By TOM WILLIAMS
Ocean City plays in its sixth South Jersey football championship game on Friday. This has been a team that has faced many challenges and overcome most of them. Shawnee will present another challenge this week.
The Raiders first South Jersey playoff championship came in 1984. OCHS football teams were South Jersey champs in 1932, 1945, 1948 and 1949. But those titles were awarded, based on a mathematical formula. This one was won on the field – Carl Lewis Stadium in Willingboro, to be exact. And, until Friday, it was the only time the Raiders played a South Jersey final on the other team’s field.
David Miller, who did a little bit of everything for the team and rarely left the field, scored from 59 yards away halfway through the fourth period for a 22-21 win over Willingboro. Frank Sayers had scored twice and Fritz Ferrell kicked a 29-yard field goal.
Ed Woolley’s Raiders defeated Deptford, 15-8, in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Group 3 playoffs when Bob Krokenberger and Sayers scored TDs and Ferrell blasted a 44-yard fair catch field goal.
Woolley stepped down after the season with a 47-34-1 record in nine seasons, including the South Jersey championship, the school’s first two playoff victories and six straight winning seasons.
The next South Jersey champion was in 1996 and that team is widely considered the best Ocean City has ever fielded and one of the very best ever in the Cape-Atlantic League.
The 1996 Raiders were in Group 4 but, in that season, unlike today, Group 4 was the largest group. They faced two of the top-ranked teams in the state in the playoffs and disposed of them quickly. OCHS was ranked No. 1 in South Jersey and Washington Township, their semifinal opponent, was No. 2. The Raiders won, 45-7, with Kevin Sinclair scoring four times and Matt LeFever hitting Scott Lipford for 201 yards and three scores. That moved them into the championship game at The College of New Jersey. And Sinclair ran for 284 yards in the rain on the turf field at TCNJ to produce a 27-7 win over Shawnee. It is the only time the two teams have met – until Friday.
That OCHS team was ranked first in South Jersey, second in the state and third in the East by USA Today. At the time it was the second highest scoring team in South Jersey history with 462 points in 11 games. And that win over Shawnee started a remarkable weekend for the CAL – Mainland (Group 3), Hammonton (Group 2) and St. Joseph (Parochial 1) all won championships that weekend.
In 1998, Gary Degenhardt’s Raiders were back in the final. And back in Group 3. The playoffs had been expanded to eight teams and they rallied to beat Lakewood, 26-20, in the first round when Al Genz (who threw for 161 yards and two scores) hit Jay Toscano for the winning TD with 1:45 left. And they defeated Delsea, 28-7, in the semifinals when Austin Martin ran for 190 yards, Toscano scored twice and Genz hit Ray Rogers for another. The championship game was at Rutgers and OCHS outscored Toms River South, 34-18, with Austin Martin running for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
Ocean City went back-to-back in 1999 and it was probably their most memorable win. The Raiders defeated Mainland, 21-18, for the Group 3 championship at Rutgers. The Mustangs had beaten the Raiders, 17-14, earlier in the season at Carey Stadium on Mike DeSalle’s 40-yard field goal.
When the teams met again in the South Jersey final at Rutgers, Genz threw for 188 yards but the Mustangs took a 16-15 lead with 6:35 left on a 24-yard TD pass. Ocean City then recovered a Mainland onside kick attempt and got good field position. They gained 33 yards on a Genz-to-Ryan Taylor pass and scored on a 22 yard run by Brian Coggins. A Mainland drive was stopped by a Joe Foster interception that led to a safety, cutting Ocean City’s final margin to 21-18.
The only time Ocean City has lost a South Jersey championship game was in 2000. The playoffs began in Linwood where OCHS won a 20-0 romp, allowing Mainland just one first down. After a 35-34 win over Edgewood in one of the all-time exciting playoff games, the Raiders lost to Delsea, 35-22, at Rowan. That team was led by a trio of running backs who all gained more than 1,000 career yards – Steve Cook, Kenny Hannah and Jim Thomas – quarterback Rick Henshaw with more than 1,200 yards that year and a stud receiver in Ryan Taylor.
Ocean City High School has produced some great memories in their five trips to South Jersey championship games. There will be more added on Friday.