STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - Tony Kampert slept at the Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company's headquarters eight times over the past two weeks.
The volunteer firefighter and Southern Regional High School senior football player is back at his home in Beach Haven now, but he said Hurricane Sandy "destroyed" the first floor. Electric heaters provide the only heat in the house.
Kampert got a break from it all Saturday afternoon when he traded in his firefighter's gear for football pads and helped the Rams beat Toms River East 41-20 in a Shore Conference game.
"I just love coming on the mainland," Kampert said. "It feels good to step on the field."
Dan Higgins, another senior, completed 16-of-18 passes for a school-record 266 yards and three touchdowns for Southern, which is ranked No. 9 in The Press Elite 11. The Rams unofficially earned the sixth seed in the South Jersey Group V playoffs and will play at third-seeded Washington Township in the first round next weekend. Washington Township is No. 10 in the Elite 11.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association will officially announce the playoff pairings today.
"We knew this was going to be a big win, especially for our community, and it would help out real well, ease everything over," Higgins said. "We've gone through a tough time, everyone here, and we want to help our community out (with) this win and see how far we can go in the playoffs."
Coach Chuck Donohue had been concerned before the game about how his team would respond after two weeks off due to the hurricane. The Rams did not even practice that first week. The school has been closed and will reopen Monday.
Southern's first offensive play Saturday went for no gain. But there would be no slow start.
On the next play, Higgins threw a perfect deep ball down the middle to wide receiver Mike Gesicki, who caught it in stride for a 49-yard touchdown.
The Rams went on to score touchdowns on all five of their first-half possessions before resting most of their regulars in the second half.
"I feel much better," Donohue said. "I'm glad we're back into a groove. It's just a load off."
Gesicki, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior with several NCAA Division I scholarship offers, finished with three catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
Higgins completed passes to six receivers, including running back Abe Gonzalez, who had four catches for 85 yards and scored two TDs.
"The offensive line did a great job," Higgins said. "With throwing, we set up the run. With running, we set up the pass and everything, and the whole offense worked well today."
Instead of charging admission to the game, Southern asked for donations of supplies for disaster relief. During the game, cheerleaders walked through the stands collecting monetary donations. They ended up with $3,590 for Southern and Toms River East to split.
Kampert wasn't the only member of the Southern team who saw the devastation of the hurricane first-hand. Evan Osborne, a Southern senior who has served as team manager since suffering a spinal injury as a sophomore, is a volunteer firefighter in Stafford Township, where he lives. He said he has worked "around the clock" since the hurricane, sleeping at the fire house for almost a week straight.
"I think we're going to rally around the community through the playoffs," Osborne said.
Contact Jason Mazda:
Toms River East 0 7 0 13-20
Southern Regional 13 21 0 7-41
SR-Gesicki 49 pass from Higgins (Yaiser kick)
SR-Bissey 4 run (kick failed)
SR-Gesicki 20 pass from Higgins (Yaiser kick)
TRE-Gudzak 5 run (Caporale kick)
SR-Gonzalez 48 pass from (Yaiser kick)
SR-Gonzalez 7 run (Yaiser kick)
TRE-Gudzak 57 run (Caporale kick)
SR-Yaiser 10 run (Yaiser kick)
TRE-Gudzak 3 run (kick failed)
TEAM STATISTICS TRE SR
Rushing yards 239 130
Passing yards 100 255
Penalties-yards 6-45 3-28
Turnovers 2 0
Rushing-Toms River East, Gudzak, 21-210, Caporale 13-15, Torres 4-16, Gallagher 5-11, Spadaro 1-(-3). Southern Regional, Yaiser 14-56. Gonzalez 7-34, Bissey 8-15, Higgins 2-2, Weisz 7-21, Arocho 1-2.
Passing-Toms River East, Caporale 8-97, Gudzak 1-2-1-3. Southern Regional, Higgins 16-18-0-266.
Receiving-Toms River East, Rosengrant 3-30, Gudzak 5-67, Caporale 1-3. Southern Regional, Gesicki 3-94, Gonzalez 4-85, Hem 4-36, Boero 1-17, Yaiser 1-11, Speziale 1-12.
Records-Toms River East 1-7, Southern 6-2.