Going up against one of the best football squads in the state for Monday’s scrimmage, the Vineland High School football team got a close-up look at where it wants to eventually be in the future.
And if the preseason game was a true teaching experience, the Fighting Clan learned that they have a long way to go to reach their ultimate goal.
Timber Creek, the defending Group III South champion backed by a lineup loaded with Division-I talent, ran roughshot over Vineland, scoring seven touchdowns and constantly frustrated the Fighting Clan’s offense during a hot and humid afternoon in Camden County.
With a team filled with lots of new faces, many in key spots, Vineland has had the tough task of playing its first two scrimmages against deep, physical teams in Atlantic City and Timber Creek in the span of five days.
While the final results haven’t exactly been pretty, Vineland senior tight end/linebacker Calvin Stiles doesn’t think the team is far from turning the corner.
“It just feels like we’re one block or one tackle away from making big things (happen) on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We need to learn how to finish plays, execute and finish.”
Vineland coach Josh Hedgeman agreed that one of the things the team desperately needs to improve upon is the ability to finish plays and tackles — and that begins in practice.
“It’s a learning process and these kids have to learn how to practice, it’s still something we are working on,” he said. “They have to learn to bring that intensity to practice every day. Some days we have it, others it’s lacking.”
Vineland’s offense, which struggled to produce points in the latter stages of last season, scuffled through most of Monday’s scrimmage. The Fighting Clan had five possessions, failing to move the ball with any consistency and fumbling the ball away four times.
The three-player battle for starting quarterback failed to produce a frontrunner over the two scrimmages.
Junior Angel Rodriguez, the incumbent starter, ran 15 plays against Timber Creek and was the only one of the three quarterbacks that didn’t create a turnover against the Chargers.
Junior Chris Atoki and senior Rovell McArthur each showed the ability to get away from a heavy rush, but both must show better protection of the ball to go along with those scrambling skills.
Hedgeman said he would like to name a starting quarterback before Friday’s last scrimmage against Schalick. Game time is 7 p.m. at Gittone Stadium.
■ Wide receiver Toure Douglas (hip flexor) and running back Isaiah Spencer (hamstring) each sat out again with injuries while senior two-way lineman Ben Henderson (knee) joined the walking wounded. All three are hopeful to play on Friday.
■ Without the luxury of looking at the film, Hedgeman praised the play of junior Zach Banks, who filled in for Henderson at left tackle, and sophomore Lamar Copeland, who has been impressive at defensive tackle so far this preseason.
— Tom McGurk
The firepower Millville’s offense possessed entering last season was never in question.
It was the Thunderbolts’ defense that was riddled with question marks leading into the 2011 opener.
Outside of allowing 55 points to Pennsauken in the Group IV South title game, Millville’s ball stoppers performed admirably — yielding just 142 points in 11 games, or 12.9 points per game.
That stingy points-against total is a subject of pride for the members of the Bolts’ base 4-3 defense that return this season.
“The focus is to keep things moving, to pick up where we left off and better ourselves every time we put our pads on, whether it’s a game, scrimmage, any football function,” junior defensive tackle Antoine White said.
Like any team, Millville will have to plug some new faces into the equation.
White does not see that holding the unit back, however.
“The physicality of the players in this group is the same as last year,” White said. “We should be OK. We should be ready. When we get that experience, we can be just as talented as the guys from last year.
“We lost a good deal of players, but I feel like we’ll do just as well.”
If the team’s first set of scrimmages were any indication, then White is right.
Millville has yet to allow a touchdown through three sessions, which included Glassboro, Cumberland and Salem as the opposition. The Bolts hosted Cumberland and Salem on Saturday with the only negative report from coach Jason Durham being the team could have tackled better.
Millville still has some time to shake off the rust though.
“There are big shoes to fill, but we also have a lot of returning players with experience,” junior middle linebacker Ed Shockley said. “Defense was definitely one of our strong points last season and one big turnover or something can spark the entire team. Hopefully we can come back with that kind of play this year.”
■ The starting quarterback battle between senior Rashon Sorrell and junior Roberto Rivera was decided on Monday. Sorrell will be under center when the Bolts travel to Atlantic City on Sept. 7 to open the season. Durham said while their passing abilities were close, Sorrell won the job based on his varsity experience (started at wide receiver as a junior) and ability to run with the ball.
— Anthony Coppola
Another scrimmage and another set of big schools for Buena.
The Chiefs made a trip up to Manahawkin on Saturday, where they faced off against host Southern, Seneca and Long Branch. Southern is a Group V school, Seneca is Group IV and Long Branch is Group III. Buena, of course, is Group II.
Facing off against the larger schools could pay dividends when the regular season rolls around, according to second-year coach Jonathan Caputo.
“I feel like you gotta get prepared,” Caputo said. “This way, when we see bigger schools and their size, it’s not something new.”
Buena scrimmaged Sterling and Shawnee on Wednesday and has a final preseason meeting with Woodstown on Thursday. Woodstown is the only other Group II squad the Chiefs will face before the regular season. Sterling is Group III and Shawnee is Group IV and a powerhouse.
No matter the opponent though, Caputo said he was happy with his team’s showing on Saturday. In the first scrimmage, it was mistakes that stood out and those mistakes were more from a little rust.
“We looked a lot better,” Caputo said. “We executed a lot better.”
Caputo praised junior quarterback Eric Rainear’s performance from over the weekend and said sophomore linebacker Neal Nelson stood out on defense. Nelson is likely in the lineup, along with senior Dom DeFoor and Dustin Endicott, at linebacker, making for a solid grouping with plenty of experience. Rainear locked down the starting job at QB last year with a solid performance down the stretch.
Buena opens the season with a Group V school in Vineland, then faces Group III Ocean City the following week. In all, five of the Chiefs’ nine regular season games come against schools who are Group III or larger and the slate includes a second Group V opponent in Atlantic City. Cedar Creek — which is Group I — is the only school on the Chiefs’ schedule with a smaller enrollment.
— Patrick Buganski