By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD – The best pass Junior Hans has thrown since becoming the Wildwood High School football team’s quarterback helped the Warriors complete a stunning comeback Saturday afternoon.
Hans dropped a perfect 30-yard pass into the arms of Ryan Troiano in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown to give Wildwood its first lead early in the third quarter.
“It was a perfect pass, his best ball of the season,” Troiano said. “He hit me right in stride. It was a great feeling to get in the end zone.”
The Warriors, who had trailed 20-0 late in the second quarter, then used numerous defensive stands over the remainder of the game to hold on for a 24-20 win on Homecoming Day.
“We’re always told not to give up and to keep our heads up and keep fighting,” Troiano said.
Wildwood (3-5) didn’t seem to have much fight throughout most of the first half. Justin Mary Jr.’s seven-yard touchdown run with 2:06 to go in the half gave Riverside a 20-0 lead.
But Hans suddenly got hot with the pass. He completed three to Troiano, one for 29 yards, on the next possession as Wildwood moved the ball to the 12-yard line. Hans ran in from there on a scramble and also added the two-point conversion run to put the Warriors on the board with 1:08 left in the half.
The game’s seminal moment occurred on the next play. Anthony Freeman recovered an onside kick to give Wildwood the ball at Riverside’s 45-yard line. A few pass plays, followed by a 15-yard completion from Troiano to Joey Mormile on a wide-receiver backward pass play set Wildwood up at the 1-yard line. Hans ran in on the next play with eight seconds left in the half and then tossed to James Wyers for the two-point conversion as the Warriors suddenly closed to within six at 20-14 at the break.
“Recovering that onside kick totally flipped the script for us,” Loomis said. “We thought we would have a little momentum going into the locker room anyway after getting that score, but then to get the onside kick and go down and score was huge. To only be down one score at half after the way the game started was great for us.”
Wildwood quickly drove for the go-ahead score on the first possession of the second half. A facemask penalty on Riverside and an 18-yard pass play from Hans to Wyers on a fourth-and-six play gave Wildwood the ball at the Riverside 30. That’s when Hans executed his perfectly thrown ball to Troiano to give Wildwood the lead, with Wyers again catching the two-point conversion pass.
Wildwood’s defense had to do the job from there. Riverside (2-5) twice drove inside the Warrior 10-yard line in the second half, only to fumble the ball away both times. The Rams then got inside Wildwood’s 20-yard line with less than a minute to go, but a halfback pass on a fourth-and-eight play sailed out of bounds in the end zone with 38 seconds to go.
“Coach (Casey) Dillon has done a phenomenal job with the defense all year,” Loomis said. “The kids are buying in. We’re big on bend but don’t break and fight and try to live to play another down, and we were able to hold them out in the second half. Mad props to our guys for that.”
In addition to his two touchdown runs, Hans went 13 for 25 for 164 yards and a score through the air. Troiano caught seven balls, including a touchdown, for 103 yards. Wyers added three catches for 38 yards, in addition to his two two-point conversion catches.
Joey Mormile ran 21 times for 87 yards.
The result gives Wildwood at least three wins in a season for the first time since 2012, when the Warriors, led by eventual NFL player Wes Hills, finished 6-4.
“This is an amazing win,” Loomis said. “It’s awesome to do it on Homecoming, with a lot of alumni here and a lot of people around town here on a beautiful Saturday for football. To get a three-win season, I think it shows us we’re doing the right thing. We’re trying to build this, and hopefully there’s more to come for us.”
Wildwood will play some kind of NJSIAA consolation game next week against an opponent to be determined.