South Jersey Football: AC Snaps Losing Streak, EHT Moves on From Loss
At halftime on Friday night, I was thinking (and I probably wasn’t alone on this) that there was no way the Atlantic City football team could come back and beat visiting Egg Harbor Township. The Eagles had a 13-0 lead, and with about 30-mile-per-hour winds it was going to be tough for the Vikings to throw the ball, which means they’d have to sustain drives behind an offensive line that was no doubt going to be tired because a lot of the guys were playing both sides of the ball.
But give credit to the Vikings — the Eagles had more than twice as many players, and the lead, and the momentum after scoring a touchdown late in the second quarter, but Atlantic City just kept fighting and trying to find ways to put pressure on EHT, even after offensive possessions ended in frustration. Atlantic City finally broke through with four minutes left in the third quarter as the Vikings took advantage of a fumbled punt, set up shop at EHT’s 12-yard line, and a few plays later quarterback Corey Yeoman snuck it in to cut the Eagles’ lead to 13-7.
Yeoman, a transfer from St. Augustine Prep, showed a lot of leadership, even more so on the defensive side of the ball where he made several big plays. Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings took over at EHT’s 34, drove down to the 18, then after a negative play, Yeoman threw a fade to Jaheem Frederick down the left side and Frederick made an acrobatic touchdown catch to put A.C. up, 14-13. The ensuing kickoff pinned the Eagles at their own 6-yard line, and on first down Yeoman, playing linebacker, knifed through the line and registered a sack that backed EHT up to the 3. On the next play, Kaleb Feliciano picked off a tipped pass and stepped into the end zone to give the Vikings a 21-13 lead. Atlantic City’s defense, nearly spent, came up with a stand inside its own 10-yard line in the waning seconds to secure the 21-13 win, and register the Vikings’ first victory since Thanksgiving 2017.
“The thing about Yeoman is, we live in a new age where kids start training across the country with other kids and they see what they can be. It’s driven that kid. He’s a force in the weight room, a force with his leadership, and he’s always in class — you know exactly where he’s going to be, and that mentality that he brought over here, the kids know they have to step it up,” said Atlantic City’s second-year coach, Leo Hamlett, who notched his first career victory after the Vikings went 0-10 last year. “And (Shawn) McGraw was the same way, he was hungry out there and wanted me to keep giving him the ball. And that’s what I want. I want these kids to take ownership. When you take ownership of what you do, it’s easy to stay focused on your purpose.”
I was impressed, too, with the play of McGraw, a junior who is only about 175 pounds but is a really tough runner. At one point, Hamlett took him out of the game after two big runs because he though McGraw needed a breather, and McGraw — shall we say — disagreed vehemently with the call. He wanted to keep toting the rock. So Hamlett put him right back in the next play and McGraw continued to chew up yardage. That’s the kind of fire-in-your-belly player every coach wants out there on a Friday night.
Now, things are going to get pretty tough for the Vikings with some more solid Group 5 teams on the schedule in the coming weeks, so it’s not all rainbows and unicorns just yet, but getting a comeback win the season opener will definitely go a long way to building this team’s overall confidence.
Eagles fans, don’t freak out: EHT fans were, of course, frustrated with the outcome on Friday night, and I’m sure the coaches and players were, too, but this is a pretty good team that has the pieces to compete in the West Jersey Football League’s Independence Division. Chris Decker is a junior running back and linebacker, and he showed some flashes of what he can be during Friday night’s game, and Tre McKenzie is a proven running back who can handle a heavy workload. Also, keep an eye on sophomore linemen James and John Mahana, they have the potential to be pretty good on either side of the ball. And junior quarterback Anthony Rando had a good debut, although it was hard to get any kind of passing game going under those conditions. He showed the ability to get out of the pocket and make plays, and he’ll only get better as he gets the chance to watch film and learn how defenses are trying to stop him.
On the girls side, Olivia Shafer, the defending Cape-Atlantic League champion, got off to a good start in her senior season, clocking in at 12:19.34 to finish eighth overall in the girls senior race. Madeline Corbett of Mainland took 15th overall, and Shafer and Corbett were the only two CAL runners to finish in the top 20. Michaela Pomatto was fifth in the girls junior race and Alyssa Turner of Mainland scored a top-15 finish in the sophomore race.
Cherokee Challenge notables: The cross country season kicked off this past weekend with the annual Cherokee Challenge, the first big race on the schedule. Ocean City’s Luke Kramer took home fifth with a 10:02.35 in the senior race and Mike Liberty of Oakcrest scored a top-25 finish in the same race. Tyler Greene was sixth in the boys junior race as Ocean City — as it usually does — came away with some strong performances. Keep an eye on Owen Ritti, who clocked a 10:12.76 to finish fourth in the sophomore race for the Red Raiders.
On the radar: In field hockey, there’s a big game coming up on Saturday as Ocean City takes on perennial state power West Essex at Carey Stadium at 11 a.m. That same day, at noon, the Cedar Creek football team — off to a 2-0 start — hosts Camden in a big division matchup.