By TOM WILLIAMS
Ocean City and Mainland will meet on the football field Friday night for the 50th time.
The series started in 1961 when Mainland opened and the Somers Point and Linwood students left OCHS for the new school. The Mustangs won nine of he first 11 games between the schools.
Overall, Mainland leads the series, 28-21. When Ocean City scored 63 points last year it was the most in the series history. Mainland scored 56 in 2008. The longest win streak is five by the Mustangs from 2005-09.
The Raiders have won the last two meetings, including a 21-14 victory in the Group 4 playoffs in 2019. Ocean City has not beaten Mainland three straight times since 1985.
Kevin Smith, Ocean City’s coach, was on that 1985 Mainland team that lost to the Raiders – though he helped end that streak the next year (his senior year) when Mainland won, 27-6. Kevin Smith and Mainland coach Chuck Smith are no relation but they played together on the Mainland team in 1983. Kevin enters Friday’s game with a 51-52 coaching record. Chuck is 52-61, 20th among active South Jersey coaches in career wins. So, Friday’s game could play a role in those numbers.
Jacob Wilson, Ocean City’s senior running back, led Cape-Atlantic League players after two games with 285 rushing yards. He missed last week’s game with a foot injury and will likely not return until next month. He is still fourth in CAL rushing yards. His senior teammate, Sean Mazzitelli, is 13th in rushing yards with 163.
Injuries have hurt Mainland, too. The Mustangs have been playing without three significant players and will have to play without them again. Junior Nick Wagner was the team’s top receiver last year and sophomores Cohen Cook and Hunter Watson, who figured to be linebackers, are on the injury list, too.
Marlon Leslie, Mainland’s junior QB who transferred from Pleasantville, is just ahead of Wilson with 286 yards. But he averages 10.2 yards per carry, tops among CAL players. Ja’Briel Mace, Mainland’s highly recruited junior back, is No. 11 in rushing yards with 174. They give the Mustangs the top one-two running attack among CAL schools.
Quarterbacks Riley Gunnels and Leslie, both juniors, have had different success throwing the ball. Gunnels ranks No. 4 in passing efficiency with 56 percent completions for 293 yards and four touchdowns. Leslie has completed 62 percent of his passes but just for 88 yards, one TD and one interception. See all the CAL stats leaders, scoring leaders, standings and rosters HERE.
Defense has been Ocean City’s best friend in the first three games. No team has entered the red zone against the Raiders and opposing teams average just a little over 60 yards of offense per game. The defense has made 26 tackles for losses this year, led by C.J. Conti and Brock Cook, who have combined for nine. The Raiders have not started a season with four straight shutouts since 1976. That team had five straight.
The fourth quarter has been Mainland’s favorite. All 28 of the points scored by the Mustangs came in the final 12 minutes of games, leading to cimeback wins over Egg Harbor Township and Hammonton.
In West Jersey Football, Ocean City is tied for first place in the Independence Division with Egg Harbor Township and Seneca. Mainland is tied for first place in the Royal Division with Delsea.
The Bridge Trophy will be awarded to the winner on Friday to display for the next year (or until they play again). It was the brainchild of former Mustangs star Mike O’Brien.
Ceremonies will abound on Friday night. Mainland will celebrate Senior Night before the game. After the first period, the people from Charlie’s in Somers Point will be saluted. The restaurant’s owner – Jack Thomas, who died in 2017 – donated the lights for the Mustang Corral in 1995. And, by the way, the referee for Mainland’s first game under the lights in 1995 was Geoff Haines, now the OCHS athletics director. At halftime Friday, members of the 1995 Mainland team (10-2), which won its CAL division, will be honored.
The Online 25 rankings list Ocean City as No. 17 among schools located in the seven-county South Jersey geographic area, plus public schools that will compete for NJSIAA South Jersey championships. The Raiders are ranked No. 11 in the state by MaxPreps and Mainland is No. 44. According to the rating in the Born Index, Ocean City is a 38-point favorite. Check out the complete Online 25 HERE.
You can watch Friday’s Ocean City-Mainland game HERE.