LINWOOD - On a day when many people's thoughts are locked in on a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, the Mainland Regional High School defense displayed a ravenous appetite for hitting Egg Harbor Township.
The host Mustangs held the Eagles to 23 yards rushing on 30 carries and just 101 total yards in a 17-0 win Thursday in the Cape-Atlantic League teams' annual Thanksgiving rivalry game.
The Mustangs got great kicking and punting from sophomore Jim Cooper and 113 yards rushing on 16 carries from junior running back Dashown Waller in a game played at times in heavy sleet.
"Our defense and our special teams definitely won us that game," Mainland coach Bob Coffey said.
The win allowed the Mustangs to finish their season with a 3-7 record. Mainland was 7-3 on the field, but the school had to forfeit four wins because of an ineligible player.
With the win, Mainland now leads the all-time Thanksgiving series 17-10-1.
The Eagles finished the season 6-5.
Mainland, which played turnover-free football, led at halftime 3-0 on a 39-yard first-quarter field goal by Cooper, but senior defensive end Dondre' Brown broke the game open with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Mustangs received the ball to start the second half, and got the ball at their own 35 after the Egg Harbor Township kickoff went out of bounds.
But three rushing plays were stopped for little gain by the Eagles' defense, leading to a Cooper punt. The Eagles decided to attack the Mainland cornerbacks with some underneath passing routes.
On third down, Eagles quarterback Jon Kopistecki (9-for-23 for 78 yards) dropped back to pass.
He attempted a screen pass along the right sideline, but Mainland's Brown read it beautifully.
He intercepted it at the Eagles' 40-yard line and returned it untouched into the end zone with 8:49 left in the third quarter. Cooper's extra point made it 10-0 Mainland.
"I started in on a pass rush, but their offensive tackle made a stop, so I dropped back into coverage," a beaming Brown said. "The ball just seemed to be floating there, and it felt like time stopped.
"I had never scored a defensive touchdown before, and it had always been the joke in practice that I dropped passes when I played defense, even though I'm a tight end as well. It was nice to score a defensive touchdown in my last game."
Mainland iced the game when Waller ran for a 48-yard touchdown with 1:53 remaining.
The score became 17-0 on an extra point by Cooper, who also had a 50-yard punt in the game and another punt that pinned the Eagles on their own 1-yard line.
"We though we matched up well against their offense, and our defensive backs will definitely hit you," Coffey said. "Our secondary has been terrific all season, and it was nice for the seniors to go out with a win."
For his part, Egg Harbor Township coach Tony DeRosa was perplexed by his team's lack of offensive production.
"We couldn't get anything going on the offensive side of the ball, and I don't know why," he said. "We thought we came in with a good game plan, but it didn't work out. Our defense and special teams kept giving us the ball in decent field position, but Mainland played well in those areas, too."
Contact James Clark:
Egg Harbor Township 0 0 0 0 - 0
Mainland Regional 3 0 7 7 - 17
MR - Cooper 39 field goal
MR - Brown 40 interception return (Cooper kick)
MR - Waller 48 run (Cooper kick)
First downs: Egg Harbor Township 19, Mainland 21
Rushing yards: Egg Harbor Township 23, Mainland 141
Passing yards: Egg Harbor Township 78, Mainland 15
Turnovers: Egg Harbor Township 1, Mainland 0
Rushing: Egg Harbor Township: Thomas 16-35, Marquez 3-11, Kopistecki 9-(-29), Vance 1-5, Moody 1-1; Mainland: Waller 16-113, Kaczmarski 11-31, Bradway 10-(-17), Prince 2-14, Mainland
Passing: Egg Harbor Township: Kopistecki 9-23-78-1;Mainland: Bradway 2-6-15-0, Fortunato 0-1-0-0.
Receiving: Egg Harbor Township: Marquez 5-46, Mays 2-9, Thomas 1-12, Bolden 1-11; Mainland: Kaczmarski 1-12, Waller 1-3.
Records: Egg Harbor Township 6-5, Mainland 3-7