Pinelands Claws Its Way Back Into Football Game Against MarlboroBut Mustangs Finally Buck Wildcats In Game’s Final Minutes
The visiting Marlboro Mustangs beat the Pinelands Wildcats football team on Friday night, 41-27. The score, though, was rather deceptive. It was an exciting – and very weird – contest that wasn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter.
A large Harvest Moon rose over the eastern end zone of the Pinelands field at kickoff. It wasn’t just any Harvest Moon – colloquially called such because it is associated with the northern hemisphere’s harvest season and officially designated as the full moon that appears on the date closest to the autumnal equinox – but a large one that was involved with a minor penumbral lunar eclipse visible in Africa, Asia and Australia. Apparently such full moons bring out the crazy not only in people, but in football games as well.
Marlboro never kicked off deep the entire game long but instead resorted to a stream of squib kicks and one onside attempt. A Marlboro fan said the team had kicked off normally in its season opener, a 49-12 loss to Manalapan, the week before. “They must have seen something in the tapes,” he speculated.
So Marlboro conceded a third to half the field to Pinelands on every kickoff. But the Wildcat offense had trouble capitalizing on that seeming advantage in the first half.
The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and, starting from their own 35, went four-and-out.
Brennan Richardson’s punt rolled out of bounds at the Marlboro 34, and the Mustangs wasted no time marching down the field, taking only seven plays to score on Johnny Helff’s 2-yard run. The PAT was good, and the visitors were up 7-0 at the 7:37 mark of the first quarter.
Pinelands started at the 50-yard line after recovering Marlboro’s ensuring onside kick. The Wildcat drive lasted one play – Pinelands fumbled, and the Mustangs had a first down at their own 47.
Nine plays later, Cameron Caorsi rumbled in from 2 yards out, and the PAT made the score 14-0 Marlboro with 3:54 left in the first quarter.
Pinelands’ third possession started at its own 49. Eight plays later, sophomore Evan Burtton ran around the left end for an 11-yard touchdown on the second play of the second quarter, and after Jason Jeannotte booted the extra point, Pinelands trailed 14-7.
Marlboro started at its own 39 on its next set of downs. With 7:35 left in the half, Mustang QB Jared Wright connected on a 7-yard TD pass in the right corner of the end zone with 6-5 Justin Marcus, who towered over his much shorter defender. The PAT made the score 21-7 Marlboro with 7:35 left in the half.
Yet another squib kick gave the Wildcats good starting position at their own 39. They went backward and faced a fourth-and-14 from their 35. Richardson’s punt, though, rolled to the Marlboro 25. Pinelands, figuring it had a chance at a defensive stop, called time out.
Two plays later, the Mustangs had a first-and-10 at the Pinelands 49. But suddenly it looked as if the Wildcat time out had been a good strategic move – senior middle linebacker Kyle Hehre intercepted a Wright pass. However …
Pinelands was flagged for roughing the passer. Marlboro continued a time-consuming drive, culminating in a 5-yard TD run by Caorsi. The extra point attempt failed, but the Mustangs were up 27-7, and the Wildcats were unable to score in the remaining 1:24 of first-half play.
About a quarter of the large contingent of hometown fans decided they’d seen enough and didn’t stick around for the second half of their team’s home opener. The Wildcats, however, didn’t give up so easily.
Sure, it looked as if the second verse was the same as the first when Marlboro took the second half kickoff, started at its own 37, and needed only eight plays to reach the Pinelands 5. But the Mustangs were then flagged for a false start and fumbled on the next play, with Jeannotte covering the ball for the Wildcats. Pinelands had a first-and-10 at their own 17 and, wham, Burtton slipped around the left end for an 83-yard TD! The PAT attempt failed, but Pinelands, trailing 27-13 with 6:11 left in the third quarter, had new life.
Marlboro had good field position after taking the next kickoff and running it to the Pinelands 48. But the Pinelands defense, playing with newfound energy, forced Marlboro into a four-and-out.
The Wildcat momentum didn’t last long. After fielding a Marlboro punt, Pinelands could do nothing and was forced to quick kick on a fourth-and-2 from its own 26. The Mustangs started at their 37 and took only five plays, capped by a Caorsi 35-yard run, to camp out in the Pinelands end zone once again. Toss in a PAT and Marlboro led 34-13 just 11 seconds into the final quarter.
Remember, though, that Harvest Moon!
Pinelands’ next drive, after yet another squib kick, started at its own 33. Eight plays later the Wildcats had a fourth-and-1 at the Marlboro 12. Needless to say, the Wildcats went for it and were assisted by a Marlboro encroachment penalty, giving them a first-and-goal from 7 yards out. Two plays later, Kyle Hehre found pay dirt, the extra point was kicked, and the score was 34-20 with 7:15 left on the clock.
Pinelands, of course, then tried an onside kick and it was successful, giving the Wildcats the ball on their 47. In less than two minutes, Richardson scored on a 28-yard run, the extra point was good, and Pinelands trailed by just seven points with the clock saying 5:39.
Would the ’Cats kick it deep, hope their defense held, and get the ball back in good field position? Or would they go to the onside well again?
If you bet the latter, you’re a winner. The well had gone dry, and Marlboro had a first down at the Pinelands 49. Three plays later, a 42-yard scamper seemingly iced the game for the visiting team.
Except the run was called back due to a holding penalty, and suddenly the Mustangs were facing a third-and-15. They ran for a first down – making it by inches – and then, a couple of plays later, Caorsi ran 14 yards for his fourth TD of the evening. Add the extra point and you’ve got that final 41-27 score.
Pinelands has a side-by-side 12 gauge shotgun running attack in Burtton and Richardson. Marlboro, however, has a veritable elephant gun in Caorsi, who gained 306 yards on 36 carries to go with his four touchdowns.
Marlboro improved to 1-1 for the season; Pinelands, which lost to Point Pleasant Boro 31-12 the week before, dropped to 0-2.
Up next for the Wildcats is an away game at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Lacey. The Lions are 1-1, having defeated Toms River South, 17-0, before dropping a 28-12 decision to Point Pleasant Borough.
— Rick Mellerup