MAYS LANDING — Punters aren't used to speaking to the media after football games, but when you have the kind of impact that Mainland Regional senior Jordan Lowrey had in Friday night's 3-0 win over host Oakcrest, you deserve to get your name in the morning paper.
Lowrey — using a rugby-style kick for the first time in his career — pinned the Falcons inside their own 5-yard line three times in the second half, and the Mustangs' defense did the rest to secure a shutout that vaulted Mainland to 4-2 overall and into a first-place tie with idle Ocean City in the West Jersey Football League's Independence Division. Ocean City (3-1, 3-0) and Mainland (4-2, 3-0) are set to square off later this month in Ocean City in a game that could decide the division champion.
The only offense either team could muster was left-footed place kicker Sean Carey's 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter that was set up by a nice punt return from Joe Massari. That came on the heels of a stop by the Mainland defense after Lowrey had pinned the Falcons at their own 3-yard line.
"Our holder, Goody (Kyle Goodman), is so good and the whole line blocks well, the snap was great. It's been a great way for us to score this year," Carey said.
"Carey, we have no doubt in him. He hasn't missed yet, and from 30 yards, we know that's going in," added senior defensive end Brayden Pohlman.
"Sean and I always go kick on the game field and sometimes after it rains it's a little bit rough, so he's used to those conditions," Lowrey said, referring to the soft, muddy turf. "I don't know if I could have done it, because the pressure was on him and he did great. We came out here early and we were excited to see there was no wind. When we came out in the second half there was still no wind, so me and Sean are always excited when there is no wind."
Early in the second quarter, Oakcrest (3-2, 2-1) appeared to take the lead on a 34-yard touchdown run around the left side by senior wide receiver Harrison Doe, but the play was negated by a penalty and a few plays later the Falcons were forced to punt. The Falcons had another scoring chance late in the first half, but junior cornerback Amir Vick picked off a pass in the end zone. Vick also had a fumble recovery in the second half that thwarted another Oakcrest drive.
TURNING TO THE INTERNET: Lowrey said he had never before tried the rugby style of punting, and had to do a little research this week to be able to pull it off during an actual game.
"Coach came to me because we were having some trouble covering kicks, so he came to me on Monday and asked me if I could do rugby kicks and I said, 'yeah, I can do it.' I went home and watched some Australian rules football tutorials on YouTube, which is probably pretty boring to most people, but I figured it out and got my drop down. I was feeling good about it, had been kicking well all week. We hadn't really practiced inside-the-10 kicks so I figured I would just take a little leg off it and it worked out pretty well," he said. "That's what we were hoping to do. I messed up last week against Clearview, had a shank when I should have been able to pin them inside the 10. So it was exciting to get that feeling again, then two more times, I was exhilerated."
"We changed the punt up this week with a rugby punt and it worked out," Pohlman added. "There was only one touchback and that should have been downed at the 1-yard line, but besides that, he had a great game."
Lowrey punted six times and averaged better than 36 yards, but the key statistic was placing three of those six punts inside the 10-yard line. Oakcrest had four second-half possessions, and the only one that started outside its own 5-yard line was the kickoff following Carey's field goal.
"Our punter was the star, all the way," Carey said. "It's the first time he's done that rugby style. He practiced all week and he killed it today."
DEFENSIVE STRUGGLE: Neither offense had a ton of success, but that's because both defenses got after it at the line of scrimmage. Mainland finished with eight tackles for loss and limited the Falcons to 85 rushing yards on 25 carries, and also forced a pair of turnovers. And while the Mustangs did have 105 rushing yards, it took 37 carries to get there. Oakcrest held Mainland to just 126 yards of total offense on 41 plays, an average of less than 3.5 yards per play. The Mustangs also converted just 2-of-10 on third down.
"We had a tough game last week against Clearview. (Oakcrest) is definitely one of the most physical teams we've played so far," Pohlman said. "Coach was saying to us all week — the defensive line in particular — that this was a bounce-back week, and we bounced back, for sure. We knew they were really a pass team and the preparation was there. We knew everything they were going to run."
"Our defense has been amazing all year. The leaders of the team, a lot of them are defenders, and it's great to see them balling out," Carey added.
TURN UP THE MUSIC: The tunes are bumping a lot more in the Mainland locker room this year, as the Mustangs have won four of their first six games after suffering through two straight 1-9 seasons. The players said there is a lot more energy surrounding the football program this season.
"This is big. We wanted more, we left two games out there, but we needed to come back," Pohlman said. "We were determined not to lose two in a row and we're determined to win that (division) championship."
"It's great. I know a lot of guys have done a lot in the offseason," Lowrey said. "Everyone has been preparing like crazy, going to 5 a.m. lifts (at the school), going to Athlete's Arbor, so it's just really exciting to be around the school and not have to hang your head. It's just really exciting right now.
Added Carey, "You feel the energy all the time, throughout the school days during the week and definitely on game day. It's a different feeling. It sounds a lot better (being 4-2). We could have come out of here at 3-3 so I'm glad we came out on top."
WHAT'S NEXT: Mainland hosts Middle Township on Oct. 12 then has a bye week before a huge showdown with rival Ocean City at Carey Stadium on Oct. 26 in a game that could decide the Independence Division championship. Oakcrest travels to Cedar Creek on Saturday, Oct. 13, then has a matchup at Ocean City on Oct. 19. A win over the Red Raiders, coupled with an Ocean City win over Mainland, would forge a three-way tie atop the division standings. If that happened, Oakcrest still would need to beat Absegami on Thanksgiving to claim a share of the title, and Mainland would be in the same situation against EHT on Thanksgiving Eve.
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays