MOUNT OLIVE, NJ- The Randolph football team traveled to Mount Olive on Friday Oct. 4 looking to rebound from their first loss of the season the week before. However, the Mauraders made it clear right from the start they were not interested in helping the Rams cause, as they played aggressive football from the first whistle, and grinding their way to a 15-13 win.
“This was a tough game, with two tough teams battling tonight,” said Rams coach Will Nahan. “They ( Mt. Olive ) have a lot of talent, and they came in with three losses, but they had close losses, and they could have been 4-0.”
After failing to move the ball on their first two possessions of the game, the Rams averted a near disaster when punting from their own 20-yard line. An errant snap sailed into the end zone, where punter Justin Lawler alertly picked it up, ran a few steps, and booted it out of harms’ way.
Taking possession at their own 48, Mount Olive went to work, driving the field with a bevy or running plays and capping it off with a 6-yard touchdown run. The point after was missed and it was 6-0 Mt. Olive.
With the Rams offense stuck in neutral and punting again, the defense stepped up and made a momentum changing play.
Justin Townsend came up with a sack for a 10-yard loss, and proceeded to pressure the Mt. Olive QB again on the very next play. Townsend’s pressure forced a quick throw, one that Lawler tipped into the air, caught, and took 3-yards into the end zone for a Rams touchdown and a 7-6 lead.
The defense held strong again on the next possession when the marauders attempted a fourth and three from their own 45- yard line. Darian Ghahary met the runner in the backfield, before being joined by his teammates, to stuff the play and give the ball back to the Rams.
But, another three and out by the offense forced another punt, which was blocked by Mount Olive. Taking possession on the Rams 40-yard line, they used a 35-yard QB scramble to reach the three yard line. Two plays later, they scored for a 13-6 lead with 2:30 left in the half.
Hoping to make a late run for points, the Rams offense allowed a sack and a subsequent fumble, which ended that hope on their own 40-yard line. The defense held strong again however, and the half-ended 13-6.
“They played sound defense on us tonight,” said Nahan. "Unfortunately, they had answers for us. But it didn’t help that we also didn’t execute.”
The second half kickoff provided a sign of more miscues to come, as the Rams fumbled the return, giving Mt. Olive great field position deep in Randolph territory.
A defensive stand and a missed field goal fired up the Randolph bench. However, the Mauraders defense also answered the bell, bottling up the Rams offense and forcing a punt.
Unfortunately for the Rams, another special teams’ mistake struck, with a high snap sailing out of the end zone for a safety, giving Mt Olive a 15-7 lead.
The teams traded a few possessions, until late in the fourth when the Rams finally executed a full field offensive drive.
Starting at their own 20-yard line, a 12-yard screen pass from QB Matt Kleiven to Townsend and a 12-yard toss sweep to Jimmy Pepe put the ball just shy of the 50.
Kleiven again hit Townsend on a screen pass, and the big back broke a tackle and raced down to the eight-yard line.
Two plays later, Kleiven, who was under pressure often in the game, dropped back to pass. Feeling the rush coming once again, he saw a seam to his left and took off, scrambling into the end zone for an 8-yard TD run, giving the Rams a chance to tie the game.
The two point attempt after was stopped however, and the score remained 15-13.
Randolph threatened to take the lead late in the fourth after the shifty Pepe had a nice punt return, followed by two highlight reel runs to give his team a first down on the Mount Olive 27-yard line. But, a sack and penalties pushed them back and ended that drive.
In the final minute Randolph had one last chance starting from their own 10, but after receptions by Townsend, Pepe, and Lawler moved them out to the 50, they ran out of time.
“When we lose, in this program we just go back to work and keep fighting," said Nahan. “We will learn from this, and come out and battle next week.”
Randolph’s defense played much better football in the second half, shutting out Mount Olive, aided by Lawler’s two-second half sacks. Their offense also moved the ball with more consistency in the half, as they found more success in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
However, they lost the field position battle, and a fumbled punt return in the fourth quarter was another mistake that didn’t help their cause.
“I was extremely proud of how hard we played in the second half,” said Nahan. “We literally fought until the last second when we ran out of time.”
Ranolph hits the road again next Friday, playing Rival Roxbuty on Oct. 11