Extra Points: Wildwood High football vying to end long losing streak
The last time Wildwood High School's football team earned a victory, Barack Obama was halfway through his second term as president, Chip Kelly was in his second season as Eagles' head coach, and everyone was still thawing out from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Since beating Pleasantville 22-6 in a state consolation game in 2014, the Warriors have endured 45 consecutive losses. It's the longest current losing streak in the state and the longest alltime among local teams, surpassing Pleasantville's 35-game skein from 2009 to 2013.
The Warriors thought they had a good chance to end the slump on Friday night in their season-opener against Pitman at Maxwell Field.
"That was our mojo all week," Wildwood coach Ken Loomis said. "We don't get to play too many teams where the size and the roster depth are similar to ours."
Unfortunately, the Warriors didn't get the opportunity to earn a win.
They were trailing 20-12 when a brawl involving multiple players from both teams erupted on the final play of the first half. After about a 30-minute conversation among the coaches, the officiating crew, and school officials, the game was discontinued pending a review by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state's governing body for most high school sports.
"The game was called (off) by Wildwood administration out of concerns of the safety of the student-athletes of both teams," Wildwood Principal Phil Schaffer said. "It was brought to our attention that (the officiating crew) was considering (suspending the game). At that point we asked for a moment of privacy to discuss the situation and at that point the decision was made."
The donnybrook broke out on the final play of the first half.
Less than two seconds remained when Pitman's place-kicker attempted a 37-yard field goal that came up about 5 yards short of the goal post. Wildwood's Dom Troiano, who had stationed himself in the back of the end zone, caught the kick and started to return it when officials whistled the play dead.
According to one official at the game, once the ball crosses the goal line, it's an automatic touchback, unlike the NFL or college.
Troiano took a few strides and was jogging toward the sideline when he was hit by a Pitman player. A Wildwood player jumped in, followed by a Pitman player, and before too long about a dozen players had joined the fray. At least one player from each team was seen throwing punches before coaches, officials and security personnel were able to restore order after about 30 seconds.
"We are a family," Loomis said. "But what happened in the end zone at the end of the half is unacceptable. It’s great that we had each other’s back and we're family but we can't do that. You can't brawl. You can't fight. The decision was made and it was understandable why it was made. I couldn't object to it."
There were a few undercard flareups leading to the main event.
The Warriors opened the game by recovering an onsides kick. Quarterback Ernie Troiano capped the opening drive by connecting with brother Dom on a 10-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass. Dom outwrestled a Panthers defensive back for the football while tumbling to the ground. As soon as he stood, the defensive back shoved him back to the turf.
The Warriors took a 12-7 lead after running back Miguel Claudo broke off a long kickoff return and then turned the corner for a 42-yard run. Ernie Troiano scored on a quarterback draw from the 6 to draw some cheers from the mask-wearing fans.
"We came out strong," Loomis said. "We drove the field a couple of times and we were getting the ball to start the second half. We could have driven down the field and tied the score."
Several other incidents escalated the tension.
Ernie Troiano took an unnecessary hit to the helmet after completing a pass, but no penalty was called. When unsportsmanlike conduct infractions were called, it was usually offsetting penalties after Wildwood players retaliated.
The officiating crew possibly could have prevented the halftime confrontation had they taken a stronger stance against the chippiness and cheap shots earlier in the game.
"It's always been 'Wildwood versus the world,'" Loomis said. "We know we get the short end of the stick and that's OK. What happened was wrong, but these kids are tough kids. Many of them come from tough home environments and they're not going to let anybody 'punk' them."
Given the circumstances, the chances of resuming the game are slim, which means Wildwood will have five more opportunities this season to end the losing streak.
This year's Wildwood team is clearly better than some of its recent editions. Although the Warriors lack depth - with one or two exceptions, everyone plays both ways - there is talent, especially at the skill positions.
Wildwood, which was outscored 654-14 last season, produced 12 points on its first two possessions.
"I loved our energy," Loomis said. "We moved the ball well on offense and defensively we got a few stops. We're definitely not in game shape yet, as most teams probably aren't, but most other teams have 40, 50, 60 kids they can roll through. We have 20. Our kids need a break but we really can't give them one unless it's a dire situation. As much gas as we had left in the tank, our kids gave everything and they played very well."
The biggest challenge is learning how to win, to shake off adversity and maintain confidence and consistency for 48 minutes.
They were denied the chance to end it on Friday and it was evident how much it hurt. Twenty minutes after the decision was made and the teams left, one Wildwood player sat on the bench, crying.
"It was heartbreaking for the kids and it was heartbreaking for the coaches," Loomis said. "But we'll keep working."
For the kids' sake, here's hoping it happens.
After five straight years of losing, the Warriors deserve to walk off the field as winners.
They are overdue to get the long end of the stick.