VINELAND — After three quarters he’d like to forget Howell’s Pat Handy got his chance at redemption, and with one swing of his left leg he turned it into a night he and his teammates will remember forever.
Handy’s 18-yard field goal with 21 seconds left in regulation gave the fourth-seeded Rebels a tremendous 29-27 victory over fourth-seeded Vineland in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V playoffs on Friday night at Gittone Stadium. Handy had missed two extra points in the first half and also dropped a pass that would have surely went for a touchdown in the third quarter. He desperately hoped for a chance at redemption, and when he got it he delivered to send the Rebels into the semifinals in their first playoff win in seven years.
“I was discouraged the whole second half but I took my opportunity,” Handy said “I have no words. I love my team, love my coaches.” “The same thing happened to me last year against (Freehold) Boro, but this was different, this was our first playoff game,” Handy said.
“I was nervous, and they iced me, but…I can’t even put into words what happened. I just focused on kicking the ball through the goal posts. That’s all I focused on.”
Handy’s field goal capped an incredible 14-play, 80-yard drive that began with 7:11 left in the game. The field goal attempt was originally from 23 yards, but an offsides call on Vineland (7-2) moved the ball from the 6-yard line to the 3-yard line. Another offsides followed to put the ball at the 1-yard line.
“I was just hoping we didn’t have a false start,” said Howell head coach Luke Sinkhorn. “It almost helped us out because he got a couple extra kicks in there to practice. He’s been good for us all year and it was a little windy today which hurt us a little bit. We have faith in all our guys.”
“I’m very proud of him,” said junior quarterback Eddie Morales. “The same thing happened last year against Freehold. He comes up big. That’s the thing about my team, they have the drive to want to finish and that’s what Pat Handy has.”
Howell (6-4) will next face top-seeded and undefeated Toms River North (10-0) in the sectional semifinals next Friday night. The defending champion Mariners survived a scare from Atlantic City to win 27-20.
Morales threw for 278 yards and 3 touchdowns on 20 of 32 passing. Junior wide receiver Naz Brantley caught 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown and senior wide out Dan Cacciatore had four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown. Junior receiver Ryan Mazik also had a touchdown catch and junior running back Nick Chambers ran for 81 yards.
Junior quarterback Isaih Pacheco ran for 218 yards and two touchdowns for the Fighting Clan, who rushed for 334 yards. Vineland had not made the playoffs since 2003 and was going for its first playoff win in program history.
Howell denied Vineland a historic moment starting with a defensive stand on a goal-to-go situation midway through the fourth quarter. A tackle for no gain by senior linebacker Colin McGrath on second down brought up third-and-11 where the Rebels would force an incomplete pass. Vineland attempted a 33-yard field goal that was no good, setting the state for the Rebels game-winning drive trailing 27-26.
Starting at the 20-yard line, a 16-yard run by Chambers was followed by an 11-yard hookup between Morales and Brantley. Morales drew Vineland offsides on third-and-1 to get a fresh set of downs at the Vineland 38, and three plays later Chambers had a clutch 14-yard reception on third-and-7 down to the 21-yard line. Howell faced a fourth-and-1 from the 12-yard line and Morales was able to find some room and sneak for two yards to keep the Rebel alive. Four plays later Handy kicked the Rebels into the state semifinals.
“Honestly, I have no words for it,” Morales said. “A lot of people doubted us in the beginning of the season. We had some tough years before this and we didn’t have many outside supporters. This team since the offseason - since last December - has been putting in the work. This team works hard. I knew we could do it, so it doesn’t surprise me. I think were as good as any team out here.”
Vineland struck first when Nyhim Anderson rumbled in for a 7-yard touchdown to cap a short six-play, 45-yard scoring drive. The extra point was no good and the Fighting Clan led 6-0. Howell came right back with a 10-play, 81-yard drive to tie the score at six. Morales had a 21-yard pass to Cacciatore and a 27-yard pass to Handy that set up a 17-yard scoring strike to Mazik on third-and-17. Handy’s extra point was blocked.
It took Vineland just one play to retake the lead as Pacheco broke free on a 63-yard touchdown run. Robert Kling’s extra point gave the Fighting Clan a 13-6 lead. Howell once again came right back with a nine-play, 45-yard drive to pull within one point. Brantley hauled in a 20-yard reception and Cacciatore had an 11-yard catch to move the ball to the Vineland 12-yard line. A sack pushed the Rebels back, but Mazik’s six-yard catch on third-and-5 made it first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. On Third down, Morales got to the corner and dove across the goal line for the touchdown. The extra point was no good again, so Vineland retained a 13-12 lead.
Howell’s defense then came up with the first of three huge stops when Cacciatore intercepted a tipped pass at the Vineland 31-yard line. The Rebels capitalized when Morales found Brantley over the middle and he did the rest to eave his way through the defense for a 26-yard touchdown. Handy connected on the extra point to give Howell a 19-13 lead it would hold into halftime. The Rebels had a chance at more points after driving to the Vineland 13 late in the half, but Morales was intercepted by Pacheco on a fake field goal.
Vineland had no answer for the Morales to Brantley connection. The tandem connected 10 times with five gain first downs and two converting third downs.
“We’ve been with each other since we were little so that chemistry has always been there,” Brantley said.
“Naz, he’s automatic,” Morales said. Every time In throw the ball to him, no matter what the coverage is, I expect him to catch it.”
Momentum turned quickly in the third quarter, however. Daivon Seymore, a 230-pound running back for Vineland, entered the game after not playing in the first half due to an injury. His impact was immediate as he powered his way through several Howell defenders on a 31-yard touchdown that put the Fighting Clan up 20-19. Howell then went three-and-out, and Vineland turned right around and extended its lead on a 69-yard touchdown run by Pacheco.
Howell now trailed 27-19 with 5:39 left in the third quarter and needed a response to avoid falling too far behind. On the second play of the ensuing drive Morales found Cacciatore wide open for a 65-yard touchdown, and Handy’s extra point made it 27-26.
“That was huge,” Morales said. “Football is about changes in momentum and for us to come back there was big. I had faith in us. They scored, but so what? We had a whole half left.”
“We’ve done that all year,” Sinkhorn said. “We were down against Manalapan, down against Marlboro and came back. We responded again, and these guys have been doing that all year.”
Now Howell gets a second crack at top-seeded and top-ranked Toms River North. Atlantic City nearly stunned the seemingly-unstoppable Mariners in the first round. Howell and Toms River North met in the regular season with the Mariners winning 58-33.
“It’s going to be a fun game,” Morales said. “We played them the first time and I knew we would play with them. It didn’t look like a close game but we put up a fight. My team is ready.”
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.