The Ocean City High School football team plays what is probably its biggest regular season game in nearly 20 years Friday night.
The Red Raiders hope there are more of these nights to come.
Ocean City (4-0) plays at St. Augustine Prep (1-3) at 6 p.m. in a West Jersey Football League interdivision game. Ocean City is ranked No. 11 in The Press Elite 11, while the Hermits are ranked No. 7.
“We’ve done really well early on,” Ocean City coach Kevin Smith said, “but this is a step up in class.”
Few South Jersey teams are off to as impressive of a start as Ocean City. The Red Raiders have outscored their opponents 170-6. But Ocean City’s four opponents have a combined record of 2-12.
Friday will be a credibility test for the Red Raiders. St. Augustine, despite its losing record, is one of the region’s top programs.
“We want to show people we’re for real,” Ocean City senior wide receiver and defensive back Brian Beckmann said.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ocean City seemed to play a game of Friday’s magnitude every week. The Red Raiders won South Jersey Group III championships in 1996, 1998 and 1999. They reached the sectional final in 2001. But the program then fell on hard times. Ocean City had just one winning season and made just one playoff appearance from 2002-2015.
The program began to turn it around in 2016. The Red Raiders had winning seasons in 2016 and 2017 and qualified for the postseason in 2017 and 2018.
“The culture has changed at Ocean City High School,” senior offensive lineman Chris Armstrong said. “Football is (revitalized). Nobody likes losing. It took a little bit, but we’re putting this program back in the right place. We have a great senior class, and we have some young kids who are ballers.”
There was a positive buzz around the Red Raiders this preseason.
It’s gotten even louder through the first four games.
Junior quarterback Joe Repetti has completed 80% of his passes and thrown for 11 touchdowns. Wide receiver Jake Schneider averages 17.5 yards per catch. Linebackers Jake Inserra (22 tackles) and Brad Jamison (17 tackles) lead the defense.
“Nobody is doing it for themselves,” Beckmann said. “Everybody is together. That’s why you see us putting up the numbers that we have.”
Ocean City will face a St. Augustine team also in search of a big win. The Hermits should get a boost from two transfers, who should be eligible for the first time this season Friday.
Junior wide receiver Carnell Davis, a transfer from Absegami, is a college prospect with NCAA Division I scholarship offers from more than 20 schools, including Auburn, Oregon, Maryland and Rutgers.
Sophomore Kanye Udoh is a transfer from St. Joe and a dynamic running back. They should help spark a Hermits offense that is averaging just two touchdowns per game.
St. Augustine fans are sure to fill the home bleachers Friday night. There’s bound to be plenty of Ocean City fans driving west on Route 40 to the Hermits’ campus in the Richland section of Buena Vista Township.
Smith said he doesn’t want the Red Raiders to get caught up in the game’s atmosphere.
“It’s really important for us to manage our emotions,” he said. “We talk all the time about playing intense but not emotional. When you’re emotional, there’s highs and lows. In a big game, you never want to be too up or too down.”
Whether they win or lose Friday, the Red Raiders seemed destined to play some more pivotal games the rest of the season.
Ocean City plays at rival Mainland Regional (4-0) on Nov. 1 and is on pace to make the South Jersey Group IV playoffs.
But how the Red Raiders perform Friday could make those games even more relevant.
“For us,” Smith said, “the goal is to win the division and win playoff games. Regardless of what happens Friday night, it’s great preparation for what is hopefully down the road in the playoffs.”