EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. of the Absegami High School football team noticed quarterback Rashad Kinlaw running with a pair of bulky cleats in practice this week.
"Coach Scuderi told me to get some new cleats as soon as possible," Kinlaw said.
The sophomore hurried to a sporting goods store and bought a shiny pair of black-and-white cleats Thursday.
Both the shoes and Kinlaw made successful varsity debuts Friday night.
Kinlaw in his first varsity start rushed for 108 yards and one touchdown as Absegami beat Egg Harbor Township 17-13 in the season opener for both Cape-Atlantic League American Division teams. Absegami senior running back Ben Martin, who is headed for Rutgers University, rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown.
"Rashad looks like he's been playing for years," Scuderi Jr. said. "He's really progressed from our summer workouts. He's going to be special. He is special."
Absegami ran for 275 yards.
"It's no secret if you watched any of my teams play, we run the football," Scuderi Jr. said. "Now we're fortunate enough to have a quarterback who's a threat too, so we can spread you and run at you."
Friday's contest was the most anticipated of the season's opening weekend. Absegami is No. 3 in The Press Elite 11. Egg Harbor Township returned several standouts from last season's team, which finished 11-1 and lost to Cherokee 14-0 in the South Jersey Group IV final.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Kinlaw showed no signs of nervousness as the Braves scored on two of their first three possessions.
He slowed the EHT defense with ball fakes and then used his speed to get to the outside. Kinlaw scrambled for two first downs on Absegami's first scoring drive, which he ended with a 3-yard touchdown run.
"I was just following my fullback (Trevon Chance)," Kinlaw said. "He made good blocks on the linebackers. I just bounced off and got what I could get."
Martin had success running counter plays against EHT's aggressive defense. He broke a 46-yard run for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter to give Absegami a 14-0 lead.
EHT didn't fade, however. Martin wasn't surprised the Eagles got back in the game.
"I knew it was going to be a fight from the minute we stepped on the field," Martin said. "They have a very talented team. When we were up 14-0, it didn't faze me. I knew they were going to come back."
Eagles quarterback John Kopistecki (161 passing yards) and running back Stephan Thomas (58 rushing yards, 28 receiving yards) sparked the rally.
EHT cut Absegami's lead to four with 32 seconds left in the game when Kopistecki threw a 3-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Chris Ivanov.
EHT's comeback left the Eagles thinking of what might have been.
The Eagles hurt themselves with mistakes. They had the ball on the Absegami 1-yard line with 20 seconds left in the first half but failed to score in part because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"We made so many mental and physical mistakes," EHT coach Tony DeRosa said. "They're a good football team and you can't make the mistakes we made and beat a team like that."
Absegami clinched the victory when Nate Ross recovered an onside kick after EHT's final touchdown.
"Our goal was to get out of there with a win," Scuderi Jr. said. "We have to clean some of the mistakes up."
Absegami hosts Holy Spirit, No. 1 in the Elite, next Friday. Spirit beat Oakcrest 49-0 Friday. But before thinking about the Spartans, Scuderi Jr. said he wanted to enjoy the EHT win.
Kinlaw walked past Scuderi Jr. as he left the field.
The coach told the quarterback, "It's the shoes."
Kinlaw smiled and nodded.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Absegami 14 0 3 0 - 17
Egg Harbor Township 0 7 0 6 - 13
A-Kinlaw 3 run (Collette kick)
A-Martin 46 run (Collette kick)
EHT-Kopistecki 1 run (Mason kick)
A-Collette 24 field goal
EHT-Ivanov 3 pass from Kopistecki (kick missed)
First downs 10 13
Rushing 275 105
Passing 18 161
Turnovers 2 1
Rushing-Martin 20-134, Kinlaw 16-108, Bing 1-22, Chance 5-11 A; Thomas 14-58 EHT.
Passing-Kinlaw 3-6-1-18 A; Kopistecki 13-18-0-161 EHT.
Receiving-Bing 1-8, Collazzo 1-5 Chance 1-5 A; Bolden 5-66, Marquez 4-55 EHT.
Records-Absegami 1-0; EHT 0-1.