By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — Hunter Ray’s preparations for the 2021 football season were rather minimal due to a wrist injury.
So it came as no surprise that the Lower Cape May Regional High School sophomore quarterback struggled a bit in his team’s game Friday against Cumberland, his first action of the season after missing the opener against Glassboro.
But he sure made plays when it counted.
Ray’s six-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 26 seconds to play helped save a sluggish Caper Tiger team from what would have been an extremely disappointing defeat as Lower edged the Colts, 15-12.
Ray, who had trouble connecting with his receivers for much of the game, completed three passes on the game-winning scoring drive, two of which went to freshman Braswell Thomas.
“Hunter hasn’t played since last Thanksgiving because of that broken wrist,” Lower coach Lance Bailey said. “He basically couldn’t do anything all summer. He hasn’t really had many live reps. This is the first action he’s had at full speed. But he kept it. He’s a competitor.”
Lower struggled with mistakes for much of the game, particularly in the first half. The Tigers fumbled the ball away four times over the opening two quarters, the first of which was turned into a 42-yard return for a touchdown by Cumberland’s Germain Harper for a 6-0 Colt lead.
Lower responded and took the lead behind sophomore Oguer Nunez’s sensational 37-yard touchdown run and Dennis Serra’s extra-point kick.
But Cumberland, again capitalizing on a Caper Tiger fumble, retook the lead at 12-7 on a Kyon Barnes nine-yard touchdown run with 1:50 to go in the half.
Lower moved the ball well on its first two possessions of the second half, but a holding penalty thwarted the first drive and a fumbled pitch led to a six-yard loss and stalled the second.
Cumberland gifted Lower Cape May excellent field position late in the game after a bizarre decision that saw the Colts try to convert on a fourth-and-11 play rather than punt. Lower took over on its own 48 with 4:16 to go and quickly moved the ball down the field. A 15-yard facemask penalty after a nine-yard completion from Ray to Thomas moved the ball inside the Cumberland 30-yard line. Passes from Ray to Archie Lawler and Thomas and runs by Marcus Hebron and Nunez set up Lower with a third-and-1 play at the six. Ray initially dropped back to pass but then ran around the left end and dove into the front corner of the end zone for the score.
Hebron, who rushed 22 times for 106 yards in the game, ran in the subsequent two-point conversion.
Thomas sealed the win when he recorded Lower’s fourth interception of the game on Cumberland’s first offensive play following Ray’s touchdown. It was the last of four interceptions for the Tigers in the game. Nunez had two and freshman Dennis Serra had the other.
Lower (1-1) held the Colts to only 117 yards of total offense. Lawler had six tackles for losses.
“Coach (Matt) Danze put Archie in a great spot to be successful,” Bailey said. “We saw some things on film where we thought we could be aggressive with him. He’s such a great athlete that when you put him in a blitz package, I don’t know there are many tackles out there that are going to be able to block him.”
Lower hosts Lindenwold next Friday. The Tigers have some things to fix prior to the game.
“Offensively we have some work to do,” Bailey said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and fix some things. But now that Hunter has a game under his belt, I think he’ll be ready to go next week.
“We just need to stop hurting ourselves. We need to hold onto the ball, make some little adjustments and pay little more attention to detail. If we take care of that we’re going to be OK.”