8-19-1-96 V; Robbins 5-8-0-75 M
RECORDS - Millville 5-5, Vineland 2-8.