By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — The Middle Township High School football team’s most impressive scoring drive of the season sparked the Panthers to victory in the Anchor Bowl on Thanksgiving morning.
A 17-play, 91-yard drive that took more than six minutes of game time ended in a five-yard touchdown run by Charlie McNeal and sent Middle on its way to a 21-0 win in the 102nd meeting between the two programs.
Middle (5-5) scored all three of its touchdowns in the second quarter, taking advantage of having a strong wind at its back during the period.
Starting from its own 9-yard line late in the first quarter and working against the wind, Middle ran seven plays and moved close to midfield before the expiration of the period. Then, on a third-and-10 play early in the second quarter, R.J. Tozer found Miles Sapp for a 24-yard pass play. Four more running plays moved the ball to the 5-yard line, from which McNeal ran around the left side into the end zone.
“That drive was phenomenal,” Middle coach Frank Riggitano said. “To do that in these conditions and under these circumstances says a lot about the kids’ character. We worked hard on our core stuff before this game and we executed really well on that drive.”
After a quick three-and-out by Lower (2-8), Kenderson Cardaci tossed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Matt Marino on the next play for Middle. Marino ran past two Lower defensive backs and caught the ball at the 15-yard line before racing into the end zone.
Middle scored again with 1:58 to go before halftime when Cardaci ran in from 30 yards out on a quarterback draw.
Middle nearly scored a fourth touchdown in the period but Lower’s defense stopped a quarterback sneak at the 1-yard line on the final play of the half.
Neither team scored during a sloppy second half that saw 16 penalties called, although not all were accepted. Five were for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Lower Cape May senior Jonas Lumbruno ran 19 times for 30 yards, finishing just five yards short of becoming the first Lower Cape May player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Matt Szczur in 2006.
“We had two bad plays in that second quarter that kind of set the tone,” Lower coach Brian Hindle said. “We had trouble moving the ball. They were very good defensively. We thought we came in with a good plan but the wind was a factor and it really hindered us. Give credit to Middle. They played well.”
Lower was held to four first downs for the game.
“We did a very good job defensively,” Riggitano said. “I think Jonas is a pretty good running back and we didn’t want (Lower quarterback Connor) Eckel to get away from us because he has that kind of ability.”
Middle leads the Anchor Bowl series 15-9 since the game was moved to Thanksgiving Day in 2006.
Marino finished with three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown and ran four times for 22 yards. He also had a 24-yard run in the fourth quarter nullified by a penalty.
The players, coaches, officials and cheerleaders joined forces on the field prior to the game for a 10-second moment of silence in memory of Micah “Dew” Tennant, the 10-year-old boy murdered during a shooting at the Camden-Pleasantville state playoff game earlier this month. A No. 10 was painted into each end zone.