ATLANTIC CITY - First-year coach Thomas Kelly wasn't about to reflect on the positives of Atlantic City High School's 4-0 start to the football season after his Vikings defeated Buena Regional 12-0 on Friday night.
Even though a huge home game against Egg Harbor Township comes up next Friday, Kelly was more concerned about some of the sloppy play that plagued the Vikings, ranked 10th in The Press Elite 11, during their win over the Chiefs (1-4) in a Cape-Atlantic League interdivision matchup.
"We left a lot of plays out there on the field tonight," Kelly said. "I don't think we're going to have too much trouble keeping the kids focused or keeping their feet on the ground in practice in the coming week. They know there are a lot of things we could have done better tonight."
Senior quarterback Jamal Anderson led Atlantic City's attack with 102 yards passing and 49 yards rushing. His 151 yards from scrimmage took the spotlight away from Buena senior quarterback Donetae McKinnon, who rushed for 90 yards on 20 carries. In a game that had no turnovers, Anderson's steady play for Atlantic City was the theme.
Yet he, like his coach, wasn't satisfied with the Vikings' performance.
"We can't keep coming out flat and hoping to win the game in the second half," Anderson said. "The coaches said to us we have to come out and make plays from the beginning of the game. If we don't do that, we're going to end up losing."
The Vikings' offense nearly did come out firing. After holding the Chiefs to a three-and-out on the first series of the game, Anderson handed off to senior Shawn Barnes on the right side. Barnes turned the corner and ran 80 yards for an apparent touchdown, but the play was called back for an illegal shift.
The game then settled into a pattern where both teams were moving the ball between the 30-yard lines but failing to execute closer to the end zones. Buena 's gameplan consisted mostly of quarterback keepers by McKinnon, who was finding some holes to run through.
Atlantic City opened the scoring when Anderson dropped back and threw a perfect pass downfield to senior Ben Allen for a 50-yard touchdown strike for a 6-0 lead with 9 minutes, 54 seconds left in the second quarter. The extra-point attempt failed.
Buena Regional responded by driving the ball to the Atlantic City 30, but an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty stalled the drive. That didn't sit well with McKinnon.
"We just didn't execute in the red zone," the Chiefs quarterback said. "We made careless mistakes with the penalties. We have to focus better. Our effort as a team wasn't good enough today."
After a scoreless third quarter, the Vikings took control with their ground game. Junior Radi Tolbert relieved Anderson for a sequence of plays and took a few direct snaps which he turned into positive runs. On fourth-and goal from the 1-yard line, Tolbert ran through a large hole on the left side of the line for a touchdown and a 12-0 lead with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter. The two-point-conversion pass failed.
"Radi's a dangerous ballcarrier, and we have to find ways to put the ball into his hands," Kelly said. "It's a way to hit the defense when they're a little bit tired. He did a nice job for us tonight."
Down by two scores, the Chiefs turned to senior Sawyer Brown to put the ball in the air. He drove his team to the Atlantic City 25-yard line, but a dropped pass and a sack by Vikings senior defensive end Phil Nulty sealed the game for the home team. Next up, Egg Harbor Township and a chance to go 5-0.
"It's going to be another big game for us, but we'll have to play better to win it," Kelly said. "I think the players know that."
Contact James Clark:
Buena Regional 0 0 0 0-0
Atlantic City 0 6 0 6-12
AC - Allen 50 pass from Anderson (kick failed)
AC - Tolbert 1 run (2-point pass failed)
First downs - Buena Regional 17; Atlantic City 18
Rushing yards - Buena Regional 109; Atlantic City 152
Passing yards - Buena Regional 24; Atlantic City 102
Turnovers - Buena Regional 0; Atlantic City 0
Rushing - Buena Regional, McKinnon 20-90, Haygood 7-22, Austin 2-8, Brown 1-(-11). Atlantic City, Tolbert 9-60, Anderson 9-49, Bailey 4-26, Hurd 5-15, Cheeks 3-5, Davis 1-1, Barnes 1-(-1), Gallagher 2-(-3).
Passing-Buena Regional, Brown 3-10-0-28, McKinnon 1-2-0-(-4). Atlantic City, Anderson 6-11-0-102.
Receiving- Buena Regional, Haygood 1-15, Parent 1-15, Austin 1-(-2), May 1-(-4). Atlantic City, Tolbert 4-41, Allen 1-50, Barnes 1-11.
RECORDS-Buena 1-4; Atlantic City 4-0