Not Hurricane Sandy, not a snow-filled nor’easter and most importantly not the Hammonton High School football team were going to keep Millville from fulfilling its destiny.
The Thunderbolts, in a wintry scene at Wheaton Field on Wednesday night, outlasted Hammonton, 20-14, to punch their ticket to a third straight playoff appearance.
It is unclear who Millville’s opponent will be as the team waits for the rest of the week’s slate of South Jersey contests to play out. The Bolts will almost certainly take to the road for next week’s Group V South postseason game and likely be seeded anywhere from sixth to eighth.
But before Millville (5-3) could even begin to worry about that, the group had to stop a visiting Blue Devils (4-4) team also fighting for its playoff lives. The game was originally scheduled for Nov. 2, but Hurricane Sandy forced its delay.
Wednesday’s nor’easter blanketed the region with snow, but Millville and Hammonton were determined to play. In pregame warmups, the excitement on both sides was evident.
“This is something I wanted to do since I was six years old,” Millville two-way lineman Antoine White said. “It was a dream come true playing in this, but would I do it again? No, not by choice, but it was definitely a great experience out here.”
Making it even better was that Millville picked up its first home win of the season, on Homecoming no less, and put together a strong second half at the one point in the year that it needed it most.
Trailing 14-12 coming out of halftime, Millville running back Robert Ennis Jr. provided the only points of the final two quarters on a 14-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Ennis, who finished with 178 yards on 27 carries, somehow managed to cut on a dime back to his left after starting momentum to the right. The sophomore walked in the end zone untouched for the eventual game-winning score.
“With everything on the line, I guess you play in any conditions, do whatever it takes to get a victory and that’s what we did,” Ennis said. “Just to get back into the playoffs, to get back into the race… in the beginning of the season we said just get back in the playoffs, get back in the dance, and we’ll go from there.”
Getting to the postseason was no easy chore for Millville.
The team put a lot of pressure on itself to win Wednesday by giving away leads, and wins, to Absegami and Egg Harbor Township earlier this year. When faced with a similar task against Hammonton, Millville found a way to get the job done.
The Blue Devils marched 15 plays on the game’s last possession, advancing to the Bolts’ 21-yard line with before calling a timeout with 1.7 seconds to play. Hammonton quarterback Christian Mortellite stepped into the pocket and fired to the end zone, but his pass fell incomplete.
Millville stormed the field in celebration.
“We needed to have a great second half considering those other couple games (Absegami and EHT) and we got another opportunity, which is nice in life, and found a way to get a big win for our program,” Millville coach Jason Durham said.
Millville couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game after returning the opening kickoff to the Hammonton 47-yard line.
Ennis plowed through the snow to the Blue Devils’ 3-yard line then punched it in a play later to give Millville a 6-0 lead just 26 seconds into the contest.
It wouldn’t take Hammonton long to regain momentum, however.
The teams traded three-and-outs before Blue Devils running back David Williams scored on the first play of the ensuing drive on a 46-yard run down the left sideline with 5:53 left in the first quarter. Williams added another score on a 13-yard reception from Mortellite with 8:59 to go in the second quarter to give Hammonton a 14-6 lead.
Millville answered in the closing moments of the first half when quarterback Rashon Sorrell muscled his way into the end zone on a 1-yard sneak with 4:42 left in the second quarter to get the Bolts within 14-12.