By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — A pair of missed two-point conversion tries were the difference as the Middle Township High School football team was left frustrated following a 13-12 home loss to Oakcrest Friday.
“It’s awful,” Middle coach Frank Riggitano said of the loss. “I feel bad for the kids. I feel bad for the program. They worked hard coming into the game.”
Oakcrest (2-3) ultimately put the game away after stopping Middle (3-2) on downs with two minutes to play at the Falcon 34-yard line. Middle had appeared poised to get into scoring position after a 17-yard catch by Matt Marino and a 13-yard scramble by quarterback Kenderson Cardaci had helped the Panthers move from their own 36-yard line. But a one-yard gain on a pass play was followed by three straight incompletions. Cardaci appeared to have a teammate open on the sideline on the fourth-down play, but the ball fell well short of its intended target after Cardaci was hit as he released the ball.
Middle twice had chances to take the lead. After Oakcrest scored early in the second quarter to go ahead, 7-0, Karl Giulian reached the end zone from six yards out two plays after his terrific 22-yard run moved the ball inside the 10-yard line. The Panthers lined up quickly for the conversion in an effort to catch Oakcrest by surprise but the two-point run was stopped a yard short of the end zone.
Oakcrest upped its lead to 13-6 on the second offensive play of the second half, a 50-yard touchdown pass from Angel Casanova to Tavion Gray. The snap was dropped on the extra-point kick try.
Middle got back to within a point in the final minute of the third quarter when Dominic Caraballo picked off a pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. Again, Middle tried for two but the pass fell incomplete.
“We’ve struggled with special teams,” Riggitano said. “We went into the game after struggling all week to kick extra points in practice so I decided we were going for two each time we scored.”
Middle lost more than the game. Giulian, the team’s top two-way player, suffered a left foot injury on the final play of the first half and did not return.
“He does so many things for us,” Riggitano said. “I thought our kids’ effort without him was outstanding.”
Middle has a bye next weekend. Its next game is Friday, Oct. 18, against Mainland.
“The kids will have four of the next seven days off to recoup their bodies,” Riggitano said. “Hopefully we can get a couple guys who’ve been out back. But if (Giulian’s) not able to play, we’ll have some major adjustments we’re going to have to make.”