CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Pleasantville High School’s football team took another step forward in its impressive transformation Friday.
The Greyhounds, once a struggling program that had a 35-game losing streak earlier this decade, won the West Jersey Football League United Division championship with a 28-7 victory over Middle Township.
It was the first league title for the Greyhounds in 43 years, since it won the Cape-Atlantic League in 1976. At the end of the game, the players dumped ice water on coach Chris Sacco and gathered for a celebration in the end zone that included backflips by sophomore wide receiver Javier Cruz and sophomore running back Jaquan Howard.
“We had Kirk Heiland and some other players from that 1976 team address the guys before the game,” Sacco said. “I’m so proud of the kids because they worked so hard for this. They definitely deserve it.”
But the Greyhounds still have goals to achieve.
Although the official state pairings won’t be announced until Saturday evening, Pleasantville is expected to be the No. 1 seed in Group II.
“This is a very big deal to us, but we’ve got bigger dreams to go after now,” senior running back Ernest Howard said. “We’re not finished yet. This is great, but we can’t get too cocky. We have to still think like we’re the ‘Bottom Boys’ and keep pushing.”
Middle (4-4) relied on its defense — linebacker Karl Giulian, safety Matt Marino and senior Doug Watkins were among the Panthers to come up with big stops — to stay in contention for most of the first half before Pleasantville scored a pair of second-quarter touchdowns and two more in the third quarter.
Howard earned two TDs while rushing for 81 yards on seven carries. Quarterback Marlon Leslie hit fellow freshmen Famah Toure twice for TDs. Leslie completed 7 of 9 passes for 51 yards.
Leslie and Toure teamed up for a key touchdown that gave the Greyhounds the momentum. Middle trailed just 7-0 when Leslie hit Toure on a slant pattern for an 8-yard TD on the final play of the first half that put the Greyhounds ahead 14-0.
“That touchdown at the end of the half just killed us,” Middle coach Frank Riggitano said. “To quote the song (by the Shirilles), ‘Mama said there’d be days like this.’ We just have to keep working.”
After the game, Riggitano approached Pleasantville and to offer congratulations.
He was Middle’s coach at a time when the Greyhounds were struggling and has been very impressed with the turnaround organized by Sacco and his coaching staff.
“There’s an entire community in Pleasantville and some fans here in Middle who are extremely proud of you,” Riggitano said. “Now go win that Group II championship.”
Pleasantville 0 14 14 0 — 28
Middle Twp. 0 0 0 7 — 7
P — Howard 54 run (Washington kick)
P — Toure 8 pass from Leslie (Washington kick)
P — E. Howard 5 run. (Washington kick)
P — Toure 11 pass from Leslie. (Washington kick)
M — Salvo 15 pass from Nabb. (Hoffman kick)
Records — Pleasantville 7-1, Middle 4-4.