STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - The Southern Regional High School football team charged onto the field with the enthusiasm for the school's first ever home playoff game Friday night.
The Southern fans packed the home bleachers and stood with optimism for the opening kickoff.
Those good feelings didn't last long.
Triton beat Southern 26-7 in a South Jersey Group IV quarterfinal. Fifth-seeded Triton (8-1) advances to next weekend's semifinals. Fourth-seeded Southern's season is over.
"To say it's a disappointment is an understatement," Donohue said. "It was one of those situations where the harder we tried the worse it got."
Triton took control with two touchdowns in the final 1 minute 10 seconds. The first of those scores came on a fake 31-yard field goal. Triton quarterback and holder Brian Keller threw a 13-yard touchdown pass over the middle to wide open tight end Artie Flemming to give the Mustangs a 19-7 lead.
Keller said he was in favor of kicking the field goal.
"Coach (Pete Goetz) said, 'We're going for it. We're going to pull a Michigan State on them,' " said Keller, referring to the fake field goal for a touchdown that Michigan State ran last year to beat Notre Dame.
There was plenty of excitement at Southern for Friday's game, which was played on clear, chilly night. The fourth-seeded Rams (8-2) are No. 4 in The Press Elite 11. Southern won the Shore Conference A South title - the first time since 1972 the Rams had won a conference championship. Triton was unranked.
The atmosphere didn't phase Triton.
"We just ignored the press clippings," said Keller, who rushed for 54 yards. "They didn't know us. We didn't know them. It was a round one get it on kind of thing. Everything everybody said we just threw out the window."
Neither team played sharp.
Triton committed three turnovers in the second quarter.
Southern defensive back Joe Fiorelli returned an interception 28 yards to the Triton 22-yard line in the second quarter.
The Rams recovered fumbles at the Triton 25- and 33-yard lines.
Southern couldn't convert any of those miscues into points. Triton led 7-0 at halftime.
"We had field position," Donohue said. "We had (Triton) turnovers. We didn't do anything with it. We just didn't string any plays together."
Triton outmuscled the Rams in the second half. Triton running back Jimmy Burns rushed for 141 yards on 25 carries. His 36-yard run on the final play of the third quarter gave Triton a 13-0 lead.
"We do have some size issues and we've gotten away with some things this year," Donohue said. "Tonight (Triton) did a good job."
On defense, Triton shut down the Rams' running game. Southern running back T.J. Bellissimo rarely found room to run, carrying 27 times for 80 yards.
"They completely changed what they were doing on defense," Donohue said. "They did a good job and deserved to win the football game."
Southern did give itself some hope when it finally took advantage of a Triton turnover. Fiorelli recovered a fumble at the Triton 48-yard line. Nine plays later, Bellissimo scored on a 1-yard run with 5:29 left to cut Triton's lead to 13-7.
But the Mustangs quickly regained control as they drove 71 yards for the touchdown on the fake field goal. Byrnes had runs of 19 and 22 yards on the drive.
"They slashed us up with some counters," Donohue said.
Southern made it hard on itself with five turnovers. Triton defensive back made the most of the Rams' fifth, returning an interception 46 yards for a touchdown with 15 seconds left.
By that point the Rams were demoralized.
The toughest part of the loss was that it ended Southern's season. Unlike most teams, the Rams do not have a Thanksgiving game to redeem themselves.
"It's a very tough way for these kids to end," Donohue said. "They did a lot of good things this year."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Triton 0 7 6 0 13 – 26
Southern 0 0 0 7 – 7
TR–Keller 5 run (Cowley kick)
TR–Byrnes 36 run (kick missed)
SR–Bellissimo 1 run (Yaiser kick)
TR–Flemming 13 pass from Keller (kick missed)
TR–Bowers 46 int. return (Cowley kick)
Rushing-Byrnes 25-141, Keller 16-54 TR. Bellissimo 27-80 SR.
Passing-Keller 1-6-1-13 TR. Higgins 10-24-4-80
Receiving-Flemming 1-13 TR. Gesicki 3-40 SR.
Records-Triton 8-1; Southern 8-2