BARNEGAT-Southern Regional High School improved to 4-for-4 in the "Battle of the Bay," using an offensive explosion in the second half to beat Barnegat 40-6 in the schools' annual Thanksgiving Day football game.
The Battle of the Bay series, a reference to the nearby Barnegat Bay, started in 2006. Barnegat students attended Southern before Barnegat High School opened in 2004.
This year's contest was about much more than a local rivalry for both teams. The Rams came into the game with a 5-4 record after starting the season with two consecutive losses. The difference between a .500 season and a winning season was on the line. Barnegat was in a similar situation and finished 4-6 instead of 5-5.
"This is a tremendous win for our program," Southern coach Chuck Donohue said. "People thought after the last few years (Southern reached the South Jersey Group IV final last season), we would be down. This shows that we're sound, we're solid, and that we've got something here."
Both teams struggled to put together productive drives for most of the first half.
After a scoreless first quarter, Southern almost got on the board early in the second quarter with its special teams when Barnegat fumbled a punt return in its own end zone. But the Bengals recovered it and got out of the end zone to avoid giving up a touchdown or safety.
With just 11 seconds left in the first half, Southern's defense scored the game's first points on Nick Tampone's second interception of the game, which he returned 90 yards for a touchdown.
"All I was doing was focusing on the ball and making sure I caught it," Tampone said.
Tampone's pick proved to be the spark Southern needed.
On the fifth play of the Rams' opening drive in the second half, quarterback Mike Balak found Tampone wide open for a 70-yard score to put the Rams ahead 14-0.
"Once we came out and hit a huge play, that was the dagger," Tampone said.
Southern scored three more touchdowns before Barnegat got on the board with 46 seconds remaining in the game. Mike DeTroia grabbed a jump ball in the back of the end zone from Nick SanGiacomo for a 25-yard touchdown.
The Rams still got the last shot in, though, as Mike Arena ran for a 59-yard touchdown on the next play from scrimmage to put an exclamation point on the victory.
"Our team has great character," said Southern senior Brian Abbey, who ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns. "We just kept going to work every day at practice, and in the second half we just woke up. They were working to our strengths, and we attacked their weaknesses."
Contact Patrick Carragher:
Southern Regional 0 7 20 14-40
Barnegat 0 0 0 6-6
S-Tampone 90 interception return (North kick)
S-Tampone 70 pass from Balak (North kick)
S-Troutman 19 pass from Balak (North kick)
S-Abbey 5 run (kick failed)
S-Abbey 20 run (North kick)
B-DeTroia 25 pass from SanGiacomo (pass failed)
S-Arena 59 run (North kick)
SR BRushing yards 210 114
Passing yards 112 134
Passing-Balak 5-10-1-112 SR; SanGiacomo 15-28-3-134, Buscio 0-1-1-0 B.
Rushing-Abbey 19-112, Arena 1-59, Shimko 7-20, Balak 2-17, Cox 3-2 SR; Buscio 13-55, SanGiacomo 6-38, Ragozzino 2-23, Pinto 1-3, DeTroia 1-(-5) B.
Receiving-Troutman 3-32, Tampone 1-70, Bok 1-10 SR; DeTroia 3-47, Murray 3-20, Hardy 3-19, Kolvites 2-22, Buscio 2-17, Pinto 1-4, Darmstatter 1-5 B.
Records-Southern 6-4, Barnegat 4-6.