The Millville High School football team entered Friday night’s contest against Holy Spirit averaging an impressive 31 points per game.
The Spartans defense, meanwhile, came into the much-anticipated Cape-Atlantic League American Conference showdown allowing just 8½ points per game. Something had to give, and unfortunately for the Thunderbolts, it was their typically potent offense.
The Spartans rolled into Wheaton Field, and without the services of their starting quarterback for the majority of the game, topped host Millville, 16-7, in a defensive struggle that all but ended the Bolts’ hopes of capturing a conference title.
Millville slipped to 3-2 on the season, while Holy Spirit remained unbeaten on the year at 5-0.
“It’s a pride thing for us as a team and it’s something that we’re going to have to overcome,” Bolts captain and two-way lineman Antoine White said. “Our preparation for this team was good. We just came out and didn’t execute. You take a loss like this at any time and no matter who it is, it’s going to hurt.”
After scoring on its first possession of the game courtesy of a 41-yard touchdown run by junior running back Rob Ennis Jr. that tied the game at 7-7, Millville simply could not get anything going offensively against a stout bunch of Spartans defenders.
The Bolts managed to enter Holy Spirit territory just once outside of their scoring drive and were limited to their lowest scoring output of the season. Still, Millville battled to a 7-7 tie at halftime with the Spartans and had a chance to build momentum after receiving the opening kickoff of the second half.
The Bolts struggled on the possession, however, going 3-and-out and setting up Holy Spirit at its own 45-yard line after the punt.
“At halftime, we felt pretty good at that point,” Millville coach Jason Durham said. “We came out and didn’t execute on the first couple of plays and that kind of put us back and forced us to punt, and wound up changing field position. We just needed to do a better job on that series.”
The Spartans took advantage, mounting a 10-play drive that ended with a 27-yard field goal by Franco Rifici that gave Spirit a 10-7 lead with 5:08 left in the third quarter.
Ennis, who ran for 86 yards in the first half, found less running room in the second, finishing with 104 yards on 24 carries. Millville quarterback Roberto Rivera tried to make plays behind a strong effort from the offensive line, but finding receivers wasn’t easy.
The senior finished 8-of -19 passing for 57 yards and two interceptions.
“I’ve got faith in my line, I got hit a few times, banged up, but it’s football,” Rivera said. “You got to get back up. It’s a whole team effort why we lost. It wasn’t any one thing.”
The Spartans iced the game late in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Andrew Light, playing in place of the injured T.J. Anderson, hit Taylor Jordan on a 34-yard pass play — Spirit’s only completion of the game — on 3rd-and- 11. Two plays later, Spartans running back Angelo Dawson went 41 yards untouched to give his team a decisive 16-7 edge.
The Bolts’ comeback bid ended with a Rivera desperation interception. Holy Spirit would simply run out the clock from there.
“It’s difficult, it’s hard on the players and I just ask that they continue to stick together,” Durham said. “We’re just going to keep working at it. We can’t change the past, we just have to continue to try and get better.”
Millville will look to get back on track Friday when it travels to Egg Harbor Township hoping to avenge a loss to the Eagles last season.