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VIDEO: Middle rallies, survives last-second FGA to win opener




CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – If they’re all this entertaining, this is sure going to be an exciting high school football season in Cape May County.

Middle Township twice surrendered a two-touchdown lead, rallied to take the lead again in the final 2 ½ minutes and then survived a 31-yard field attempt as time expired to beat Steinert, 32-31, in the season opener for both teams Thursday evening at Memorial Field.

It was Middle’s first win a season opener since 2008.

“This is a great character win,” Middle coach Frank Riggitano said. “I thought our kids showed a lot of character at the end. They were tired, they were sore and a lot of them were cramping up. We were really reeling for a while there. For us to come back the way we did, I think it says a lot about our kids.”

Down 31-24 early in the fourth quarter, Middle used 13 plays to drive to the Steinert 1-yard line but failed to score on a running play on fourth and goal. But Austin Cominsky and Cody Kern combined to tackle Steinert’s Xavier Thompson in the end zone for a safety on the next play to make the score 31-26.

After the ensuing free kick gave Middle possession at the Steinert 46, Karl Giulian began the drive by rushing twice for 16 yards and later had a six-yard run to move the ball to the Steinert 2-yard line. Cameron Hamer ran the ball in from there to give Middle the lead for good.

Steinert drove deep into Middle territory in the waning seconds, helped by a 17-yard reception near midfield by Joe Swindasz on a fourth-and-13 play. Three more pass plays moved the Spartans to the Middle 14-yard line with 3.7 seconds remaining. That set the stage for Steinert kicker Angelo Falvo, who had made all three of his extra-point attempts earlier in the game. Falvo had plenty of distance on his kick from 31 yards but pulled it wide left as Middle’s players rushed the field to celebrate.

“I know how he feels,” said Riggitano, who was a kicker in high school and college during his playing days. “It’s a tough situation because you’re either a hero or a goat. He hit the kick well but he just pulled it a little. I wasn’t sure when he hit it. It was pretty close. But our kids seemed to know (it missed) right away. That kid’s a good kicker. He’ll bounce back.”

Giulian and Hamer led the way offensively for Middle. Giulian, a sophomore, ran 11 times for 48 yards, including a four-yard touchdown run. He also returned a fumble 34 yards for a score in the first quarter. Hamer tossed an 84-yard touchdown pass to Mack Selby and also ran for two two-point conversions in addition to his winning touchdown run with 2:21 to play. He completed 4 of 8 passes for 107 yards.

Middle also received a spark from a pair of freshmen running backs. Kanius Brown and Charlie McNeal combined for 13 carried for 82 yards, all in the second half.

Defensively, Kern and Cominsky combined for nine tackles for losses.

Even though there is still a lot of football to be played, the victory figures to be a key one for Middle in its attempt to qualify for the South Jersey playoffs for a second straight year for the first time in program history.

Thursday’s contest was historic. No Cape May County high school football team had previously ever played a regular-season game prior to Labor Day weekend. It was made possible when the two teams had separate opponents who decided not to field varsity teams this season.

Middle plays its next two games on the road. The Panthers will face Holy Spirit next Friday before playing Mainland on Sept. 15. They return home for a date with Buena on Sept. 22.


STEINERT         0  17  14   0 – 31

MIDDLE TWP 16    8    0   8 – 32


First Quarter

MT-Mack Selby 84 pass from Cameron Hamer (Cameron Hamer run)

MT-Karl Giulian 34 fumble return (Karl Giulian run)

Second Quarter

S-Safety (Middle punter stepped out of end zone)

S-Xavier Thompson 13 run (Angelo Falvo kick)

MT-Karl Giulian 4 run (Cameron Hamer run)

S-Jordan Lyons 43 pass from Colin Smith (Jordan Morrison run)

Third Quarter

S-Xavier Thompson 13 run (Angelo Falvo kick)

S-Jordan Morrison 14 run (Angelo Falvo kick)

Fourth Quarter

MT-Safety (Steinert RB tackled in end zone)

MT-Cameron Hamer 2 run (run failed)