By TOM WILLIAMS
The 2021 high school football season will move into history this weekend with a series of NJSIAA championship games at Rutgers University that ends 15 weekends of competition. Two Cape-Atlantic League (CAL) teams – Cedar Creek and Millville – are involved in these games, which are being streamed live HERE.
The season did not end for members of Ocean City High School’s football team the way they hoped. But this season – which started in August with all of South Jersey football focused on Carey Stadium during the “Battle at the Beach” and ended with a record-setting win on Thanksgiving – was filled with memories. Here are many of them, both as a team and individually.
A dozen wins: That win on Thanksgiving was the 12th by the 2021 Raiders, a new school record that also ties the record by a CAL football team set by Holy Spirit in 2007 and later accomplished by Mainland (2008), Holy Spirit again (2010), St. Joseph (2017) and Cedar Creek this season. Millville could win No. 12 on Sunday. And, of course, Cedar Creek could be the first to win 13 with a victory on Saturday. The old OCHS record of 11 was set in 1996 and equaled in 1998. The 2021 OCHS football log is HERE.
Perfect: The 10-0 record during the regular season in 2021 made this team just the fifth Ocean City team to win all of its regular season games. Previously that was achieved in 1996, 1994, 1932 and 1931. Box scores of all 13 games are HERE.
Champions: This team won its division in the West Jersey Football League, the first OCHS football championship in the WJFL and first regular season title since the 2001 team won the Cape-Atlantic League’s American Conference. Overall, it was the 15th regular season championship in school history. Final standings are HERE.
No. 2: The 2021 Raiders scored 409 points, the second highest total in school history. The 1996 team scored 462. In addition, this season OCHS outscored its opponents by 303 points, second only to the 334 in 1996 (there’s that team again). The 2021 Online 25 football rankings are HERE.
Shutouts: This team shut out five of its opponents, the most by an OCHS team during the Cape-Atlantic League Era. The last time an Ocean City team had more was in 1947, when they shut out six opponents. The school record is eight shutouts in 1932.
The coach: Kevin Smith finishes his 11th season with 60 wins, the third highest total in school history. He will enter next year needing two wins to pass Fenton Carey and move into No. 2 all-time. That’s Carey, as in one of the two brothers they named the stadium after. The all-time OCHS record is 101 wins by Gary Degenhardt.
No. 6 and No. 8: Though they only got to play together in seven of the Raiders’ 13 games and were rarely on the field together, Jacob Wilson (No. 6) and Sean Mazzitelli (No. 8) formed a dynamic set of running backs. Mazzitelli led the team in scoring this year, ran for 1,151 yards (the 14th OCHS back with 1,000 in a season) and finished his career with 1,370 yards, No. 17 all-time. Wilson, who missed six games with a foot injury, had 755 yards this season and 1,080 for his career, No. 31 all-time. They each ran for 100 or more yards five times in a game during this season.
The 6-4 QB: Riley Gunnels has football in his DNA, starting with his grandfather and namesake, who played for that sports rarity – a Philadelphia Eagles championship team. This season, Gunnels threw for more than 100 yards in six different games, totaling 1,395 yards and 17 touchdown passes. His 1,395 yards is third best ever by a junior, trailing Al Genz and Joe Repetti. He also ran for 11 TDs. Gunnels will enter his senior year No. 9 in school history with 1,483 career passing yards.
The 5-7 receiver: Jack Hoag did a lot of things for this OCHS team. He played some defense and did a good job returning kicks. But the junior’s main contribution was catching the football and then running with it. He caught 28 for 475 yards and four TDs, including a 71-yarder at Pemberton. His speed and incredibly quick feet made him a major weapon every time he touched the ball.
Big time receivers: In addition to Hoag there were some other good targets for Gunnels. Patrick Lonergan, who also returns next year, averaged over 27 yards per catch, one of the best averages among CAL receivers. Mike Gray caught 18 passes and seven of them were for touchdowns. And Taylor Eget and Charley Cossaboone each caught a pair of TDs.
The all-time kicker: Nobody who ever kicked a football at a CAL school did it better than Brendan McGonigle. He accumulated 167 kicking points in his career, 15 points more than the guy in second place in the CAL (Pat Moran of Cedar Creek, 2013-16). He made 128 career extra points, 47 more than the second best at OCHS (Dan Kennard, 1999-2001). This season he made 51 of 54 extra point attempts. He also kicked a school record 13 field goals in his career. But there was more. His kickoffs averaged coming down between the five and ten yard lines, and another 19 were touchbacks. His punting average this year (37.2 yards) was fourth all-time at OCHS (behind Mike Linahan twice and Andrew Donoghue). And one more thing, only six players in OCHS history scored more points than McGonigle – Kevin Sinclair, Austin Martin, Linahan, Charles & Romeo Adelizzi and A.J. Harris. To put it simply, nobody around here ever kicked the football more effectively than Brendan McGonigle.
The sack squad: Taylor Eget had seven sacks this season. Only five OCHS players have ever recorded more in a season. He is tied for sixth with Austin Green (2017) and Chris Dearing (1994). Zach Holt had 6.5 sacks this year to rank 9th on that list. Ernie Nelson set the school record of 14 in 1998. As a team, OCHS had 34 sacks this season. C.J. Conti and Zach Mazzitelli each added 5.5. Mike Gray, Sam Williams, Brock Cook, Charley Cossaboone, Nick Layton, Tom Schutta and Dom Guerrera were also part of the pass rush. Complete 2021 season stats are HERE.
Charley C: In fact, there wasn’t much that Cossaboone didn’t do for this team. He led the team in solo tackles, passes defensed and interceptions. He ran the ball for 104 yards and three scores, caught two passes (both for TDs) and he averaged 29 yards on kickoff returns. Not to mention he was one of the best special team players around.
Freshman TD: Walker Bailey was the only freshman on the varsity roster this year. He ran 50 yards for a touchdown against Oakcrest. Bailey is the backup QB to Gunnels and has shown running skills whenever he plays. The last freshman to score for OCHS was McGonigle, who kicked 10 extra points in 2018. Mike Hinsley kicked 11 PATs and a field goal his freshman year in 2002. But the last freshman to score a varsity touchdown for Ocean City was Adam Martin who ran 20 yards for a score against Atlantic City in 1996. The Martin family was at Carey Stadium on Thanksgiving. What makes this story more interesting is that Nick Bailey, Walker’s father, was an all star on that 1996 team. He watched Martin score that TD, never dreaming that his son would be the next OCHS freshman to score a TD 25 years later.
Kickoff return: Jack Hoag was ill on Thanksgiving and could not play. So, Jon Moyer, best known as the talented holder for Brendan McGonigle’s kicks, stepped in as a return back. He promptly brought a kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown, demonstrating breakaway speed. Jacob Wilson had returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score against Millville last season marking the first time in seven years that Ocean City players have returned kickoffs in consecutive seasons. Jared Jones brought one back 78 yards at Absegami in 2014 and Owen Dierolf had an 84-yarder at Triton in 2013. The school record is 96 yards by Ray Rogers at Mainland in 1997.
No. 5: Sam Williams finished his high school football career on Thanksgiving having followed four brothers in the red and white. Sam finished his career with 77 career tackles, including two sacks and two interceptions. He returned an interception 57 yards for a TD against Mainland in 2020. He joined brothers Skooter, Zac, Nick and Louie in making significant contributions to OCHS football and switching the loyalties of their father, Scott, from St. Augustine Prep, where he graduated.
The sophomores: Throughout the season a number of sophomores emerged as players to watch over the next two seasons. That group includes Justin Gooden, Nick Layton, Jon Moyer, Pat Grimley, Roy Salugta, Charlie Schutta and Ryan Callahan. Plus kicker Ryder Hay, who is destined to succeed McGonigle. And Tyler McDaniels, a running back who missed most of the season with an injury. Videos of this season’s 13 games, produced by Bill Shallcross & Matt Ulmer, are HERE.
More holes in the lineup to fill: In addition to the Mazzitellis, Cossaboone, Eget, Wilson, Williams, McGonigle, Gray, Schutta, Holt, Conti and other seniors mentioned already, the Raiders will need to fill some other spots in the lineup after graduation. Among those who contributed and will need to be replaced are seniors Kyle Hendricks, Micco Dawkins, Nasir Kelly, Ed Pearce, Jim Pacifico and Brandon Bobb. The 2021 roster is HERE.
Many of these players on the 2021 Raiders were part of the 2019 team that also reached the South Jersey championship game. And were on the team that played throughout the bizarre 2020 season which ended with a game stopped at halftime. Smith has put together a coaching staff – including Sean Matthews, Paul Callahan, Frank LaSasso, Mike Eisenstein, John Bow, Chris Armstrong and Vic Mahar – that has continually advanced the program. They will lose a lot to graduation but you can count on this staff to produce quality football again in 2022.
The schedule will be different. The Raiders are grouped in the same West Jersey Football League division next season with Cedar Creek, Delsea, St. Joseph Academy and Winslow Township, plus a crossover game against Millville. More will be added.
But one thing is certain. The coaches and athletes who comprised OCHS football in 2021 will always be remembered. They performed week after week at levels that set goals for future teams.
And those levels were very high.