Bernards and Union Both Fall to WJFL Foes, but Still Bring Some Big Plays to Showcase
OCEAN CITY, NJ—Saturday wasn’t a great start for teams from the Big Central Conference on day two of the WJFCA’s Battle at the Beach at Ocean City High School. Although each lost their contest against West Jersey Football League opponents, both Bernards and Union showed plenty of fight, and brought some big plays to help highlight this early season New Jersey High School Football showcase.
Bernards fell behind early, and despite taking a 7-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, fell behind 26-7 by halftime, and 40-13 by the 4:50 mark of the 3rd, but still managed to make the game interesting behind the play of running back Mike Leanza, and wide receiver Brady Walsh. Leanza, who tallied 146 yards on 19 carries, had a nice first quarter run to set up the Mountaineers first score, and then scored the team’s final TD in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Brady, who returns this year to lead the Bernards receiving core, caught 6 passes for 137 yards. Two of his catches were for big gains that helped put the Mountaineers in position to get eventual scores including Leanza’s score with 4:52 remaining in the game. In addition, Bernards made things even more interesting by stopping Penns Grove on its very next possession, and dialing up another long distance play to threaten again.
With about two minutes to play in the contest, sophomore QB, Chris Dietrich stepped back in the pocket, and fired downfield towards the Penns Grove sideline to Tommy Hanratty for 30 yards. Unfortunately, Bernards was unable to capitalize as Penns Grove intercepted a subsequent pass, and then proceeded to run out the clock for the three score win.
The Mountaineers actually outgained Penns Grove by over a two to one margin in the air, and completing 52 percent of its passes including one for a touchdown. However, Penns Grove’s rushing attack, led by Asante Johnson and Jaleel Patrick, compiled 403 yards on 49 carries for an average of 8.2 yards per carry along with five touchdowns.
The second Big Central contest of the game was a much closer affair, and had a ton of big plays from all facets of the game. Union’s contest versus Millville had everything. Kickoffs run back for touchdowns, safeties, hard hitting QB sacks that produced fumbles, hard hits on special teams that produced turnovers, long passes for touchdowns, blocked punts, free kick returns for touchdowns, field goal attempts going doink off the goal post, diving interceptions caught off of deflects, intensity, and electricity.
The game between Union and Millville, ranked 3rd in the South Jersey Sports Zone Top 15, lived up to the hype. The contest was close through out and was a true heavyweight battle between teams that can be considered mirror images of each other in a sense. Neither team had a lead bigger than seven points, and each team had a response to the other team until the very end.
With both teams fired up during warm-ups and pre-game, the contest opened with a big play as Union’s Matt Nazaire ran to his left, found a crease, and burst through it to get over to the Union sideline as he jaunted down the field for a 85 yd kickoff return score and a 7-0 Farmers lead at the 11:46 mark of the first quarter. Millville rebounded to retake the lead with some big plays of its own including a punt block towards the end of the first that led to a LaQuint Allen four yard TD run, and a 14-7 lead with 1:56 to play in the period.
Union would respond though as the opening stanza was ending with another drive highlighted by a pass from QB Jaden Stewart to Nazaire. The Farmers then began the second with a one yard run by Najee Pinckney to tie things up at 14-14 with 11:26 to play in the first half. Millville then had a chance to take the lead, but missed a 32 yard field goal that struck the right upright with 7:48 left in the first half.
UHS then grabbed the lead when Davison Igbinosun make a spectacular diving interception off of a deflected Millville pass near midfield. Moments later, Louikenzy Jules made a tremendous sideline catch near the Millville goal line to set up the Farmers go ahead score at 21-14 on an Omar Ibrahim one yard run with 13 seconds to play in the second period.
On the ensuing kickoff, Union’s special teams made a huge play by recovering a Millville fumble that followed a fine return by the Thunderbolts. Fortunately for Millville, the Farmers were unable to cash that in as both teams went to their respective locker rooms with the score still 21-14 in favor of Union. The third quarter would start quietly, but end with a flourish as both teams continued to go back and forth.
First, the Thunderbolts from South Jersey managed to take advantage of a high snap by Union on a punt, and tackled the punter in the end zone for a safety. Then, on the ensuing free kick, Lotzier Brooks ran the punted ball back some 65 yards for a touchdown, and following a two point conversion on a Na’eem Sharp run, Millville led 24-21 with 6:46 to play in the period.
Once again, the Farmers would respond. Union would put together a crucial drive to answer as Igbinosun caught a pass from Stewart along the UHS sideline, and galloped down close to the goal line. The play was even more huge because moments before Igbinosun had caught an apparent TD pass from Stewart to take the lead, but it was negated by penalty. Moments later, Kendall Bournes ran It up the middle from five yards out for a score, and a 31-28 lead with 1:28 left in the third.
The defenses stiffened some in the fourth quarter as both teams would only combine for one score, but it would be the decisive one. Once again, it was Brooks right in the middle of things as he caught a pass from Nate Robbins, and streaked down the field for an 86 yard TD pass, and a 31-28 Thunderbolts lead with 6:35 remaining in the contest.
Union had a couple chances to score, but turned the ball over on one drive, and then was stopped on downs on its final drive as Millville emerged victorious with a wild and thrilling 31-28 victory. Stewart finished with 5 of 10 completions for a 139 yards while rushing 7 times for 63 more yards. Igbinosun, a Rutgers commit, ended up with 12 carries for 42 yards, 2 catches for 65 yards, and an interception. Nazaire tallied at least 152 all purpose yards Kendall Bournes averaged 10.6 yards per carry along with his rushing TD.
Action was scheduled to continue on Sunday here at Carey Field in Ocean City, but morning rainfall has created flooding conditions here, and prompted the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly to issue a Flood Advisory until 2:30 PM, and a Flash Flood Warning until 4:45 PM. As a result, the WJFCA has moved the Scotch Plains-Cedar Creek game and the Woodbridge-Winslow Township contest to Camden Catholic High School.