LINWOOD — The Mainland Regional and Middle Township high school football teams both needed a win Friday night to remain strong contenders in the playoff race.

The Mustangs proved their desire for a postseason berth early in the game.

Joe Massari scored three first-half touchdowns and returned the second-half kickoff 90 yards for another score to lead the Mustangs to a 28-17 victory over the Panthers in a West Jersey Football League interdivisional game.

The Mustangs improved to 5-2.

“Last weekend, I really didn’t have a good performance against Oakcrest,” Massari said. “I talked to my coaches. They critiqued me, and I promised them I got their backs today. And that’s what happened.”

Mainland coach Chuck Smith played Massari at cornerback Friday as the Mustangs were dealing with some injuries to their defense.

“Joe played tremendous,” Smith said. “We had to rely on him on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he is like a little spark plug. He has great hands, great vision running the ball, and (he is) very fast.”

The Panthers opened the scoring when Johnny Carlson kicked a 25-yard field goal.

But Mainland was quick to respond.

Massari ran 15 yards to complete a six-play scoring drive. After Sean Carey’s extra point, the Mustangs led 7-3. Carey made all four of his PATs.

Massari, a 5-foot-7, 144-pound senior running back, scored again on Mainland’s next drive, this time on a 43-yard TD pass from Dean Hall with 4 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The Mustangs’ Brandon Batz had an interception midway through the second quarter and, five plays later, Massari ran it in from 8 yards to extend their lead to 21-3.

“It feels great, man,” Massari said. “Seeing all my teammates’ faces, like letting them know I really worked my butt off to really help them out, it feels great.”

The top 16 teams with the best united power ranking in each enrollment group Oct. 28 will qualify for the playoffs.

Middle Township (3-3) came into the game No. 18 in South Jersey Group II. Mainland was No. 15 in Group IV. The united power rankings are based on a team’s wins and the quality of its opposition.

The Mustangs’ Kyle Goodman had an interception and a fumble recovery in the final 10 minutes.