By TOM WILLIAMS
The NJSIAA football playoffs continue tomorrow when Ocean City welcomes Long Branch to Carey Stadium in a South Jersey Group 4 semifinal.
Five other Cape-Atlantic League teams will also be in action over the weekend. On Friday, Millville hosts Pennsauken in the other Group 4 semifinal and Delbarton will visit St. Augustine Prep in Non-Public Group A. On Saturday, Cedar Creek hosts Somerville in Group 3. And in a pair of Non-Public B games, St. Joseph Academy takes on undefeated St. Thomas Aquinas in Hammonton and Holy Spirit travels to Hudson Catholic.
Here is a look at tomorrow night’s action at Carey Stadium.
Coaches: Ocean City’s Kevin Smith is 58-52 in his 11th season, the third most wins in Raider football history. He is trying to guide his team to a sectional final for the second straight year (2020 doesn’t count). Long Branch’s Dan George is 151-97 in his 24th season. He will be stepping down as Green Wave football coach after this season. A former wrestler at Ohio State, he also has more than 400 career wins as a high school wrestling coach.
Ocean City Update: The Raiders, undefeated champions of the West Jersey Football League’s Independence Division, have shut out five opponents, have not allowed a passing TD this season and lead all Cape-Atlantic League teams in defensive scoring. The defense is deep, led by senior LBs Sam Williams (6-0, 188) & Taylor Eget (6-2, 205), senior safety Charley Cossaboone (6-0, 170), senior CB Nasir Kelly (6-1, 168), senior DE C.J. Conti (6-1, 262) and the senior Mazzitelli twins, LB Sean (5-10, 184) and LB Zach (5-11, 202). Conti has 5.5 sacks with Eget, Zach Mazzitelli and Zach Holt each adding 4.5. Junior QB Riley Gunnels (6-4, 216) has thrown for more than 1,000 yards this year with 14 touchdown passes. He has also run for nine scores. Sean Mazzitelli is one of the CAL leaders in rushing with 1,149 career yards. Senior RB Jacob Wilson (5-8, 170), who missed six games with an ankle injury, has been strong the last two weeks in his return and lifted his career rushing total to 855 yards. Junior WR Jack Hoag (5-7, 150) has established himself as one of the league’s most exciting receivers and is dangerous whenever he gets the ball. And junior WR Patrick Lonergan (6-1, 178) averages 28.7 yards per catch, among the best CAL receivers. Ocean City’s leading scorer is senior kicker Brendan McGonigle (6-0, 155) who has 152 career kicking points, tied for the best all-time in the CAL. In fact, only seven football players in OCHS history have scored more than McGonigle’s 152 career points. The OCHS roster is HERE. See where the individual Raiders rank among CAL scoring leaders HERE.
Long Branch Update: The Green Wave, unbeaten champions of the Shore Conference’s Freedom Division, won their first six games before losing to state power Rumson Fair-Haven, 43-6. RBs Sekou Kamau (5-10, 160) and Zyheme Brown (6-0, 187) have combined for over 800 yards and eight TDs. And QB Christian Rodriguez (5-10, 168) has added 328 more rushing yards and four scores. But it is what Rodriguez does with the ball in the air that drives Long Branch. He mixes short, quick passes – completing 72 percent for over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has thrown scores to five different receivers, led by juniors Michael Hall (5-11, 175) and Ka’Jion Thorne (5-10, 156). DE Jyshon Presley (6-2, 198), LB Deondre McCullers (5-8, 178) and CB Jayden Farmer (6-0, 183) lead the defense. McCullers and Kai Coleman (6-2, 232) anchor the offensive line. Sophomore Wesley Garcia (5-11, 146) has made 28 of 30 extra point attempts and added a pair of field goals.
Scoring Averages: Ocean City 32.7, Long Branch 29.8.
Defensive Averages: Ocean City 4.2, Long Branch 13.8
Significant injuries: Ocean City hopes for the return of senior Mike Gray, who missed the Mainland game with a bad ankle. But senior Tom Schutta, a three-year star on defense, is likely to be out the rest of the season.
Last Week: Ocean City defeated Mainland, 41-7, last Friday, dominating the game with its defense. The Raiders had five sacks (two by C.J. Conti), blocked two punts and intercepted a pass. They outgained the Mustangs, 440-119, in total offense and had 22 first downs to Mainland’s three. Mazzitelli and Wilson each scored twice and combined for 293 yards. Long Branch defeated Freehold Boro, 50-12, last Saturday with Rodriguez throwing for 222 yards and three TDs. Brown ran for two scores and the Green Wave scored with a blocked punt.
Tickets – and parking: Tickets will be sold as normal at the gates to Carey Stadium, Fans are encouraged to wear masks and to separate as much as possible, though it could be challenging with the large crowd expected. Fans can park in the Boardwalk lot while the lot at the tennis courts across Atlantic Avenue from the high school will also be available, along with limited street parking.
Live Video Coverage: The live video stream produced by Matt Ulmer and Bill Shallcross, can be seen HERE, along with more than a decade’s worth of videos of other OCHS games. There is no radio coverage of the game but the video stream is available on virtually every mobile device.
History: Ocean City and Long Branch have played just once – in the 2019 Group 4 semifinals. The Raiders won, 21-20, at Long Branch with Joe Repetti throwing one TD to Jake Schneider and running for two others. Brendan McGonigle kicked the winning extra point with 5:29 left. The Raiders ran out the clock after sophomore Jacob Wilson recovered a Long Branch fumble with 1:27 left. The box score of the 2019 game is HERE.
Playoff History: Ocean City has qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs for the 20th time. The Raiders’ overall record in playoff games is 16-15, they have reached the championship game six times and won four titles. Long Branch is playing in the playoffs for the 21st time. The Green Wave has an overall record of 25-16 in playoff games, has reached the final 10 times and won four championships. Ocean City’s last playoff championship was in 1999, Long Branch last won in 2018.
What’s At Stake: Advancement to the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 final. The Ocean City-Long Branch winner will play next Friday either at Millville or against Pennsauken at home.
South Jersey Rankings: Ocean City is ranked #9 in The Online 25 rankings. Long Branch is #24. Other CAL schools include #1 St. Augustine, #2 Cedar Creek, #4 Millville, #10 St. Joseph and #15 Holy Spirit. The complete list is HERE.
Other Rankings: Ocean City is ranked #18 in New Jersey by MaxPreps. Long Branch is #57. The Born Power Index makes Ocean City a 10-point favorite in the game.
Next week: The winner will play the winner of the game between Millville (8-1) and Pennsauken (8-2), who are playing Friday night at Wheaton Field in Millville. Ocean City is also scheduled to host Pleasantville on Thanksgiving morning and Long Branch is scheduled to host Manasquan on Thanksgiving.
This week’s full schedule of CAL teams in the NJSIAA, including some non-playoff games, is HERE.