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VIDEO: Late kick by freshman gives Lower upset win over Middle

ERMA – After Brennan Ray scored on a two-yard touchdown run for the Lower Cape May Regional High School football team, Lower coach Brian Hindle called a timeout in order to gauge the emotional state of his freshman kicker, Matt Hays.

“I went up to him and said, ‘No matter what happens here, we’re OK,’” Hindle said. “He looked right at me and said, ‘I’ll make it.’”

The clairvoyant Hays did just that, splitting the uprights with 13 seconds to play to give the Caper Tigers a dramatic 21-20 upset victory over Middle Township in the annual Anchor Bowl game Thanksgiving morning.

“That’s such a big spot for a freshman kicker,” Hindle said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

The victory was Lower’s first over Middle since 2011. Middle leads the all-time series 59-37. There have been five ties.

“This is a great win for us and I feel great for the kids, especially the seniors,” Hindle said. “They’ve shown up every day and worked hard. We’re kind of a grind-it-out school from a grind-it-out town. Our seniors really embody that blue-collar attitude. It’s great that they get to go out with a win like this.”

Ray’s late touchdown capped a 14-play, 56-yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock. Lower (2-8) converted twice on fourth down on the drive. Ray’s 17-yard run on a fourth-and-three play and Aaron Cottrell’s eight-yard burst on a third-and-five play from the 14-yard line were the key plays of the drive.

Ray ran a quarterback sweep to the right for the tying score, scampering just inside the pylon at the right sideline.

Middle (4-5) called a timeout to try to ice Hays after Lower’s timeout. But the snap and hold were perfect, Lower’s line kept Middle’s defenders out of the kicker’s path and Hays chipped the ball squarely between the uprights.

Lower Cape May held Middle Township’s offense without a first down in the second half.

“I’ve said ever since I started here that we play our best when we play well defensively,” Hindle said. “Middle Township is a really, really good football team. They almost made the playoffs and they came in here as a four-win team. But defensively I thought we really knuckled down, especially in the second half, and that was the difference for us.”

Lower enjoyed a dream start to the game. After a 28-yard reception by Jonas Lumbrano on fourth down kept the Tigers’ opening drive alive, Cottrell caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ray on a throwback screen play.

Three plays later, Jake Robb picked off a pass at the Middle 45-yard line and ran all the way to the end zone for another score as Lower jumped to a 14-0 lead before the game was seven minutes old.

Middle answered on its next drive. Karl Giulian’s 37-yard run set up Cameron Hamer’s four-yard scoring run. After a Lower fumble, another long Giulian run, this one 20 yards, helped lead to Hamer’s 11-yard touchdown run. Seth Loeffler’s two-point conversion run tied the game at 14.

Lower drove inside Middle’s 10-yard line on its next possession, but Dylan Cruz intercepted a pass for Middle to end the threat. Five plays later, Loeffler ran 61 yards for a touchdown to give Middle its first lead.

The teams did little more than trade possessions from there, until Lower capped the game and its season with its winning drive, culminated by Ray’s touchdown and Hays’s kick.

“We had some mental lapses that were confusing to me,” Middle coach Frank Riggitano said. “Some mistakes we haven’t made in a long time.

“When you get beat the way they did last year (58-7) there’s no question they were going to have extra incentive coming in here. Brian and his staff did a very good job getting their team ready. They deserved to win. They should be excited. They wanted it more than us.”

— Brian Cunniff