• Dan Russoman

Devils shut out in OC


Hammonton quarterback Andrew Wehner (7) looks for running room during last week’s game at Ocean City. (THG/Dan Russoman)

OCEAN CITY—Playing with a young roster that lacks significant varsity experience, Hammonton High School’s football team knew there would be some ups and downs this season.


A season-opening victory against Absegami was an up. Last week’s lopsided 24-0 loss at Ocean City was the first of what could be several down moments for the Blue Devils this season.


“I did not like how we came off the bus. I said it right from the get-go. The young guys played like young guys tonight and the older guys made mistakes, too. We told them all week, this [Ocean City] is a great football team. They’ve been doing a great job the past five, six years now. They [Ocean City] were hungry, they wanted a chance to play us and the better team won tonight,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.


Ocean City controlled the matchup from the start. In a game that wasn’t as close as the final score, the host Red Raiders dominated the line of scrimmage, as their offensive line paved the way for more than 200 yards rushing while the defensive front held Hammonton’s ground attack in check all night.


Red Raiders running back Jacob Wilson ran for 176 yards and two scores as Ocean City kept the ball on the ground against a Hammonton defense that struggled to stop the run.


“They controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage. We were taking more than delivering tonight,” Raso said.


Unlike Absegami, which, like Hammonton, has a young roster, Ocean City features more veteran players who were much more physical than the Blue Devils last week.


“Physically, we tried to tell them it was going to be a much more physical game this week with what they [Ocean City] had coming back this year. We did some good things in that first game but we knew this was going to be a much more physical team because of their age. Absegami was a little younger like us up front,” Raso said.


Hammonton had the ball to start the game, but the Blue Devils opening drive stalled and Ocean City took over at the Hammonton 41-yard line.


The Red Raiders quickly drove down the field for the game’s first score. Keeping the ball on the ground, Ocean City marched 41 yards in 10 plays, seven runs by Wilson, who capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.


After another Hammonton punt, Ocean City scored again, this time covering 48 yards in seven plays, again all runs, and taking a 14-0 lead after quarterback Riley Gunnels bootlegged around the right side for a 2-yard touchdown with 9:18 remaining in the first half.


Ocean City’s methodical ground game came as no surprise to Hammonton, but although the Blue Devils knew what was coming, they were unable to stop the Red Raiders.


“Everything they ran tonight, they executed. We didn’t see anything different tonight. It’s just us having to do a better job up front. That’s what it comes down to,” Raso said.


While Ocean City was moving the ball down the field, Hammonton was struggling to get its offense in gear.


The Blue Devils gained just two first downs in the first half and never drove into Ocean City territory until late in the third quarter.


By then, it was too late, as Ocean City padded its lead on the opening drive of the third quarter, this time with the key play a 47-yard pass from Gunnels to Patrick Lonergan that helped set up Wilson’s second touchdown of the night, a 6-yard run.


The teams traded punts before Ocean City closed out the game’s scoring with a 63-yard drive that ended with Brenden McGonigle’s 31-yard field goal.


Raso attributed his team’s poor performance to its inexperience, but admitted he was frustrated by the lack of execution, especially up front.


“It is [frustrating]. But, again, it’s tough because you look around and see a lot of freshmen and sophomores. It’s frustrating as a coach because we have to see what they’re going to be able to do when they’re at their best. We’re not controlling the line of scrimmage, which definitely makes things a lot more difficult. We’re definitely making a lot of mistakes,” Raso said.


Having taken their first loss of the season, the challenge for the Blue Devils this week is to bounce back and put together a performance that resembles their opening night win. It’s a lot to ask, and Raso knows the task will be a difficult one.


“It’s not going to get any easier. We have to get back to the drawing board and see what’s going to work best for us. It’s just something where we have to take it one game at a time. We have to be patient with these guys and figure out how we’re going to get better from here,” Raso said.


Hammonton’s coach has high expectations for the Blue Devils and he still feels that with the right approach the team can reach its goals this season.


“Going in [to the season] we knew we’d have to take it one game at a time. [Ocean City] is well-coached and they did a great job. [But] we have to find a way. We can’t sit here and dwell on it, because it’s not going to get easier. We have Mainland next week and we’re going to see a very good football team next week as well,” Raso said.


Hammonton hosts Mainland on September 9 at 6 p.m.