By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — The Lower Cape May Regional High School football team appeared on its way to a comfortable close out of a victory over Oakcrest Friday evening.
After recovering an onside kick, the Caper Tigers had the ball at the Falcon 35-yard line with a little more than two minutes to play holding a seven-point lead.
But a fumble on a first-down play and a long return by Oakcrest led to some anxious moments at the finish.
Four plays later, Lower’s Archie Lawler knocked down a fourth-down pass in the end zone with 20 seconds to play as the Tigers hung on for a 35-28 victory in a wildly entertaining contest played under beautiful fall conditions at Steven Steger Memorial Field.
“A back-and-forth 35-28 high school football game that comes down to the last 20 seconds — it can’t get any better than that,” Lower coach Lance Bailey said. “But situations like that, up 14 points, we have to close that out better.”
The teams traded punches for the entire first half. Three times, Lower Cape May (2-2) scored touchdowns to take the lead, only to see the Falcons respond by scoring one of their own to tie the score as the teams went into halftime locked in a 21-21 tie.
Lower turned the tide in the second half by simply controlling the ball. The Tigers opened the second half with a 13-play, 57-yard drive that took exactly eight minutes of time off the clock. The drive ended when quarterback Rob White scored his second touchdown of the game on a 10-yard run.
Another long drive that culminated with a touchdown in the fourth quarter appeared to put the game away for the Tigers. Marcus Hebron’s one-yard scoring run on fourth down finished off an 11-play 64-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock as Lower upped its lead to 35-21.
“We were definitely better defensively in the second half but I think the key was that we had two long drives on offense that took a lot of time off the clock,” Bailey said.
Down two scores with 2:45 remaining, Oakcrest responded quickly. A 46-yard pass from Nissim Respes to Aldrich Doe was followed two plays later by a 19-yard scoring pass from Respes to Michael Thomas.
Lower’s Hebron recovered an onside kick with 2:05 left that should have sealed the victory. But the Tiger fumble and long return by Oakcrest gave the Falcons a chance from inside Lower’s 20-yard line, until Lawler broke up the fourth-down pass in the left corner of the end zone.
White finished with 169 yards on 25 carries on the ground. His first carry of the game went for a 66-yard touchdown. White also completed 7-of-10 passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. He threw one interception.
Hebron ran 20 times for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Cronin added a 14-yard touchdown reception.
In addition to his game-saving pass break-up at the finish, Lawler intercepted his fourth pass of the season.
Lower’s Wesley Tosto went 5 for 5 on extra-point kicks.
Lower will put its two-game winning streak on the line on Friday at home against Bridgeton.
“We’re 2-2, and even in the games we lost, I thought we played pretty well against a couple of good teams,” Bailey said. “I can’t be happier. The one thing we’ve stressed since Day 1 is effort. We made some mistakes here to let (Oakcrest) back in the game but I will never question the effort. Their effort the first four games, I can’t ask for anything more than these kids have given us.”