LINWOOD—Sloppy play on both sides of the line of scrimmage proved costly for Hammonton High School’s football team last week, as the Blue Devils lost for the first time this season, falling at Mainland 29-14.
Hammonton turned the ball over five times in the game and the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of their opportunities throughout the game, as the host Mustangs pulled away with 16 fourth-quarter points.
“We were sloppy. We had our opportunities early and we didn’t take advantage of them. You can’t turn the ball over that many times,” Hammonton coach Jim Raso said.
For the second-straight week, Hammonton struggled to move the football effectively. Unlike its game at Eastern, where the Blue Devils were able to make a few big plays to escape with a 21-14 win, last weekend Hammonton was unable to strike down the field as its offensive line had trouble opening holes for the run game.
“There are some things we need to get cleaned up [on the line]. It’s just execution when it’s all said and done, we just have to do a better job executing things,” Raso said.
Hammonton opened the game with two passes on its first drive, which ended in four plays.
Mainland also had trouble moving the ball early, as both teams struggled to hold onto the football.
Mainland was able to hold Hammonton’s top rusher, Kenny Smith, in check for most of the game. Smith, who had averaged more than 100 yards per game in Hammonton’s first four contests, was held to just 16 yards on nine carries last week.
Miscommunication on a snap spoiled one first quarter drive for Hammonton, but the Blue Devils were able to take the lead after John Smith recovered a fumble by Mainland’s Ja’Briel Mace.
Taking over at the Mainland 45-yard line, the Blue Devils marched down the field and scored when Kye Pressley broke through the middle for a 15-yard touchdown run.
The Blue Devils had the momentum and one play into Mainland’s next possession the Mustangs Mace lost the handle again and the fumble was recovered by Christian Medina.
This time Hammonton was unable to capitalize on Mainland’s miscue, as its drive ended when Mace intercepted a Billy Way pass deep in Mustangs territory.
“We had a nice start but when we got the second turnover, we didn’t take advantage of it,” Raso said.
Mainland followed with its first scoring drive of the game, covering 99-yards in six plays, capped by John Franchini’s 78-yard touchdown pass to Jamie Tyson.
Hammonton’s next drive ended in another Mace interception, and the Mustangs again drove for a score, this one a 17-yard pass from Franchini to Tyson that gave Mainland a 13-7 halftime lead.
Hammonton stopped Mainland’s opening drive of the third quarter and then put together its best drive of the night. The Blue Devils went 54 yards, mixing runs by Kenny Smith and Lucas Goehringer with a 25-yard completion from Way to Joey Gillen to set up Way’s 21-yard touchdown pass to NaKeem Powell that put the Devils in front 14-13.
The teams then traded punts and another Hammonton drive ended in a fumble, before Mainland scored early in the fourth quarter on Franchini’s 2-yard run.
Hammonton’s next drive ended in an interception, and Mainland was able to drive for a 25-yard field goal from Nate Kashey to put the Mustangs up 22-14.
Taking over with 2:46 left in the game, Hammonton tried to mount a comeback. Way hit Gillen for an 11-yard gain and connected with Smith for a 20-yard completion that moved the Blue Devils to the Mainland 40-yard line.
A pass interference penalty kept the drive going, but on first down at the Mainland 25, Mace intercepted his third pass of the game and weaved his way down the field for an 80-yard touchdown return that put the game away.
“We gave up too many big plays. For a while there we were doing well. We have to be smart in what we’re doing and we have to execute and we didn’t do a good job tonight,” Raso said.
The game was a matchup of two teams considered contenders on South Jersey Group 4. The Mustangs likely earned a home playoff game with the win, while Hammonton will need to regroup before visiting Rancocas Valley this weekend.
“So now we’re going to see what we’re made of. And there isn’t time to feel sorry for yourself, we just have to get back after it,” Raso said.
Hammonton plays at Rancocas Valley on September 30 at 6:30 p.m.