By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Lower Cape May Regional High School football team is out to prove last season was no fluke.
After years of struggling to win more than a game or two in a season, the Caper Tigers took a major step forward by going a solid 6-4 overall. With quite a few key players back, including an emerging star at quarterback, Lower is poised to continue the success it found last season.
“There’s definitely a different belief in our kids,” said Lower Cape May coach Brian Hindle, who’s entering his fourth season. “They’re not thinking they can win. They’re expecting to win. They know the type of effort they need on every play in every game to do that.”
Lower will have a difficult opener. The Tigers host Ocean City, a Group III playoff team last season, on Friday at 6 p.m. The game will air live on 106.3 FM The Shore radio.
But despite the challenge of playing a very good Ocean City team, the Tigers will enter the game with optimism. Much of it comes through the quarterback play of junior Connor Eckel. He rushed for 878 yards and eight touchdowns and threw for 719 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
“He had a combined 1,500 yards rushing and passing and that’s the first time since we’ve been here that we’ve had that kind of threat from our quarterback,” Hindle said. “I think the big thing with him is that he’s still only a junior but he’s a junior with 10 games of successful varsity experience. I think he’s one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in South Jersey.”
There are quite a few other players with talent and experience as well. Senior Jonas Lumbruno (RB/DB/LB) ran for 506 yards, scored nine total touchdowns and picked off four passes on defense. Senior Sean Connelly (OL/DL) is the team’s top lineman. And junior Eric Konczyk (RB/LB) posted a team-high 73 tackles.
Others expected to make big contributions include seniors Ryan Jackson (OL/DL), Nico Castellano (WR/DB), Dylan Donahue (DB), Damyon Bencievengo (WR/DB) and Cameron Leslie (RB/DB) and juniors Jackson Schiffbauer (OL/DL), Matthew Craig (OL/DL), Wesley Tosto (CB/K/P) and Christian Ray (OL/DL). A handful of sophomores and even some promising freshmen could also see action.
“We have experience at every single level on both sides of the ball,” Hindle said. “We’re encouraged because we have so many returning kids that were starters or big-time contributors.”
A member of the West Jersey Football League United Division, Lower Cape May’s division foes include Middle Township, Pleasantville, Buena, Gloucester and Gloucester Catholic. The Tigers will also play non-division games against Riverside, Haddon Township and Wildwood, in addition to the opener against Ocean City.
“Our goal is to still be more competitive,” Hindle said. “There were still a couple games last year — Buena and Pleasantville — where we weren’t competitive. We feel like we can be better against those teams.
“The kids worked hard in the offseason. They’ve definitely put the work in. I hope we can put our best foot forward and be successful.”
Hindle is assisted by Billy Damiana, Sam Lawler, Mark Mallett, Joe Durso and Dennis Conti.