With the local midget football program in attendance, the Pennsville Memorial Eagles gave the Eagles of next year a reason to celebrate.
But it wasn't all fun and games for the high schoolers.
Pennsville was held scoreless in the first half, but not for lack of opportunity. Frustratingly, they were denied on fourth down three times in Gateway Gator territory after having their opening drive result in a blocked field goal.
It was clear that the gameplan coming into tonight was to attack through the air early, and it looked like they'd found a formula for success. Quarterback Robert McDade threw on the first three plays from scrimmage, connecting immediately with Malik Rehmer for a 34 yard gain on the first play of the night.
Rehmer was the focus early for McDade, drawing the lion's share of the targets. He was cooking over the top, and while the pass was completed, that first play was a long score if not for a bit of an underthrow. It was the first of many opportunities that would slip through Eagle fingers, as Rehmer would later drop an easy touchdown after beating his defender for a turnover on downs.
Initial success dried up, and neither team was doing much offensively in the first half. Suddenly, the seas parted for the Gators, and a handoff was bounced outside and down the left sideline for well over 50 yards.
The next play, Sean Simmons rolled out to his right and found Aidan Bender for a touchdown.
It was a disappointing turn of events for the Eagles. They'd just had a field goal blocked, and the Gators hadn't shown life to that point. After losing last week, things could've unraveled.
There wasn't a quick fix-- Pennsville spent the next three drives failing to convert big fourth downs in Gateway territory-- but it felt like a breakthrough was coming. The field position battle was tilted heavily in the Eagles favor, and the Gateway offense was bottled up by a defensive line led by 6'7" Daniel Saulin, the disruptor of the night defensively. It was only a matter of time.
After the first drive of the second half resulted in a punt, Pennsville shifted focus. Having established the threat of Malik Rehmer, it was time for their lead back to take command.
Skye Eppes had been running into traffic all night, but it was evident right away that there was more room.
On their next drive, Eppes drove them deep into Gateway territory. This is where they'd been stalling all night. Not to be denied again, Robert McDade finished the job with a ten yard keeper up the middle.
An offside penalty allowed a one yard two-point conversion for Eppes, and the Eagles had flipped the script on the Gators.
The energy had shifted, and it was felt on both sides of the ball. Seconds later, the Gators fumbled at their own 20, and Eppes punched in his first touchdown. He then scored another two-point conversion, giving him ten points in the quarter and making it a two possession game.
Eppes would score again in the fourth, extending the lead to 23-7 and capping his dominant second half performance.
The Eagle defense slammed the door the rest of the way. As Gateway threatened to get back into the game late, Simmons rolled out to his right again, similar to his touchdown pass earlier, and in a bizarre turn of events, reached back and simply knocked the football out of his own hand behind him.
It was a backbreaker for the Gators, as Pennsville's Jovanni Rios was quick to pounce on the loose ball. The comeback attempt fell short, and McDade kneeled out the final minutes.
Around the Royal Division
Lower Cape May (3-0) played Cumberland (1-2) in the other divisional matchup, handling business 40-0.
Pitman (1-1) played Buena tonight, and only took three quarters to reach 41-0, the final score.
Pennsville (2-1) moves alone into second place behind Lower Cape May, keeping Gateway (0-2) at the bottom.
Up next, Pennsville hosts Schalick on September 22nd.
- Pennsville delivers big Homecoming win against Overbrook - October 7, 2023
- Schalick Stays Unbeaten in Rout of Pennsville Eagles - September 23, 2023
- Pennsville dominates second half in win over Gateway Regional - September 16, 2023