Sean Carey’s inspiring, courageous comeback reached a high point on Friday night.
The Mainland Regional High School senior place-kicker missed a season and a half of football a few years ago after being diagnosed with cancer in his right hip.
Carey delivered one of the biggest kicks for the Mustangs at Ocean City, booting a career-long 41-yard field goal with one second remaining in regulation to clinch a 24-21 victory over the Red Raiders.
“This was something I’ve been dreaming about since last December,” Carey said before being mobbed by his teammates and receiving a game ball from coach Chuck Smith. “And it finally happened tonight.”
Ocean City had seemingly forced overtime with its own dramatic rally just a minute earlier. Senior quarterback Ian Aungst completed six passes during an 80-yard drive, firing spirals that sliced through a stiff wind blowing off the Ocean City Boardwalk.
He capped the comeback with a 14-yard touchdown pass, his second of the game, to wide receiver Brandon Lashley with 1:08 left in regulation to cut Mainland’s lead to 21-19 and then hit Joe Kroeger for the two-point conversion that tied the contest.
“The kids played their hearts out,” Ocean City coach Kevin Smith said. “For Ian to do what he did, especially against that wind, was tremendous.”
Mainland had just enough time for a miracle.
Junior quarterback Zack Graziotto, who played the entire second half, and senior running back Joe Massari combined to help the Mustangs move swiftly downfield. Mainland reached Ocean City’s 19-yard line as the clock wound down and then incurred a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty that moved the ball to the 24.
Carey, who kicks with his left foot, wasn’t worried since the wind was at his back. The snap and the hold were perfect, and he booted the game-winning kick over the crossbar with 10 yards to spare, setting off a wild celebration among Mainland’s student section and on the sideline.
Carey is 6 for 6 on field goals this season and hasn’t missed an extra point.
“Once we were going with the wind, I knew I had a chance,” Carey said. “I’ve been hitting 50-yarders in practice, so it was cool to finally make one over 40 in a game.”
Especially this game.
Mainland-Ocean City is one of the area’s most intense rivalries. The schools are located about 6 miles from each other and regularly compete for league, South Jersey and even state titles in almost every sport.
With Friday’s win, Mainland (6-2) earned at least a share of the West Jersey Football League Independence Division title and strengthened its bid to earn a spot in the South Jersey Group IV playoffs.
“For Sean to make that kick under those circumstances was unbelievable,” Chuck Smith said. “I know the wind was at his back, but for him to make under that kind of pressure and after all he’s been through is great for him.”
The game lived up to its hype.
Aungst threw for over 200 yards with two TD passes and ran for another score. Lashley led Ocean City with two touchdown receptions and completed a 30-yard option pass. Linebackers Travis Stoerre and Brandon Lin led the Red Raiders’ defense that forced a fumble and blocked a punt.
“Our kids played very well,” Kevin Smith said. “Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team. When you lose a game like that on a last-second field goal, all you can do is shrug your shoulders.
Mainland trailed 14-7 before staging a second-half rally behind Massari’s 35-yard touchdown run and a 3-yard TD from Dennis Moreno.
The Mustangs’ defense was outstanding, especially senior defensive end Dezmen Barlow. The 5-foot-10, 187-pounder spent most of the game in Ocean City’s offensive backfield, getting five of the Mustangs’ six sacks. Junior tight end Brayden Pohlman had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“There was a lot on the line tonight,” Chuck Smith said. “Division title, playoff spots. And the kids really came through.”
Don’t forget bragging rights.
“That, too,” Smith said with a smile. “At least until basketball season.”
Mainland 0 7 7 10—24
Ocean City; 7 6 0 8—21
OC — Lashley 7 pass from Aungst (McGonigle kick)
M — Salome 12 run (Carey kick)
OC — Aungst 4 run (Kick failed)
M — Massari 35 run (Carey kick)
M — Moreno 3 run (Carey kick)
OC — Lashley 14 pass from Aungst (Kroeger pass from Aungst)
M — Carey 41 field goal.
Records: Mainland 6-2; Ocean City 3-4