By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD — The players on the Wildwood and Pitman high school football teams had to wait an extra month to play a game due to protocols and restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
When they finally did play Friday evening, the game lasted only two quarters.
Game officials, at the behest of Wildwood school administrators, suspended the contest with Pitman leading by a score of 20-12 after a melee broke out in the west corner of the south end zone among players from both teams following the final play of the first half, a missed 37-yard field goal attempt by Pitman.
Wildwood’s Dom Troiano caught the missed try in the end zone and began to run. But by rule at the high school level, a play is dead on a missed field goal attempt once the ball crosses the goal line. At least one official blew his whistle to stop play. As Troiano was slowing down after hearing the whistle, he was hit by a Pitman player. Another Wildwood player then shoved the Pitman player who had made the hit to Troiano. Multiple players from each team got involved from there until game officials, coaches and security workers scrambled to separate the players. The fracas lasted nearly 30 seconds before order was restored.
After an approximately 20-minute discussion among the game officials, coaches from both teams and Wildwood school administrators, an announcement was made that the game was suspended and would not resume.
“The game was called by Wildwood administration for the concerns of the safety of the student-athletes of both teams,” said Wildwood High School principal Phil Schaffer, who witnessed the incident. “It was brought to our attention that (the game officials) were considering (suspending the game). At that point we asked for a moment of privacy to discuss the situation and at that point the decision was made.”
The contest is not considered final at this time. Game officials will submit a report to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. The NJSIAA will then make a decision on how to proceed.
“We don’t get to play too many teams where the size and roster depth is similar to ours,” Wildwood coach Ken Loomis said. “We came out strong. We drove the field a couple of times and we were getting the ball to start the second half. We could have driven down the field and tied the score. So it’s heartbreaking for the kids and it’s heartbreaking for the coaches. But the decision’s been made and it’s understandable why it’s been made. I can’t object to it.
“We are a family. It’s always been Wildwood versus the world. We know we get the short end of the stick. But what happened in the end zone at the end of the half is unacceptable. It’s great that we had each other’s back and we’re family but we can’t do that. You can’t brawl. You can’t fight. This will be addressed to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The melee and subsequent suspension of the game overshadowed a spirited effort by a Wildwood team that went into the contest on a 45-game losing streak and had lost 48-0 to Pitman last season.
The Warriors recovered an onside kick to start the game and got a big run from Ernie Troiano IV on the first offensive play to move the ball into scoring position. On fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Troiano tossed a touchdown pass to his brother Dom in the front right corner of the end zone.
Following a score by Pitman, a big kickoff return by Miguel Claudio followed by a long run by Claudio set Wildwood up at the Pitman 6-yard line. Ernie Troiano ran the ball in for a score on a quarterback draw on the next play.
Pitman responded with two touchdowns to take the lead before the game was halted following the melee after the missed field goal try at the second-quarter horn.
“I loved our energy,” Loomis said. “We moved the ball well on offense and defensively we got a few stops. We’re definitely not in game shape yet, as most teams probably aren’t, but most other teams have 40, 50, 60 kids they can roll through. We have 20. Our kids need a break but we really can’t give them one unless it’s a dire situation. As much gas as we had left in the tank, our kids gave everything and they played very well.”
Wildwood is next in action Thursday at home against Gloucester.