South Jersey Football: QB Campbell Leads Mainland Past Cherry Hill West
LINWOOD — At the beginning of an episode of the old TV series “Quantum Leap,” actor Scott Bakula’s character “leaped” into the body of a quarterback right before the ball was snapped. His response was, “oh, boy.”
It wasn’t quite that nerve-wracking for Mainland quarterback Cole Campbell on Friday night as the Mustangs hosted Cherry Hill West, but the sophomore — making his first varsity start in place of injured senior Zack Graziotto — admitted there were some nerves during the week leading up to the showdown against the Lions. Campbell looked a little nervous in the first quarter, but settled down quickly and threw a pair of touchdown passes as the Mustangs remained unbeaten with a 30-19 win over the Lions in a West Jersey Football League non-divisional game at The Corral.
With a full section of Corral Crazies at his back, and the support of a bunch of seniors with a lot of varsity experience, Campbell looked cool under fire after that shaky start and was about as good as head coach Chuck Smith could have hoped save for a late interception that led to a Cherry Hill West score. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise that Campbell, just 15 years old, was able to handle the pressure, however, as he was one of the stars of the Atlantic Shore Babe Ruth 14-year-old All-Stars that won the World Series last summer.
“The first day, Monday, I had some nerves, but I had all my seniors, my linemen, my split ends, they were just keeping me calm, telling me what to do, running through it and being patient with me,” Campbell said. “They were the ones who gave me confidence. (Being on the bench) helped me a lot because I got to see all the senior leaders demonstrating what to do and how to play.”
“I’m loving it. It was the first varsity start for him, but he showed what he can do. He broke out this week in practice, was showing no nerves and was throwing the ball well,” said wide receiver Jake Cook, the recipient of one of Campbell’s touchdown passes. “On Monday, we had him out on the practice field, me, Amir, Ja’Briel, Misa — we all ran routes with him and got him comfortable with the offense. He stayed focused all week and made it happen tonight. Two touchdown passes, that’s awesome.”
Both teams scuffled early on, but the Lions (1-2) got on the board late in the first quarter when Hakim Melvin caught a quick slant from quarterback Nick Arcaroli, who beat the blitz and watched as Melvin raced 85 yards to put Cherry Hill West up 7-0. Mainland (3-0) answered on its next possession when Campbell rolled right and found Dan Misa wide open for a 74-yard scoring strike to pull Mainland to within 7-6.
“I got comfortable after that first one to Misa on that one-on-one rollout. We had some great blocking and that allowed me to get outside and just make an easy throw. We have Brayden Pohlman, Sean Bradley, Ben Arena, Chris Campbell and Sam Epstein — they are just some big dogs up front,” Campbell said. “They do everything to keep me safe. It was really fun, I loved it, but we also have to get ready for next week. I have to clean up my drops and being smarter with the ball, throwing it away when I need to and not try to force anything.”
Campbell’s connections with Cook, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior and one of the stars of the Mainland basketball team, proved to be the difference, however, as the Lions’ secondary struggled to contain the big receiver. Campbell found Cook wide open on the right side for a 41-yard touchdown with 6:49 to go before halftime, then he rolled out and connected with Mike Ordille on the two-point conversion as Mainland took a 14-7 lead. A few minutes later, freshman running back Ja’Briel Mace scored from five yards out after another big play from Campbell to Cook, giving the Mustangs a 20-7 lead. Mainland added a 30-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Brady Panas just before halftime after Campbell orchestrated a 48-yard drive with less than two minutes to go in the first half.
“It’s almost too easy when you’re wide open,” Cook said. “There’s more pressure on you when you’re wide open than when somebody is covering you.”
The Lions got to within 23-13 with 8:55 to go when Arcaroli hooked up with Melvin again, but three minutes later Mainland put the game on ice when Ja’Quan Mace — a senior and Ja’Briel’s older brother — took a jet sweep right, cut it back up the middle, broke a couple tackles and scored from 29 yards out to push the lead to 30-13.
Campbell finished with a pair of touchdown passes and more than 200 yards passing. Ja’Briel Mace collected 128 yards on 24 carries and Ja’Quan Mace, who muffed a punt in the first half, made up for it big time with that electrifying fourth-quarter touchdown run. Senior defensive back Amir Mick picked off two passes and once again guys like Pohlman, Drew DeMorat, McKenzie Murphy, Arena and Jake Sokalski led a strong defensive effort by the Mustangs.
“We’re really setting the tone this year, making adjustments. We lost a couple guys from last year, but we’re doing pretty well,” Vick said. “We had to believe in ourselves. We knew they were a good team, but we had to come out and show them who we are. Our confidence is high, I can tell you that.”
What’s next: Mainland travels to Bridgeton on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. Cherry Hill West hosts Seneca on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m.