By TOM WILLIAMS
Ocean City and Mainland have played football 46 times in a series filled with excitement.
Last year, for example, Sean Carey made Carey Stadium his home when he kicked a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left for a 24-21 win that clinched the division championship for the Mustangs. Ian Aungst and Brandon Lashley had just combined on an 80-yard scoring drive to tie the score.
In 2009, the Mustangs won, 22-16 in three overtimes when Chris Curran’s pass into the end zone was tipped away on fourth down.
In 2004, A.J. Harris scored twice – from 60 yards and 70 yards away – and Ocean City won, 35-28, despite Matt Flynn’s four touchdown passes to Hugh McLaughlin.
During one six-year period the teams played twice in a season four times.
In 2000, Mainland won a 20-12 decision during the regular season but, in the NJSIAA Group 3 playoffs, Ocean City won, 20-0, and limited the Mustangs to a single first down.
The year before it was the same thing. In the regular season game, the Raiders took a 14-6 lead on a TD run by Adam Martin and a TD pass from Al Genz to Chris Devaney. Mike Granieri hit R.J. Lindquist for the Mainland score. But, in the second half, Granieri scampered 15 yards for a tying touchdown. And Mike DeSalle kicked a 40-yard field goal to win it, 17-14.
But the teams met again in the South Jersey final at Rutgers. Genz threw for 188 yards, Granieri for 183 and the Mustangs took a 16-15 lead with 6:35 left on a 24-yard pass from Granieri to Ashton Funk. But Ocean City recovered an onside kick attempt and got good field position. They gained 33 yards on a Genz-to-Ryan Taylor pass and scored on a 22 yard run by Brian Coggins. A Mainland drive was stopped by a Joe Foster interception that led to a safety, cutting Ocean City’s final margin to 21-18.
Things were reversed in 1997. The two teams met twice within two weeks. In the first game, in Ocean City, the Raiders intercepted two passes that Brian Comeforo and Jay Toscano returned for touchdowns in a 21-6 victory. But, two weeks later, in a Group 3 playoff semi-final in Linwood, Ken Dudnick ended a scoreless tie halfway through the third quarter with a 25-yard field goal. Ray Rogers then responded by returning the ensuing kickoff a school record 96 yards for a touchdown. Ocean City held that 6-3 lead until Jamil Perry banged over from the three for a score. Incredibly, the Raiders final four possessions all ended with interceptions – two each by Howard Horner and Larry Fernan – to preserve a 9-6 victory. Mainland went on to beat Toms River South for its second straight South Jersey title.
The 1996 season was magical. Ocean City had one of the greatest teams in Cape-Atlantic League history and both teams won South Jersey titles. In near-hurricane winds in Linwood, Jason Feinberg kicked a 23-yard field goal to give Mainland the early lead. The Raiders responded with a 64-yard drive, highlighted by Kevin Sinclair’s 46-yard run. Matt LeFever scored the touchdown from three yards out. Mainland never crossed the 50 again until the final 90 seconds of the game when Rogers intercepted a pass on the OC 16 yard line. The Raiders ran out the clock, giving a safety on the final play of the game, and won a strange-sounding 6-5 decision.
The two teams played twice in 1995. A season that ended with controversy. In the early-season meeting, Sinclair went 49 yards for a TD and had a 70-yard TD run called back in the first period. The Raiders added another in the second period on a 28-yard run by Sinclair to lead, 14-0. But Jeff Boyd used a pump fake and hit John Stone with a screen pass that turned into a 52-yard score. Stone scored again on a 75-yard run with three minutes left in the half and it was tied, 14-14, at intermission.
Boyd hit Dave Klemic for a 20-yard score to start the second half. And Stone romped 60 yards for a touchdown on the next possession, opening a 28-14 lead. A swing pass from Steffon Davis to Sinclair covered 24 yards for an Ocean City TD but Stone scored again from the eight to give the Mustangs a 35-21 lead. A 35-yard field goal by Jason Feinberg was the only scoring after that and Mainland had won a big 38-21 victory.
Sinclair finished with 250 rushing yards and 274 yards total offense. Stone had 176 yards rushing and 228 yards of offense. And Boyd threw for 150 yards.
Then, in November, they met again back in Ocean City. It was the semi-finals of the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs. Stone picked up where he’d left off, going 51 yards for a TD in the first quarter. Sinclair went 26 for a score in the third quarter that gave OC a 10-7 lead. But Boyd’s 49-yard pass to Klemic and a 22-yard run by Stone made it 21-10. The Raiders rallied in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 50-yard double pass when Scott Lipford hit Davis. OC got the ball back in the closing minutes but fumbled on the first play and Mainland had won again. The Mustangs won the South Jersey championship game, 42-14, over Woodrow Wilson but had to forfeit the game for ignoring the suspension of a player.
The teams did not always play – there were 16 seasons when they did not – but since the series resumed in 1993, Ocean City has an 8-6 advantage in games at the Mustang Corral and Mainland leads, 10-4, in games at Carey Stadium.
The first time the teams played was in 1961, the year that Mainland opened. Before that, students from Somers Point and Linwood attended OCHS. In the first game, Mainland won, 7-0. Alan McNelis, one of the few offshore senior athletes who decided to finish high school at Ocean City rather than transfer to the new school, was injured on the opening kickoff and missed the rest of the game.
Then there was 1983, when senior Chuck Smith, now the Mainland head coach, and freshman Kevin Smith, currently Ocean City’s head coach, played on a Mainland team that lost to Ocean City, 28-0, in the first game between the schools in 11 years. Kevin Smith would lose to the Raiders again the next two seasons before his Mustangs won, 37-6, in his senior year.
There are lots of connections like that in this series. Geoff Haines, currently Ocean City’s athletics director, was the field judge in that 1996 game that finished 6-5. Tom Jamison, whose son Brad is one of Ocean City’s key players, is a teacher and track coach at Mainland. The mother of Ocean City quarterback Joe Repetti was a star athlete and head girls basketball coach at Mainland. And back in the 1960s, Ocean City coach Andy Prohaska stepped down after four seasons at OCHS and became Mainland’s head coach for the next five years.
This year there is something new. Using an idea from former Mainland athlete and current broadcaster Mike O’Brien, Dave Talarico and his talented staff at Schoppy’s in Linwood have created a trophy – Battle for the Bridge – that will be presented to the winner of the game each year to display until the next game.
Gary Degenhardt and Bob Coffey, the coaches at the two schools with the most career wins, will debut the trophy (below) in a pre-game celebration.
There is a lot at stake Friday night at Mainland – a division championship and seeding in the NJSIAA Group 4 playoffs. But really all that is extra.
All you need to know is that it is Ocean City vs. Mainland.