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VIDEO: Middle gets emotional win behind extraordinary late defensive stand


CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — More than 50 high school football teams around the state were forced to cancel their games this weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them won’t suit up again this season.

With that in mind, Middle Township coach Frank Riggitano had a poignant message for his players prior to Friday’s contest against Pennsville.

“I used my old ‘Boys of Fall’ speech before the game,” he said. “I seriously believe there’s a chance this might be the last football game this year and for most of the seniors the last time they ever play football.

“I told them that I hope when I’m emotional after the game that it’s because you won the game because it might be your last and that you played your hearts out. Well, they played their hearts out.”


Middle stopped Pennsville four times inside the 5-yard line — the last three plays from inside the 2-yard line — to secure a 7-0 victory in an outstanding, competitive game at Memorial Field.

“We haven’t played defense like that in a long, long time,” Riggitano said. “We played very well last week (in a loss to Bridgeton) but then they just wore us down. We’ve changed up a lot of what we’d been doing. We got some kids in different spots and we’ve decided to go after people, instead of trying to read and react.”

On its last possession, Pennsville (2-4) completed a 23-yard pass on a fourth-and-eight play that moved the ball to the 4-yard line with less than two minutes to play. Pennsville’s Sean McDade gained three yards on first down to move the ball to the 1. After David Muntz lost a yard on a quarterback sneak, McDade gained just one yard on third down and Muntz was stopped inches from the goal line on fourth down.

“For us to dig in there on those last three plays, obviously that won the game for us,” Riggitano said.


Middle still had work to do to complete the win, since it gained possession inside the 1-yard line after turning Pennsville over on downs. But Pennsville jumped offside just before a second-down play, giving the Panthers more room to operate. Pennsville was without timeouts after Middle quarterback Brett Nabb took a knee on third down. The Panther sideline then erupted in joy as the clock ticked unimpeded to the finish.

“These kids gave everything they had,” Riggitano said.

Ironically, the lone score came on Middle’s first possession of the game. A few players after recovering a fumble on Pennsville’s second offensive play, Middle freshmen Jeremiah Jones scored on a 17-yard run, followed by Jerome Licata’s extra-point kick.

Middle (2-4) probably should have scored more, the Panthers failing to capitalize on five Eagle fumbles. On the best opportunity, Middle threw an interception in the end zone three plays after recovering a fumble at the Pennsville 11-yard line.

But Middle had trouble moving the ball in the second half after Jones and Eric Smith both went out with injuries, essentially leaving the Panthers without a healthy running back. Matt Gariano — wearing No. 79 after starting the game at guard — filled in in the backfield for a few plays, even subbing at quarterback for a couple plays after Nabb briefly went out with an injury.

But the Panthers were helped by some big special teams plays. Nabb three of his punts downed inside the Pennsville 5-yard line. Middle also blocked a punt.

In the end, Middle won the game with a defense that simply wouldn’t break. Nabb, David Giulian, Matt Frame, Brandon Rosensteel, Luke Salvo, Jared Knights and others made all the big defensive plays when needed, giving Middle one of its biggest victories in recent seasons.