Egg Harbor Twp. Ground Attack, Defense Too Much for Atlantic City
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Egg Harbor Township football team thought it was going to be pretty good this year. The Eagles had experience coming back at key positions on both sides of the ball, some pretty good athleticism and some size up front.
But the Eagles dropped a heartbreaker, 14-6, against rival Mainland in the season opener then got shoved around pretty good the following week in a 46-14 clubbing at the hands of Washington Township. Suddenly, playoff hopes turned into 0-2.
But EHT found a way to get refocused — and recommitted to what it does best, which is running the ball and relying on its front seven on defense to stop the run and force teams to throw against a fast and athletic secondary. Both those traits were on display on Saturday as the host Eagles took down upstart Atlantic City 33-6, notching their fourth win in the last five games and getting over the .500 mark, at 4-3. EHT’s only loss since Sept. 2 came last week in a 24-7 setback against powerful and undefeated Ocean City.
Atlantic City scored on its first possession as quarterback Eric Strecker connected on some nice passing plays with Jashyne Wright and Dylan Culmone before hooking up with Nasir Turner on a rollout play on 3rd-and-goal from the two to give the Vikings a 6-0 lead. But that’s all Atlantic City would get as EHT’s front seven controlled the rest of the game.
EHT tied the game at 6 early in the second quarter when Dylan Camp blocked a punt in the end zone and senior Jacob Cianci pounced on it for a touchdown.
“That helped us a lot,” senior lineman Michelot Sine said. “Jacob scored after that block and that really helped the team score more touchdowns, and I’m happy. We’re on to Seneca now, that’s all we’re worried about.”
Then, after forcing a punt on Atlantic City’s next possession, the Eagles took the lead for good when senior running back Mohamed Soumaworo scampered 23 yards for a touchdown. Ciaran McGreevy’s extra point put the Eagles up 13-6 and they never looked back.
The Eagles marched 53 yards on their first possession of the second half, taking a 20-6 lead on a 23-yard scoring run from senior back Rondell Vaughan Jr.
THE TURNING POINT: That first possession of the second half was crucial for EHT and set the tone for the rest of the game. The Eagles were hit with a holding call on the first play, setting them back and forcing 1st-and-23, but Soumaworo ripped off a 20-yard run to set up 2nd-and-3, which EHT converted. Being able to keep that drive alive and produce points gave the Eagles the breathing room they were looking for.
UNIFIED FRONT: Atlantic City went down the field on EHT on its first drive of the game, but after that the Vikings’ offense was shut down by some solid play from the Eagles’ defensive line of James Mahana, Sine, Eugene Allen and Mike Simeon, as well as linebackers Evan Mensh, Camp and John Mahana.
“We started a little bit slowly but we picked it up throughout the game. We were pushing them back, which is what we’re supposed to do, staying in our gaps,” Sine said. “That’s what we’re coached to do, and we did that and we got the win. We’re doing what we’re supposed to do. Our goal is to make the playoffs and we’re working hard for that.”
It all starts with Sine, a senior two-way lineman and captain.
“On both sides of the ball he’s really good, and every play he goes hard,” Soumaworo said. “He doesn’t let up, every down. It means a lot (that he plays both ways) because on offense he’s doing the job and defensively he’s giving his all every play.”
GETTING THE RUNNING GAME GOING: The combination of Vaughan Jr. and Soumaworo has really been paying dividends lately. Even in the loss to Ocean City, that duo combined for 138 of EHT’s 165 rushing yards, and against Atlantic City they combined for more than 200 yards, with Soumaworo going for 153 yards and two touchdowns, including a 53-yard jaunt around the right side late in the fourth quarter. Marco Algarin also chipped in a touchdown on a 21-yard run in the third quarter, as four of the Eagles’ five touchdowns came via the running game.
“He’s having a great season,” Sine said of Soumaworo. “He’s a hard runner; if you give him the ball, he’s going to get a lot of tough yards, and that’s what I like about him. He hits the hole hard and does what he’s supposed to do.”
“My blockers said they had me, so I had to do it for them,” Soumaworo said. “(Rondell and I) compete, but at the same time Rondell is all about, like, he’s got me the next play. Every play I run, he’s got me and I’ve got his back on the plays he runs. Every game I just try to do what I can, and Rondell is a good runner and he tries, too. We try to bring each other up. It’s not about who’s scoring the touchdowns, it’s about the team.”
A BREAK IN ROUTINE: EHT normally plays on Friday nights, so playing a Saturday early afternoon tilt was something of an anomaly and had the Eagles a bit out of sorts early on.
“At first, we were all sleepy, but in the second half we had to come out — we were expecting a blowout (and when that didn’t happen early) we had to come out and correct some things,” Soumaworo said. “I feel like we weren’t all awake, it’s a Saturday morning. But everybody realized (at halftime) that the score shouldn’t be that close, so we came out in the second half and did what we had to do and shut them down. We had to wake up and play.”
Case in point, these were the results of EHT’s first-half offensive drives: punt, turnover on downs, touchdown, punt. In the second half, the Eagles scored on three of their four drives.
PLAYOFFS ON THE HORIZON? After two weeks of this season it didn’t look like the Eagles were going anywhere, but winning four of their last five has certainly helped their playoff chances in South Jersey Group 5. EHT came into today’s game about three points behind Atlantic City in power points, according to gridironnewjersey.com, so a win over the Vikings certainly will help. And EHT has winnable games coming up against Seneca, Pemberton and Vineland.
“We were expecting (to be good) but in the first game we let up a lot and we lost that game against Mainland, and then that next game was terrible, but we came back against Oakcrest and we knew we had to beat them and come back up. We got back up,” Soumaworo said. “We know we have to win every game now, so we have to focus. We want to make the playoffs and the next game is going to determine if we make the playoffs.”
WHAT’S NEXT: EHT travels to Seneca on Friday at 6 p.m. Atlantic City hosts Triton on Friday at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays