OCEAN CITY – Brady Rauner remembers.
He remembers playing football in the dirt fields behind Ocean City elementary school a decade ago, games where the opposition was “supposed to put 100 on that scoreboard,” he said.
He remembers Nov. 3, 2017. He was a freshman sitting in the student section at Carey Stadium watching his Red Raider elders get blown off the field by St. Joseph, 46-7.
He remembers the “disgusting” feeling he had that night, and how it was amplified a few days later when the freshman squad was shut out by the Wildcats.
The victory was their first over the Hammonton program since 1976, snapping a 10-game skid in the matchup.
“This is one of the greatest moments I’ve had on a football field,” Rauner said.
His teammates felt the same way.
Rauner’s pick sent the sideline into a frenzy. Players stormed the field in jubilation as the final seconds ticked off. Before their postgame huddle, they took a team photo to commemorate the moment.
There weren’t supposed to be “championship” during this COVID season, but this certainly felt like one for the Red Raiders.
“That’s a statement win out there,” quarterback Joe Repetti said.
It’s one Ocean City wasn’t sure it was going to make.
The Red Raiders don’t lack confidence, but they felt the mystique of St. Joseph, the 20-time state title winners, in the leadup to kickoff.
Repetti admitted there was a hint of doubt. Could “underdog” Ocean City really topple the behemoth?
It didn’t look good early as the Wildcats forced the Red Raiders into a three-and-out on their opening possession, then drove the field and took a 7-0 lead on Ahmad Ross’ 3-yard plunge.
But Ocean City gained confidence those first seven minutes.
“We came out a little timid,” senior lineman Will Drain said, “but after that first drive, we knew could play with ’em.”
From that point on, the Red Raiders (6-0) proved it.
They controlled all three phases of the game, particularly on defense, which limited St. Joseph (5-2) to 136 yards of offense after the opening possession.
“I think the private schools down here, Holy Spirit, (St. Augustine) and St. Joe’s, they have kind of an aura about ’em,” head coach Kevin Smith said. “There aren’t too many schools that knock ’em off. We haven’t done it, and I think these are 16-, 17-year-olds, they’ve got questions about stuff. They don’t know what they can do until they do it, but we figured it out.”
Ocean City heard talk all week about how its undefeated record wasn’t real, how its schedule was the reason for its success.
The Red Raiders don’t want to hear it anymore.
“We proved that we can play with anybody,” Drain said. “St. Joe is one of the top programs in the state and what we just said to them was we could play with anybody.”
► Repetti set a school record last season with 20 touchdown passes, but it was his legs that made the difference Friday.
While Repetti has run the ball plenty during his career, he couldn’t remember ever carrying the ball this much. He finished with 23 attempts for 88 yards in the triumph.
“We told him he was going to be a fullback tonight,” Smith laughed. “We just thought that was something we could take advantage of. We wanted to grind the clock and keep the ball away from (St. Joseph). We didn’t really break off any big runs, but we made enough first downs, especially in that fourth quarter.”
Repetti was 7-of-12 passing as well for 44 yards and a touchdown, a 5-yarder to Jake Schneider in the second quarter, which put the Red Raiders up for good, 10-7.
“This guy’s a winner,” offensive coordinator Paul Callahan said.
► Ocean City took a 12-7 lead with 3:08 left the fourth quarter when Drain and Matt Christy combined for a safety.
“I’m going to tell my grandchildren about that,” Christy said.
The Red Raiders’ other points came on a 23-yard field goal by Brendan McGonigle.
► The key play of the game was one that didn’t count.
Near the end of the third, St. Joseph quarterback Jayden Shertel connected with Keshon Griffin for a 40-yard touchdown pass. However, a holding penalty negated the score.
Head coach Paul Sacco didn’t like the call, but felt St. Joseph’s inconsistency was ultimately to blame for the defeat.
“Listen, we put ourselves in this position,” he said. “First drive, we were very good. I said oh man, we’re playing, we just wanted to play start to finish. And then, all of a sudden, we stopped playing. That’s been our MO all year long and you can’t wait until the second half to play football. We waited till the last three minutes to play football and you can’t do that.”
Smith gave Friday’s game ball to Ocean City defensive backs coach Frank LaSasso, who drew up the game plan to stop St. Joseph.
His dad, Frank LaSasso Jr., was a lifelong Hammonton resident and coached with numerous programs in the city over the years, including St. Joseph football. He passed away on Tuesday at age 87.
“That meant a lot to Frank to win that game tonight,” Smith said.
Josh Friedman has produced award-winning South Jersey sports coverage for the Courier Post and The Daily Journal for more than a decade. If you have or know of an interesting story to tell, reach out on Twitter at @JFriedman57 or via email at email@example.com. You can also contact him at 856-486-2431. Help support local journalism with a Courier Post subscription.