At this time next year, Cinjun Erskin expects to be talking about an NJSIAA South Jersey Group III championship.
“In 364 days, we’re going to be back here,” said the junior quarterback, after the Bengals were whacked by Delsea, 31-7, in Saturday’s sectional final at Rowan University. “We have a bunch a guys with a lot of heart, and now that we know what it takes to get here we’re going to be back. We have something we can build on.”
Ten years ago, the only one talking about getting to a section final was head coach Rob Davis. And people laughed. There was no way the Bengals would be in a sectional final within eight varsity seasons, they said.
But Davis has had the last laugh, as he already starts looking ahead toward next season, and the season after, and several seasons beyond that.
“Today, we had eight starters on offense who were underclassmen and six on defense, and a whole bunch more who saw playing time,” Davis said. “Our varsity team was 10-2. Our JV team was 7-2. If people can’t be excited about what this program has become and what we have coming up during the next few years, then I’m not going to satisfy anybody.”
On Saturday, Delsea was flat-out better than Barnegat. The Crusaders crashed the line better. They put pressure on the quarterback better. They ran the ball better. They were faster and more physical on defense.
The Bengals matched the fire, but couldn’t match the firepower.
“Delsea is a really good football team,” Erskine said. “They brought the house tonight and beat us up pretty good. They played like a championship team, like a team that’s been here before.”
Next year, Barnegat will have more experience and should have more firepower.
Erskine will be back. Junior running back Tyler McGuinness and sophomore running back Paul Wickwire will be back. Junior wide receiver/linebacker Manny Bowen will be back. Junior wide receivers Kyle Morris, who made a great grab to set up Barnegat’s only score on Saturday, and Kenny Bass will be back.
Throw in a slew of younger linemen, including junior Sam Madden at 6-7, 340 pounds, and whatever talent is coming up from the Russell O. Brackman Middle School program, and it’s easy to understand Davis’ excitement about the future.
“We have a great class of juniors and they’re going to have to carry the torch next year,” Davis said. “Delsea has a lot of experience and they’ve been here a lot, and we’re still trying to build up to that.
“But we don’t want to just make the playoffs anymore. We want to build up to the point where we’re playing in this game every season.”
And Saturday’s game was one of those experiences the Bengals can take into the August preseason and know they will be in better shape because of it.
“It won’t be anything new next year,” Erskine said. “Coming into today, we had no idea what this was like. We didn’t play on turf all season. We had no clue what any of this was about. But next year, just knowing what getting here is about is going to give us that much more confidence.”
And that’s where all of this learning stuff leads. Sports is an extension of the classroom, and Barnegat’s players learned some big lessons Saturday.