By TOM WILLIAMS
The football season kicks off Friday niht for Ocean City High School when the Raiders host Oakcrest in a West Jersey Football League Independence Division game.
But, considering where these two teams are coming from, it could be an early contest with an NJSIAA playoff impact.
Last year both teams were 6-4 and both narrowly missed qualifying for the playoffs. The Raiders lost to Oakcrest, 35-0, in last year’s opener in Mays Landing. Winning that game or one a month later with Absegami would have put OCHS back into the football playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“Even though it’s the season opener, we are pretty much approaching this game like it’s a playoff game,” said Ocean City head coach Kevin Smith (22-38 in six seasons). “Oakcrest lost some key personnel, just like we did, but we know they will be aggressive and are very athletic.”
Among Ocean City players who graduated from last year’s team are record-setting passer Andrew Donoghue, important two-way player Dan Walsh and line anchor Eric Levai. Also gone are Garret Benvenuti, Matt Lashley, Luciano Lubrano, Mark Kolmer, Nick Williams, Ed Mejia, Anthony Kenny and kicker Kevin Catanoso.
Among the players Oakcrest lost are quarterback Kendall Elliott, running back-linebacker Yaier Hinton, defensive end Alex Nichols and a trio of offensive linemen. But the Falcons have returning quickness at receiver in Naji Hart and Jailen Heard and a solid two-way player in Alec Rodriguez. Taking over at quarterback from Elliott, who started the last four years, is junior Trey Sayers, whose father, Frank, was the leading rusher and scorer on Ocean City’s 1984 South Jersey champions.
Ocean City has some talent returning, too.
Senior Issac Robertson (6-0, 180) shared the team scoring lead last year and will be joined by senior Liam Bergman (5-10, 168) at running back. The h-back will be junior Bill Kroeger (6-1, 196). The wide receivers will be Bob Shallcross (5-11, 172), who led the team in receiving TDs last year with five, and senior Josh Rolls (5-9, 160), the school’s fastest runner (he shares the OCHS record for 100 meters), who moves over from the soccer team. When there is a tight end on the field it will be either senior Keegan Alvord (6-0, 216) or junior Travis Stoerrle (6-1, 192).
Taking over at quarterback will be senior Harry Pfeifle (6-2, 180), (at left, above, with Robertson) who missed last season following surgery. He had a strong sophomore year as a defensive back and wide receiver.
The offensive line will find senior Art Spackman (6-1, 223) and junior Dan Auberzinsky (6-5, 302) at the tackles, seniors Sam Holmes (5-9, 244) and Chad DiDonna (5-11, 255) at the guards and junior Jackson Young (5-11, 226) at center. Senior Victor Mahar (6-1, 235) will make that offensive line even deeper after the first four games. A starter at St. Augustine Prep last year, he transferred to OCHS.
There is a lot of experienced talent on defense.
Two of the inside linebackers – junior Brandon Lin (5-11, 195) and senior Tom Meehan (5-10, 198) – led the team in tackles last year. Stoerrle and Kroeger will join them at inside linebacker. The defensive tackles will be Spackman and senior Jim Rice (6-3, 246) and DiDonna will be the nose guard. Holmes and juniors Zac Clark (5-9, 183) and Austin Green (6-0, 217) will also see action on the defensive line. The corners will be senior Parker Bristol (5-8, 155) and Kevin King (5-11, 177). The safety will be junior Brandon Lashley (5-11, 166). Also playing in the secondary will be Robertson and Pfeifle.
On special teams, senior Keith Larkin (5-11, 180) will kick extra points, senior Alex Morales (6-0, 181) will punt and Rolls will kick off. The kick returners will be Robertson, Rolls and Lashley; Lashley will also return punts; and Young will be the long snapper.
“We had a good pre-season,” said Smith, “but we were pretty vanilla – we didn’t show very much. We played a lot of kids and felt pretty good about our depth. There are lots of returning seniors on this team so the approach seems more businesslike. They know what it will take to win and they focus on that.”
But the first Friday after Labor Day is Smith’s favorite.
“I hate first games,” he said. “You don’t have a real feel for the team yet. But, at the same time, I can’t wait to get started.”
EXTRA POINTS: Paul Callahan, Frank LaSasso, Sean Matthews, Tim Kelley, Joe LaTorre Mike Eisenstein, Kevin Sinclair and Dan Sinclair will all be part of Smith’s staff. Paul Baruffi, Mike Williscroft, Dom Iannace and Joe McSorley will coach the freshmen team and be part of the game night staff…all games will be broadcast live on 106.3-The Shore and can be heard online, with streamed video coverage by Matt Ulmer and Bill Shallcross, at OceanCitySports.com…