MONROE TOWNSHIP — The Vineland High School football team experienced an all-too-familiar feeling at Williamstown on Friday night.
The Braves dominated defensively and beat Vineland 28-7 in the season opener for both West Jersey Football League teams. Williamstown is ranked No. 4 in The Press Elite 11, while Vineland is No. 8.
"The kids battled the best they could," Vineland coach Dan Russo said. "But the lack of mental toughness tonight hurt us. We have to get more in tune with playing on this level."
It was the third time Vineland lost to Williamstown, the defending South Jersey Group V champion, in the past year. All three games have unfolded the same way.
Vineland has played competitively but has been unable to generate enough offense and eventually gets worn down by the Braves. The Fighting Clan have scored just a single touchdown in each of the defeats.
On Friday, Williamstown senior Christian Forman rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Dougie Brown threw for 146 yards and ran for a touchdown. It was Forman and Brown's first varsity starts.
Donovan Ezeiruaku and David Fuller-Williams each had a sack for Williamstown.
Vineland's lone score came on a fourth-down, 3-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Shelton to Jonathan Toney in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Linebacker Lathan Kent sparked the Vineland defense with aggressive play, including a forced fumble.
The Fighting Can hurt itself with some ill-time penalties and a blocked punt that set up Williamstown's final touchdown.
"We'll regroup," Russo said. "The good news it's only game one. We'll see some things on the film and see what we need to do as far as making corrections."
Fans nearly filled the home and visiting bleachers on a misty and windy night to watch one of the weekend's most anticipated games.
Williamstown beat Vineland twice last season — 24-7 in the regular season and 28-7 in the sectional semifinals.
Friday's game also featured two of South Jersey's premier players: senior defensive end Aaron Lewis of Williamstown and senior defensive back and tight end Tyreem Powell of Vineland.
Lewis, who has verbally committed to Michigan, made a tackle for a loss and consistently penetrated the Vineland backfield. Powell, a Virginia Tech recruit, made four tackles.
Williamston controlled time of possession, especially in the second quarter.
The Braves scored the only touchdown of the first half on a 2-yard Forman run with 52 seconds left in the first half. Williamstown took advantage of two Vineland personal fouls during the drive. The possession's biggest play was its first — a 45-yard pass from Brown to wide receiver Mekhi Gamble that gave the Braves the ball at the Vineland 20.
The Braves took control in the third quarter. They scored on their first possession of the second half as Brown dove across the goal line from 1 yard out to make it 14-0 Williamstown with 6:16 left in the third quarter. Williamstown took advantage of two Vineland offside penalties during the drive.
Less than a minute later, Williamstown defensive back Taylor Robinson intercepted a Fighting Clan pass and returned it 34 yards down the sideline to give the Braves a 21-0 lead with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
Despite its struggles against Williamstown, Vineland wouldn't mind seeing the Braves again this season. That meeting would come in the South Jersey Group V playoffs.
"They're very consistent. They're mentally tough, and they're well coached," Russo said. "We'll rebound. Well make some corrections. We'll win some games and (hopefully) see them again."
Vineland 0 0 7 0 - 7
Williamstown 0 7 14 7 - 28
WT - Forman 2 run (Amico kick)
WT - Brown 1 run (Amico kick)
WT - Robinson 34 int return (Amico kick)
VL - Toney 3 pass from Shelton (Garton kick)
WT - Forman 1 run (Amico kick)