BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP -The Pinelands Regional High School football team had an unorthodox strategy Friday night.
The Wildcats led neighborhood rival Barnegat by three points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. But Pinelands wanted the game to go into overtime.
"I don't ever remember us losing an overtime game in 10 years," Pinelands coach Sean DeRosa said.
The Wildcats got what they wanted.
Matt McLain scored the winning touchdown on a 16-yard run as the Wildcats beat Barnegat 20-19 in overtime.
"It was amazing," McLain said. "The best run I ever had. We just kept saying 'They're our rivals. We have to beat them.' "
The game ended in surreal fashion. Barnegat scored on its overtime possession and kicked an extra point that would've tied the game at 20. But the Bengals were penalized for an illegal formation on the extra point. The second attempt, from 26 yards, was low and no good.
Pinelands players rushed each other in celebration while the Bengals slumped to the grass in disappointment. This is the second straight year one point has separated these neighborhood rivals. Pinelands beat Barnegat 7-6 last season.
This Shore Conference National Division matchup is always one of the highlights of both teams' seasons. The rivalry, which began in 2006 when Barnegat started playing varsity football, is growing. Pinelands rarely gets to play against an Ocean County opponent. Many of the Wildcats' games are against teams from northern Monmouth County. The series is even at two games apiece.
"This is a great rivalry," DeRosa said. "The kids love playing against each other. They get fired up for it. It's great playing somebody 20 minutes away. You'll see these kids the rest of your life."
Pinelands (2-0) and Barnegat (1-1) provided plenty of thrills on a cool, breezy night at Barnegat.
They combined to score 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The defeat was not the only loss for Barnegat. Standout linebacker and tight end Jarrett Darmstatter, a Division I college prospect, left the game in the third quarter with what appeared to be a left elbow injury after catching a pass. He did not return.
Pinelands trailed 10-0 at halftime, but the Wildcats were a different team in the second half.
Without Darmstatter in the middle of its defense, Barnegat couldn't stop Pinelands' running game. The Wildcats rushed for 46 yards in the first half and 191 in the second half and overtime.
"When he got hurt, it really affected them," DeRosa said. "We did some things to take advantage of that. He's a heck of a player, and I hope he's OK. You never want to see a player get hurt, especially one with the talent he has."
McLain was the difference in the game. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior gained 125 of his 139 yards after halftime.
"We knew we had to pick it up after the first half," McLain said. "We made our adjustments. We switched our blocking style."
He burst through the line of scrimmage and scored on a 39-yard run to give Pinelands a 13-10 lead with four minutes, 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Barnegat then rallied. Quarterback Nick SanGiacomo (21-of-33 for 199 yards and two touchdowns) drove the Bengals to the Pinelands' 17-yard line. The Pinelands defense stiffened and Ed Siciliano, a first-year kicker, came onto the field to attempt a 34-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining.
He booted it right between the uprights to tie the score at 13.
The overtime period was filled with more thrills. Each team gets the ball in overtime at its opponent's 25-yard line. Teams either have to score or be stopped on downs. If the score is still tied after each team has the ball three times, the game ends in a tie.
McLain's touchdown run came on a 4th-and-1 play. The Barnegat defense stacked the middle of the field. McLain grabbed the toss, spun to the outside, broke a tackle and sprinted across the goal line.
"I spun the a (Barnegat) guy out," McLain said. "I saw the open space, and I just went for it."
Tyler Munson kicked the extra point to give Pinelands a 20-13 lead.
Barnegat scored its overtime touchdown on a third-down play. SanGiacomo scrambled and found Mike DeTroia over the middle for a 22-yard touchdown.
Siciliano kicked the extra point, but a yellow flag was spotted on the grass. The penalty for illegal formation moved the ball back five yards from the 3-yard line to the 8. The second attempt missed.
Pinelands reacted with joy at the win. The Wildcats have long struggled, having not had a winning season since 2004. Pinelands hasn't been 2-0 since 2002.
But there's an excitement about the program that hasn't been there in years this season. They have new uniforms and permanent lights. There's even more excitement about the team now.
New uniforms and lights are great, but they can't pump a team and its fans up like a dramatic overtime victory over a neighborhood rival.
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Pinelands 0 0 7 6 7-20
Barnegat 0 10 0 3 6-19
B-Siciliano 20 FG
B-Kolvites 17 pass from SanGiacomo (Siciliano kick)
P-Hartman 1 run (Munson kick)
P-McLain 39 run (kick failed)
B-Siciliano 34 FG
P-McLain 17 run (Munson kick)
B-DeTroia 52 pass from SanGiacomo (kick missed)
First downs: Pinelands Regional 8; Barnegat 14
Rushing yards: Pinelands Regional 239; Barnegat 87
Passing yards: Pinelands Regional 48; Barnegat 199
Turnovers: Pinelands Regional 1; Barnegat 1
Rushing: Keller 2-9, Hartman 7-8. Michaelson 14-79, Schwarzenberger 2-3, McLain 17-139 PL.; Pinto 10-23, SanGiacomo 5-15, Erb 11-49 B.
Passing: Hartman 1-2-0-24, Keller 1-5-0-24 PL; SanGiacomo 21-33-0-199 B
Receiving: Luby 2-48 PL.; Kolvites 1-17, Pinto 2-8, Erb 2-14, Hardy 7-36, DeTroia 5-79, Darmstatter 1-24, Murray 3-18 B.
Records-Pinelands 2-0; Barnegat 1-1.