• Dan Russoman

Mainland stuns Hammonton High School


Justin Doughty (26) breaks a tackle on his way to a short gain during last week’s game against Mainland. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Playing with a young team lacking significant varsity experience, Hammonton High School’s football team knew this season might hold some highs and lows.


One of those low spots came last week, when Mainland Regional scored two late touchdowns to stun the Blue Devils 14-13 in a West Jersey Football League matchup.


Hammonton entered the fourth quarter in control of the game, holding a 13-0 lead and driving toward another score. But a costly penalty helped swing momentum to Mainland, and the Mustangs took advantage of it, scoring twice in the final seven minutes of the game to snatch away a win from a stunned Hammonton team.


“We just didn’t finish,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.


“We didn’t close out the game the way we wanted to. It’s a tough loss for us, but we had our chances and we definitely let it get away,” he said.


Coming off a 24-0 loss at Ocean City a week earlier, Hammonton looked sharp to start last week’s game against Mainland. The Blue Devils controlled the pace with their solid running game and a strong defensive performance.


The Blue Devils caught a break early in the game when a low snap on a punt set Hammonton up at the Mainland 27-yard line less than three minutes into the first quarter.


Four plays later, the Devils were in the end zone as sophomore Justin Doughty scored on a 9-yard run to give Hammonton a 6-0 lead. Drew Fields’ extra point attempt was blocked, something that would hurt Hammonton later in the game.


Mainland’s next drive stalled at the Hammonton 19, and the Blue Devils then marched 81 yards in 13 plays, all runs, capping the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run from Kenny Smith with 8:15 remaining in the half. Fields’ extra point put the Blue Devils up 13-0.


Hammonton’s defense held on Mainland’s next drive, and with time winding down in the half, the Blue Devils appeared poised to add to their lead before the break.


Starting on the Mainland 48-yard line, Hammonton used runs from Smith and Doughty to move the ball to the Mustangs’ 7-yard line with less than a minute on the clock. On second-and-goal, Hammonton tried a pass to the corner of the end zone, but Andy Wehner’s throw slipped through the hands of Austin Hudak and fell incomplete. Hammonton tried a similar pass on third down, but the ball was intercepted by Mainland’s Joe Sheeran, ending the threat.


“That was huge. We had a chance to tack on another touchdown right before the half,” Raso said.


“We turned the ball over and you can’t do that,” Raso said.


Neither team was able to manage a deep drive in the third quarter, but early in the fourth, Hammonton marched into Mainland territory before another mistake cost the Blue Devils.


The drive began late in the third quarter at the Hammonton 48-yard line and six runs moved the ball to the Mainland 27.


On the first play of the fourth quarter, Smith broke free for a 9-yard gain but lost the ball as he was tackled. Hammonton’s Luis Rodriguez recovered the fumble, but after the play some pushing and shoving led to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Hammonton that moved the ball back to the Mustangs’ 37-yard line. Hammonton gained just one yard on its next two plays before Wehner’s third-down pass fell incomplete. On fourth-and-nine, Wehner was sacked for a 13-yard loss, helping set up Mainland’s first touchdown drive of the game.


“That hurt us. We’re driving and we get a stupid penalty. That’s where the inexperience shows. We have to control ourselves better in that situation,” Raso said.


Taking over at their own 47-yard line, the Mustangs used a pass completion and a 19-yard run by Ja’Briel Mace to move to the Hammonton 31. A 16-yard pass from Marlon Leslie to Julian Rivera then set up Mace’s 15-yard touchdown run that cut the Blue Devils’ lead to 13-6.


On its ensuing drive, Hammonton lost yardage on three-straight runs, and punted from its own 10-yard line, setting Mainland’s next possession up at the Blue Devils’ 35.


On third down, Leslie sprinted to his right, broke a few tackles near the sideline and scored on a 36-yard run to cut Hammonton’s lead to 13-12 with 3:26 left in the game.


The Mustangs opted to try a 2-point conversion, and Leslie’s pass was caught by Mace to give Mainland a 14-13 lead.


“We have to make a tackle. Those two kids [Mace and Leslie] are great players, but the bottom line is we have to finish tackles,” Raso said.


Hammonton made one last effort to win the game, but a penalty and a tackle in the backfield set up a long-yardage situation for the Devils as time was winding down. Wehner was sacked on both third and fourth down, losing the ball on the second play and it was recovered by Mainland. From there the Mustangs ran out the clock and left Hammonton with a win.


“This one was very tough. We had the lead late and let it get away. There were definitely some positives, but now we just have to get back to work and correct our mistakes,” Raso said.


Hammonton’s next game is September 17 at home against Vineland at 6 p.m.