South Jersey Football: Atlantic City Snaps 10-game Losing Streak
ATLANTIC CITY — Coach Leo Hamlett’s nightmare last night went a little something like this: eight seconds into the game and the Atlantic City Vikings are down 7-0 after a fumbled snap and a scoop-and-score by EHT defensive back Tommy Sweeney. The only good thing about a nightmare is when you wake up and realize it was just a bad dream.
That scenario was very much real, as it was a nighmarish start for the Vikings in their season opener against the Eagles, and EHT built a 13-0 lead by halftime. But Atlantic City rallied in the second half, scoring 21 unanswered points to notch a thrilling 21-13 victory that ended a 10-game losing streak. The last time Atlantic City had won a game was Thanksgiving 2017. The win was also the first career victory for coach Hamlett, who took over for Thomas Kelly prior to the 2018 season. The Vikings were 0-10 in Hamlett’s first season at the helm.
Both teams struggled with a fierce wind and that severely limited the passing game and also had a huge effect on punts, which turned the game into a battle in the trenches with each team jockeying for field position. Egg Harbor Township (0-1) put together a nice drive in the second quarter going against the wind, and Chris Decker took a screen pass down to the 2-yard line then punched it in on the next play to put the Eagles up 13-0 with 2:44 left in the first half. But momentum swung back to the Vikings at the very start of the second half, as Greg Williams recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff. Atlantic City was stuffed on that drive, but on its next possession a couple of big runs from Shawn McGraw set up quarterback Corey Yeoman’s 2-yard sneak that shaved the lead to 13-7.“To be honest, the feeling is just for them. Those 10 losses were about me, trying to get this program going in the right direction, trying to get everything into place. The superintendent gave me everything I needed, the new principal, Dr. Small, gave me everything I needed and now it’s about the kids and making sure they have everything they need,” Hamlett said. “They put this together. I’m so proud of them. They started calling their own plays because they’ve been working so much together in the offseason. They knew what they needed, they knew how to block for those plays — and the same thing on defense, they knew what they needed to do. I’m so proud of these kids, I have no words.”
EHT’s next possession ended with a fumbled punt at its own 10-yard line, but again the Vikings were unable to capitalize. But in the fourth quarter, EHT had to punt into the wind, and a three-yard punt set the Vikings up at the EHT 34-yard line. An Eagles penalty then brought the ball to the 18, and after a negative play, Yeoman hooked up with junior wideout Jaheem Frederick — a recruit from the Vikings’ basketball team and first-year football player — for a 23-yard touchdown. Frederick leaped high for the ball and initially it was off his hands, but he recovered his own tip in the end zone for the go-ahead score as the Vikings took a 14-13 lead when Erick Nieto-Toxqui converted the point after.
“That’s my brother, Jaheem, for real. Coach Ham said he saw the hitch-and-go (might be open) so I just had to get it up there to him. Jaheem said he was going to catch it, so we did what we had to do,” said Yeoman, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior transfer from St. Augustine Prep. “It really does feel good. We came out a little shaky and that was my fault. I was a little nervous, I’m not going to lie, but we did what we had to do and our defense really stepped up. We came out to play.”
“We threw that backside slant, and I kept telling coach, ‘I’m here. I’m ready.’ And he gave me the chance,” Frederick added. “This is big. I hope the city comes out, this is for the city. We were down 7-0 (after one play) but then we scored, came back on defense, I got a strip fumble that put us back on offense and from there we did everything we could do.
Yeoman also spearheaded a gutsy defensive effort by Atlantic City as the Vikings’ middle linebacker, and the Vikings also got a big game from defensive lineman Dwayne Johnson, a senior.A good kickoff then pinned EHT at its own 6-yard line, and a Yeoman sack pushed the Eagles back to the 3. With less than seven minutes to go, the Eagles had to take to the air, and linebacker Kaleb Feliciano picked off a tipped pass inside the 5-yard line and scored to give Atlantic City a 21-13 lead. In a last-gasp effort, EHT drove all the way down inside the Vikings’ 10-yard line, but on 4th-and-goal with 20 seconds left, Atlantic City sophomore defensive back Kasauhn Carpenter broke up a pass in the end zone to seal the victory.
“Their offense has a little bit of deception, a little bit of ground-and-pound, and their coaches were making some very good calls,” Hamlett said. “But we adjusted when we had to. When they made good plays, we adjusted and we didn’t break, we held our ground and got ready for the next series.”
“This is for coach Ham. My brother (Anthony Sarao) came onto the coaching staff this year, we’ve just been trying to change things. Coach Ham is trying to change things, he’s been trying his hardest — we’re doing it for the city,” Yeoman added.
Hamlett had high praise for Yeoman and McGraw, who didn’t come off the field the entire game save for a play or two.
“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,” he said. “And 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.”
Coach Hamlett said he wants his players to enjoy this victory tonight, but come ready to work on Saturday morning. Atlantic City has one of the toughest schedules in the West Jersey Football League, as the Vikings finish out September with Vineland, Washington Township and St. Joseph, then have to play the likes of Williamstown, Eastern, Deptford and Millville in October — and, oh yeah, their November schedule includes Timber Creek and Holy Spirit.
“We’re a long way from being where we want to be. There are no easy games on our schedule. But, iron sharpens iron. So, if we’re going to get better — even if we have 30 kids going up against teams that have 100 — we’re going to get better by going against the best,” Hamlett said. “At the end of the day, it’s about making sure these kids get educated in the classroom, educated on the field, so they can go to college and take advantage of their education. I’m happy for the kids. Right now, I’m just happy for them and hope they are ready to come in tomorrow and get their workout in and watch film, and just get better for the next game.”
What’s next? Atlantic City travels to Vineland on Sept. 13 (time TBA). Egg Harbor Township travels to Ocean City on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m.