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Mainland dominates top-ranked Millville to win second straight sectional title

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

The Mainland Regional High School football team celebrates its 35-13 triumph over Millville in the South Jersey Group 4 final played at John Barbose Stadium in Millville, New Jersey on Friday, November 10, 2023. Lukas Guerrier/D2 Sports Network

MILLVILLE (N.J.) - Mainland Regional High School football coach Chuck Smith woke up in the middle night and couldn't fall back asleep last Sunday.

Smith and his colleagues gathered earlier in the day to begin the preparation process for the Mustangs' upcoming sectional final matchup with Cape-Atlantic League rival Millville.

Mainland lost to the Thunderbolts, 18-14, in last year's Group 4 state semifinals after Holly City's Na'eem Sharp scored a touchdown with 39 seconds left in the game played at Cherokee High School.

Smith was anxious.

He had faith in his team to avenge the loss from last year if the miscues were limited to a minimum.

Smith was ready to compete.

After all, the Mustangs expected to have another opportunity against Millville as both teams expected to compete for a state championship in 2023. Smith reminded his players of last season's agonizing defeat at their first team meeting in July.

"We talked about how we felt when we walked off that field that day," Smith said. "When I watched the game again last Sunday I was frustrated. I was feeling all those emotions from the game again. I fell asleep, I woke up 12:30 at night and I didn't go to sleep for the rest of the day.

"When I woke up I was confident. We were the better team last year. We just shot ourselves in the foot. Against a good team you can't do that so many times. ... We were very confident this entire week. We were confident that we were going to score points and we were going to shut them down."

Smith was right.

The Mustangs earned redemption and secured their second consecutive sectional title with a 35-13 triumph over the top-seeded Thunderbolts in the South Jersey Group 4 final on Friday night.

Stephen Ordille rushed for 244 yards and four touchdowns. The senior's three first-half scores helped Mainland establish a 21-7 lead at halftime.

"It felt great to get up early," Ordille said. "Our defense stepped up big for us."

Millville was unable to slow down Mainland's utilization of runs outside the tackles which allowed Ordille to attack from an angle and use his speed to beat defenders to the perimeter.

"It's my God gift speed," Ordille said. "I was able to outrun them a lot of times. They started to get on it a little in the second half, but it's credit to my O-line, tight ends, my backs blocking, wide receivers. They opened a lot of holes for me and I was able to make plays."

Millville, the consensus No. 1 ranked team in South Jersey entering the contest, averaged 31.8 points per game over its first 10 games of the season. The Thunderbolts scored 41 points or more in each of their last three contests.

Their 13 points on Friday were the lowest amount of points scored in a single game since a 14-7 loss to defending Group 5 state champion Toms River North in the season opener at the Battle at the Beach in August.

"Millville was a top team in the state so we knew what to expect," linebacker Hunter Watson said. "We knew it was coming.

"(Our coaches) told us, 'stop the social media, every time you catch yourself on social media you should be watching film.' Film was very important here. We did a whole lot of studying. We just prepped every day in practice and we came out and executed."

Millville was limited to 27 yards on the ground. Syracuse commit Ta'Ron Haile and three-star recruit Lotzeir Brooks were each held to under 100 receiving yards. The duo combined for nine receptions, 157 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Mainland's ability to minimize huge plays that helped maintain a lead from start to finish.

Villanova commit Jamie Tyson and Jake Blum each snared an interception on defense for the Mustangs in the second half. Mainland committed zero turnovers.

"I saw him overthrow him a little bit," Tyson said. "I picked it off. It was the best feeling of my life. That's the ninth (interception) of the year.

"Preparation was big. Lotzeir is a great receiver. He's a great kid. Practice all week was just staying overtop, not letting anything deep, trying to stay off social media. We came out here and did our thing."

The Thunderbolts cut their deficit to 21-13 as time expired in the third quarter on an 84-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Zamot to Brooks.

It was Mainland's response that decided the outcome. The Mustangs orchestrated a slow, methodical drive that resulted in Ordille's fourth touchdown and a 28-13 advantage with 5:50 left to play.

Quarterback John Franchini located Rocco DeBiaso for an eight-yard touchdown with only 1:06 left for good measure. Franchini finished 5-for-7 for 44 yards and a score. DeBiaso was his top target with four receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown.

"It was just one of the best wins I've ever experienced," Smith said.

Mainland will visit Central Jersey Group 4 champion Winslow Township in next week's Group 4 state semifinals. The winner will advance to Rutgers University to compete for a state championship.

The Mustangs are in a familiar spot after reaching last year's state semifinals.

"We're going to have to stay focused," Ordille said. "We know they're another great team. We just have to have a great week of practice and get ready to win next week."

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