LINWOOD - The football teams of Southern Regional High School and Mainland Regional High School played for the South Jersey Group IV championship last fall, but Monday the two rebuilding programs played an interesting consolation game.
Mainland won the 2008 crown, but it was Southern's turn to be victorious Monday night. The Rams won 7-6 as all the scoring came in the first quarter, and several drives by both teams were stopped the rest of the way.
Though it didn't seem likely at the time, a 58-yard touchdown run by Southern quarterback Mike Balak and kicker Ryan North's extra point with 7 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first quarter was all the Rams would need.
Senior Balak was the game's leading rusher with 112 yards on 14 carries.
"I always have the option to run," Balak, a senior, said. "It depends on how they play us, and it worked out well tonight. The touchdown was a read-option. I saw the opening in the middle of the field, took it to the right hash and cut to the left."
Southern improved to 5-4, while Mainland dropped to 5-4.
"Winning today was very important to the program," Southern coach Chuck Donohue said. "Our team has battled and played like winners all year, but we started at 0-2. We played four playoff teams during the season. We drew Mainland, a team with a great tradition, in our consolation game, and it was a great game. We're happy because now we have a chance for a winning season at 6-4."
Southern's final game of the season is at Barnegat on Thanksgiving Day.
Mainland drove from its own 14 yard line in the final three minutes to the Southern 28-yard line. With 7.3 seconds left, Mainland freshman Jim Cooper missed a 40-yard field goal. But there was a Southern offsides penalty, and Cooper got a second chance at a 35-yard attempt. It was wide right.
Mainland's Clifford Farrell blocked a Southern punt on the fifth play of the game and the Mustangs were in business at the Rams' 10 yard line. Dan Boudreau made it look easy as he went off left guard for 9 yards, and dove over the line for a touchdown on the next play. But the extra point by Mark Slotoroff was missed and the Mustangs were up 6-0.
Cooper also attempted a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter but it was blocked by Southern cornerback Nick Tampone.
"It was a tough game. You get them every once in a while," Mainland coach Bob Coffey said. "Southern is so well-coached and they did a great job. For us to come back right at the end and have a chance to win, that's all you could ask of the kids. We knew it would be a close game. All you can ask is for the kids to play with passion, and they did and I'm proud of them."
Contact Guy Gargan:
Southern Regional 7 0 0 0 - 7
Mainland Regional 6 0 0 0 - 6
M-Boudreau 1 run (kick failed)
S-Balak 58 run (North kick)
TEAM STATS S M
First downs 14 10
Rushing 195 98
Passing 56 102
Turnovers 2 0
Rushing - Cox 4-9, Abbey 11-33, Balak 14-112, Shimko 10-40, Tampone 1-1 S; Boudreau 9-56, Evans 6-52, Bradway 14--15, Kaczmarski 1-0, Prince 1-5 M.
Passing - Balak 7-16-2-56 S. Bradway 14-21-0-102 M.
Receiving - Abbey 3-24, Shimko 1-7, Troutman 3-25 S. Prince 5-35, Boudreau 34, Irizarry 3-17, Kaczmarski 1-8, Wilcox 1-7 M.
RECORDS - Southern 5-4; Mainland 5-4.