Things could have gotten out of hand for Millville really quickly on Saturday evening at the Battle at the Beach at Ocean City’s Carey Stadium, as Union’s Matthew Nazaire ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead less than 15 seconds into the season opener for both teams.

But, as Thunderbolts coach Dennis Thomas says, Millville has some dudes.

Those dudes — most notably senior running back LeQuint Allen and freshman phenom receiver Lotzier Brooks — put on a show in the second half to lead Millville to a thrilling 31-28 win over the Farmers that became an instant classic.

Millville fell apart a little late in the first half, letting a 14-7 lead turn into a 21-14 halftime deficit, but roared back in the second half thanks to some huge plays from Brooks and some seriously tough running from Allen against one of the better defenses in North Jersey.

“First things first, I want to give congratulations to Union, they were flying around and they made it hard for me. It wasn’t easy,” said Allen, who rushed 22 times for 113 yards and a score. “But my O-line did well, my quarterback did well, my receivers did well blocking for me when I bounced it outside. I just got the yards and broke it a few times.

A bad snap on a punt midway through the third quarter led to a safety that allowed Millville to pull to within 21-16, and on the ensuing free kick Brooks took the ball straight up the middle —virtually untouched — for a 65-yard touchdown. Millville converted the two-point conversion to take a 24-21 lead, but Union rallied to take a 28-24 lead on its next drive.

That set up the play of the game two possessions later.

THE TURNING POINT: With time winding under seven minutes in the fourth quarter, Millville took over at its own 5-yard line following a Union punt. An Allen run gave the Bolts some breathing room out to the 15, and that’s when Thomas went to a play he had been saving all game.

With the Farmers showing single coverage on Brooks on the outside with just one safety over the top, Thomas audibled to a hitch-and-go down the right sideline. By the time the Union bench shouted to their corner that the ball was in the air, Brooks had him beaten by 10 yards and was off to the races for an 85-yard, backbreaking touchdown that gave Millville a 31-28 lead, and, ultimately, the win.

“I was waiting for that play the whole game, I’m not going to lie,” Brooks said.

“He’s lightning in a bottle. He has electricity. But throw that away, he’s just a good dude, a good person. If you talk to him, he’s a better person than he is an athlete — and that says a lot, because he’s a great athlete,” Thomas said. “I saw one-on-one coverage. Those guys like to play bump-and-run and I don’t think there is anyone who can play Brooks man-to-man. They did that (coverage) a few times and I didn’t call it. I said I’m going to wait until the fourth quarter to call that play, and that’s what we did. He’s been doing that a lot in practice and he just transferred what he does in practice to the game.”

FACING ADVERSITY: This Millville team went 4-4 during a Covid-shortened 2020 season and has a ton of young players. The roster features just eight seniors, and more than 50 percent of the players are either freshmen or sophomores. So a big test in coach Thomas’ eyes during the season opener was going to be how would his young players handle adversity.

Well, they certainly passed the first test.

The Bolts trailing in this game three times and had to deal with a Union offense that had seven different players run the ball, four different receivers and put up 343 yards of total offense.

“I’ve played a lot of football in my life and we were only down by a little bit — one touchdown game — I told my guys that one play can change everything, and you saw that tonight,” Allen said. “We have a lot of leaders on our team and we have seniors on this team who can lead the guys. We’ve been practicing hard every day in the heat and we just go after it. When we’re down the coaches yell at us and we don’t say anything, we just go out and do what we have to do, and that’s what we did our here tonight.”

“They are a really good team. They are dynamic. Our goal was to go 1-0, whether we won by one or by 40, and we accomplished our goal and we beat a really good Union team. That says a lot about South Jersey. South Jersey is in the house,” Thomas said. “We’re young. We only have eight seniors on our team. We have 20-plus sophomores, 20-plus freshmen, about 15 juniors — so we’re going to be OK. We have to build this thing.”

DYNAMIC DUO: There might not be a team in the West Jersey Football League that has a more electrifying running back-receiver combination than Allen and Brooks. Allen is a 6-foot-, 190-pound three-star who has given a verbal commitment to Syracuse, and Brooks might be one of the most talked about freshman in South Jersey in a long while. He already had four NCAA Division I offers before making his high school debut on Saturday.

“This is one of the best Millville teams I’ve been on,” Allen said. “We’ve all been playing since we were young and we’re in high school now. We’re older, and that chemistry is there.”

“I tell you what, a lot of people have been comparing him to (former Paulsboro star) Kevin Harvey,” Thomas said of Brooks, who finished with 94 receiving yards, 15 in the run game and that 65-yard kick return. “He has freakish ability — speed; he runs a 10.8 (second) 100 (meter dash). You can line up whoever you want over top of him, but he’s a dude. And his maturity — hat’s off to his parents, they’ve been raising him right. He’s sharp.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Millville travels to Mainland on Thursday at 6 p.m. Union travels to St. Joseph-Metuchen on Saturday at noon.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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