In a must win-game and with its playoff hopes on the line, Ocean turned the ball over on its first two possessions on Saturday morning and quickly found itself down 14 points against Freehold.
In the final 30 seconds of the first half, though, the Spartans were awakened when junior Mike Halawani swatted down a Freehold punt and senior Tommy Lyster took it 21 yards into the end zone. From there, the Spartans rattled off 21 unanswered points for a 28-14 win over the Colonials that clinched a berth in the NJIAA playoffs.
“It was the biggest play of the game,” Ocean coach Don Klein said. “For us to make that play there with 30 seconds left in the half and coming out and getting the football in the second half, it was absolutely huge.”
Said Lyster, “We really didn’t have anything going. I just saw it bounce off a red helmet, scooped it up and ran it in.”
On the opening drive of the second half, senior quarterback Andrew Mehr quickly moved the Spartans down the field when he hit junior wide out Jair Bernier for a 35-yard gain. Two plays later, Mehr took a keeper 21 yards up the middle for the game-tying touchdown.
After a three-and-out from Freehold, Mehr led the Spartans on a 13-play, 70-yard drive to take the lead. Freshmen running back Tyler Thompson carried eight times for 42 yards, and Mehr capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Spartans a 21-14 lead.
“We just stated executing,” said Klein. “It’s been a tough few weeks on everybody. It was an unprecedented storm and from a football perspective, it was difficult for us to prepare. I think you saw a little bit of that early on, but once we got in the rhythm of the game, we executed at a high level and made a lot of plays.”
Thompson tacked on an 18-yard touchdown run with five minutes to go in the fourth to extend the lead for the Spartans. He finished with a game-high 76 yards on 19 carries.
Ocean stymied Freehold’s fourth-quarter comeback hopes with a pair of late interceptions. Halawani picked off a pass from Freehold quarterback Brad Jones with four minutes to go, and with a 1:19 remaining, sophomore Royal Moore intercepted a pass from Jones in the end zone to seal the victory for Ocean.
“When people have the opportunity to get involved in something positive, to get involved with kids, to get together, it really returns you to normalcy,” said Klein. “It returns you to your adolescence, being a kid, having fun, and I think it’s good for the community to get away from the storm, focus on a football game that had a lot of meaning.”