Barnegat Bengals on the Prowl for Group III Championship
The Barnegat High School football team has a chance to become the first in the school’s history to hang a championship banner. The Bengals (9-1) made that a possibility Friday night with a 28-25 road victory over Northern Burlington (7-3) in the semifinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III playoffs. They will face Delsea Regional (9-2) in the championship game scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m. at Rowan University. Delsea defeated Manasquan, 27-10, in their semifinal game Saturday.
Just as they did in the home playoff opener win against Pemberton, the Bengals had a dominating ground attack, with 356 rushing yards, led by junior Tyler McGuiness’ 142 yards on 28 carries. Junior quarterback Cinjun Erskine rushed for 115 yards on 15 attempts.
But Rob Davis said the game’s biggest run was by little-used junior Kevin Hoffman, who primarily plays linebacker on defense. With Barnegat clinging tenuously to a 21-19 lead, Hoffman used his lone rushing opportunity to race for a 34-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the extra point made it 28-19.
The Bengals surely needed that touchdown as the Greyhounds responded with a 77-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter, capped by a scoring pass from senior quarterback Tyler O’Dell to senior wide receiver Lawrence Garner. The extra point failed.
So did Northern Burlington’s attempt at an ensuing onside kick, when officials ruled O’Dell’s recovery was out of bounds, and the Bengals ran out the clock to ice the game.
Although Erskine completed just four passes on the night, the first one was a 45-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Ryan Morris. Erskine capped off the scoring in the first quarter with a 5-yard run.
The Bengals did not score in the second quarter, but the Greyhounds got on the board on a 43-yard run by senior Kenyatta Greene, making it a 14-6 haftime score as the extra point failed.
But Greene was just warming up, and he put on quite a show in the fourth quarter. McGuiness scored on a three-yard run in the third quarter, and the PAT made it 21-6. Greene then raced 62 yards for a touchdown and had a 65-yard punt return.
“Hoffman’s run was such a huge play,” said Davis. “He had not carried the ball much all year, and he came through when we really needed a score because Northern Burlington was making quite a comeback.”
The Bengals will face a very formidable ground attack in Delsea, which, including the playoffs, has outscored the opposition 382-101. Junior running back Isaiah Spencer has 1,138 yards on just 89 carries, an astounding 12.7 yards per carry.
Senior running back Rob Hooks has averaged nearly 6 yards a carry with his 961 yards.
Defensively, Delsea had five shutouts during the year and held Manasquan to only 81 total yards. In the opening playoff round, Delsea dominated Central Regional, 46-14.
“Delsea is the defending state champ, so we know we have a lot work cut out for us,” Davis said. “But I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve been consistent on offense and defense all year ,and it just feels so amazing that we’re one win away from a state title.”
The Bengals do have one more regular season game, however, as they host Pinelands Regional (1-9) on Thanksgiving Day at 10 a.m. A victory would give them the B-South regular season title.
“This time, Thanksgiving won’t be our last game of the year,” said Davis.
— Eric Englund