It’s a season of firsts for Allentown’s football program and the Redbirds established another precedent in their 35-7 victory over Ocean Saturday night in the NJSIAA Central Group III quarterfinals.
It was the first time Allentown has ever won a postseason game and it featured a smart-looking opening run of 21 points in the first quarter. Senior Norman Williams, a 1,000-yard rusher this season, scored on a 32-yard run in the third quarter that effectively fended off an Ocean comeback bid.
Williams ran for a total of 134 yards. Ocean freshman tailback Tyler Thompson had a team-high 54 yards.
Allentown is 9-1, the best record in program history, and heads into a playoff rematch with Neptune in two weeks. The Scarlet Fliers beat Allentown 40-33 in overtime a year ago, ending Allentown’s first trip to the playoffs.
But the return visit to the postseason for Allentown shaped up as a promising opportunity as a No. 1 seed against Ocean (4-4-1), which squeezed into the playoffs last week with a dramatic victory over Freehold. Ocean prevailed despite turning the ball over on its first two possessions and falling behind by 14 points against Freehold.
This time Ocean spotted 21 points to Allentown before fighting back. Cole Mehr beat single coverage on the left sideline and scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass from his older brother, Andrew Mehr, in the opening minute of the second quarter, cutting Allentown’s lead to 21-7.
But that didn’t erase what the Spartans surrendered in the first quarter. It was ugly at times. When Allentown’s Mark Duffy scored on a 22-yard pass from quarterback Nick Palladino to make it 21-0, Ocean was still looking for its initial first down and was behind in total yards 13 to 150.
Allentown’s earlier touchdowns came on a 31-yard pass from Palladino to his favorite target, Jake Lewis, and a 30-yard run by Daivone Thomas, a 270-pound fullback who shrugged off several tackle attempts.
Palladino entered the game with 1,400 passing yards, with 600 of them in combination with Lewis.
Ocean also rallied late in the second quarter, using 13 plays to take the ball from its 23 to the Allentown 3, but Thompson couldn’t hang on to Andrew Mehr’s pitch on fourth down, turning the ball back to Allentown.
The best previous record for Allentown was a 6-3 mark in 1967. There were plenty of lean years. The team had a 31-game losing streak that stretched several years and ended in 2008.