2023 Week 1 (New Jersey)
After returning home to Ohio on Wednesday, I had less than 24 hours before heading to New Jersey. At least, that was my plan. As I had done last year, I was heading to the Battle at the Beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.
I was going to drive my daughter to school, and then head east. I would stop along the way to pick up Protime, a writer and prognosticator for PA Football News, who was going to ride with me. Not just to split costs, but can make the drive to and fro enlightening. At least better than listening to podcasts and audio books.
However, my daughter’s school was cancelled due to the heat. This would mean, instead of leaving at about 8am, I was going to be leaving around 3:30pm. Sometime after her mother would be off work. This would make arrival into New Jersey a bit later than I wanted. But, it is what it is.
Just before 4pm, I headed east from Youngstown following I-680 to OH711 to I-80 and made a quick trek to DuBois, Pennsylvania. I had gassed up in Boardman at the cheapest Sheetz around. And was hoping to make it most of the way back and forth on one tank.
After a quick stop in DuBois, the two of us continued east until Bloomsburg. Where a dinner stop at Cracker Barrel was in order. No photos, as I didn’t post anything. But I had the three-entree sampler. Though the Chicken n’Dumplins was not nearly as good as I’ve had in the past. Honestly felt like I was eating uncooked dough in paste. Very dry.
Either way, we were back on the road quickly. Heading through Bloomsburg was a routing decision. As I didn’t want to take US322 through Phillipsburg and take the free route along PA283 to US30 to Philadelphia. For speed’s sake, I wanted to take the toll road. And I-80 to I-476 and US322 to I-76 were about the same timeframe and roughly the same cost. Though I-80 was expected to be much easier of a drive with less traffic that we’d experience through Harrisburg.
And then I missed my exit to I-476. I’ve taken this route to Philadelphia many times in the 2021 Spring season, and don’t know how I missed it. Other than to blame the rain and a passenger as I breezed past it. We did head down PA33 to Allentown, where we could backtrack west on US22 to the Northeast Extension.
This inadvertantly saved some toll at the expense of about a half gallon of gas. But we were on our way. We headed southwest around Philadelphia on the I-476 to I-95 to avoid the Schuylkill Expressway, and passed by Lincoln Financial Field while the Eagles preseason game was still taking place. Then, followed I-76 across the Walt Whitman Bridge to I-295 and the Atlantic City Expressway. There, it was a breeze to get to Atlantic City.
Last year, I stayed in Absecon, just south of the ACE along the Garden State Parkway. A convoluted route needed to get onto the Parkway down to Ocean City. As the entrance and exit ramps don’t all meetup where you think they would. This year, we were on US40 just west of the city. Just west of Great Island, the same island as the Atlantic City High School. At the Ramada.
In the morning, I followed my remembered route from last year. Getting to Main Street in Pleasantville and following that southwest through Pleasantville, Northfield, Linwood, and Somers Point. This way is much faster than taking US9, as it avoids much of the businesses that congest that thoroughfare. It’s also free compared to the Garden State Parkway.
In Somers Point, you make a left on Route 52, and it takes you over the two-mile long bridge to Pecks Beach, the barrier island where the city of Ocean City resides.
From there, it’s a quick traverse of several streets to get to the public parking lot for the boardwalk. Located between the boardwalk and the football field. The price is a steep $20 on Friday. And $25 now on Saturday and Sunday. However, we were able to park within feet of the primary entrance to the field.
#9 – Mainland v. Washington Twp
I had seen both teams previously at the Battle at the Beach in 2022. It wasn’t that close of a game. The scoreboard was experiencing problems, reminiscent of 2022 when the scoreboard regularly went out. Rain started early in the game and made the day miserable. Mainland would win, 26-7.
With a lot of time to kill, I headed over to the boardwalk and the public bathrooms located adjacent to the parking lot. Was still miserably clammy from the rain earlier as I wasn’t drying out from the rain earlier.
#10 – Hammonton v. St. John Vianney
Hammonton was a new team for me. But it was a miserable game. Since I had 12 games on the weekend, I took much of the game off in the stands, on the home side, in the auxiliary stands close to the school. It was one-sided, and the running clock started and finished the second game of the day very early. Hammonton 35, St. John Vianney 0.
After this game, I had a lot of time between games. So, it was back to the ocean. This time, for a dip in the water. Which a few waves caught me off guard. Which didn’t help with drying out from the earlier rain.
After that, I walked down the boardwalk to the Lobster Roll shack, and had a lunch outside of the school’s cafeteria.
I had stopped here last year. For the jumbo lobster roll, served in butter on a split-top roll, was $25. A little overpriced for the size, being on a hot dog bun when years ago I remember in Massachusetts getting a football long sub loaded with lobster for $23.
#11 – Toms River North v. Millville
Now this was projected to be the highlight of the day in terms of games. I had seen both last year. Millville Thunderbolts had crushed Thomas Jefferson, while Toms River North edged the previously mentioned Washington Twp, 28-21.
After a scoreless first quarter, Toms River North notched two scores late in the first half. Taking a comfortable, but slim, 14-0 lead. Early in the 4th, Millville scored on a long pass to make it 14-7, but Millville couldn’t bridge the gap. Losing, 14-7.
#12 – Ocean City v. Pleasantville
The night game featured the host Ocean City Red Raiders and Pleasantville Greyhounds. Pleasantville was the town just west of the hotel, and where ‘Main St’ was where we turned to head south toward Ocean City. It was my first time seeing them play.
This was a close game. Ocean City would win a close one, 14-6.
This ended the day with two close games after two one-sided contests. It was nice being parked right beyond the stadium exit. Though, at night it’s less efficient driving through Ocean City. It’s a simple street grid, but it’s not as well lit as many towns would be.
After getting back to the mainland, we stopped at the Wawa. Getting gas from a gas jockey, and then something to snack on post game. Mango chunks and a sandwich.
In the morning, it was bright and early for a return to Ocean City. The games were moved up a half hour to make more room for the ESPN broadcast of the IMG-SJP game.
#13 – West Deptford v. Hightstown
The stadium was locked down a bit more with ESPN running things. The field gates were all closed, except the two main ones that now had dedicated badge checkers. Which meant to leave the field to go to the sideline between the primary and auxiliary stands. Rather than through the end of the track.
The day was much warmer than Friday. But the wind made up for it. A consistent breeze from the Atlantic Ocean made it comfortable.
The game started with a big play by Hightstown. And first half ended with another big play. West Deptford kept it close, but it wasn’t too close. Hightstown would win, 19-7.
#14 – St. Thomas Aquinas v. Paul VI
This was the first, of three, games that featured new teams for me. For this game, I was back up in the stands. It was another one-sided game. So, I didn’t mind giving my feet a break. Even though it was comfortable from the wind, the field was still radiating the high 80s temps for anyone walking on it.
I was glad I was in the stands, as St. Thomas Aquinas got the running clock going, 42-7 over Paul VI.
#15 – Rancocas Valley v. Union
Instead of the usual 10am, 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm schedule, the first three games started at 9:30am, 12:15pm, and 3pm. With the primary game of the weekend slate being St. Joseph’s Prep v. IMG Academy, I took the second straight game shooting from the stands. I had a bad sunburn as well. So, I just enjoyed the breeze and watching the game. Both Rancocas Valley and Union were new teams for me.
It was a closer game. But, Rancocas Valley won, 21-6.
After the game, there was a ton of time to kill. Before the big game started at night. So, a trip down the boardwalk was in order. This was my first time walking the length of the boardwalk’s commercial stretch. Lined end-to-end with businesses. Just about a mile each way.
On the way back, we stopped at an ice cream stand. Spent $8 on a waffle cone.
#16 – St. Joseph’s Prep v. IMG
This was an interesting game. I had seen SJP several times in the past. This was my 9th time seeing the Hawks. And my second seeing IMG. The lone previous game was the infamous Bishop Sycamore game on ESPN in Canton.
SJP struggled, but offensively couldn’t muster much. IMG scored first, and took a 10-0 lead into the second half. Another score made it seem out of reach. And then a few miracle plays happened for SJP. First, a botched snap by IMG returned by SJP for a TD. And then a strip sack returned five yards or so for a touchdown. But, despite that, it never felt in doubt. IMG’s defense was stout and won a close one, 17-14.
After the game, it was back to Wawa for a late night snack. And back to the Ramada.
The next day, it was much of the same. A quick drive down Main St from Pleasantville and across the bridge to Ocean City. Arriving with plenty of time for the start of the first game of the day.
#17 – Collingswood v. Maple Shade
The sun was quite unrelenting for the early game. As the cloud cover receded from the shore, and left the sun to the east. As I just stood in the east/southeast endzone for much of the game. Keeping the sun at my back.
These were two small schools, and the last game featuring two teams I hadn’t see prior. Collingswood would win easily, 34-0 over Maple Shade.
Between games, was time in the hospitality room for lunch. Today was Pear Pecan Salad and Chicken Parm with Gnocci. There was very little Chicken available. And ran out very fast. The salad was good, though. The dressing was different. Some type of vinegarette. But it was decent.
On Friday, the meal was ceasar salad and chicken. On Saturday, was mixed greens with chicken and baked ziti.
#18 – Cedar Creek v. Matawan
Another game, and another blowout. Was my first time seeing Matawan. Cedar Creek is now the first New Jersey team I’ve seen play at least three times. Cedar Creek would win comfortably, 42-0.
#19 – Holy Spirit v. Conwell Egan Catholic
This was the final ‘big game’ of the weekend to cover. With only two Pennsylvania teams on the docket. This was an important one. In 2022, Holy Spirit beat Cherokee on a last second field goal. This year, they were playing Conwell Egan from suburban Philadelphia. The first time I got to see them play.
Holy Spirit started in the first quarter with a 10 yard TD run. And then recorded the first safety of the weekend. Thanks to a sack in the endzone. CEC would answer in the second quarter with a 95 yard TD run. But wouldn’t be enough. Holy Spirit would rack up two more touchdowns to win comfortably, 24-7.
Between games, it was a chance for cold pizza in the hospitality room. Plain cheese, that was in a swirl pattern from Manco & Manco. A style I wasn’t a fan of but was something to snack on.
#20 – Highland v. Timber Creek
This was the last game of the day. It was a big game locally. And expected to be a close matchup. And the plan was to stay for the entire game. But with four Sunday games, it would make getting home that much later. Last year, there was only three Sunday games with a slightly later start.
The plan being, if the game was close, we’d stay to the end. If it went one-sided we’d head on out in the second half. But this game took forever. Including a touchdown reversal. The officials called it a touchdown, on a 4th and goal from the 20, but while lining up for the PAT, declared it was incomplete. Negating the touchdown. And giving possession to Highlands.
Highlands would answer, though, with a short touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 7-6. Timber Creek would go up 14-6 at the break. And add another score early in the 3rd. And then the delays started snowballing. With another 5 yard TD run, Timber Creek would go up, 27-6 with 4:20 left in the third. And that was the decision to leave early. We stayed through the end of the third. And then made our way out of the stadium.
Didn’t miss much. As the fourth quarter was scoreless. Timber Creek winning, 34-6.
After the game, it was a 438 mile drive home. Stopping first at the Wawa for a sandwich. Then, a quick drive down Laurel Drive and onto the Garden State Parkway. Sunday night, it was busier than usual. And then the Atlantic City Expressway. Which traveled at a brisk 80mph most of the way.
Across the Walt Whitman Bridge and down the Schuykill Expressway. This time, it was a trek west on the PA Turnpike to Harrisburg. Taking a circuitous route around town and heading out on US322 to State College. Following it through Phillipsburg and cut-across on PA970 to I-80. Stopping to drop off Protime in DuBois and then a 110 mile drive further home. Having left DuBois around 3am, and getting home around 5am.
Total drive for the weekend was 976 miles. I drove them all. And cost $269.70 for the entire weekend. Half the cost of gas was $50.70. Tolls were on my EZPass account, but the general cost was covered already. while half the hotel overrage was $60. I spent $46 on a new rain hood for my camera before leaving. Food was a grand total of $108. Most of that being the Lobster Roll for $25. And then Wawa each night after the games. And the $8 ice cream.
All tolled, it was 12 games with 11 new teams.
23 New Teams
4 New Stadiums
1,516 different teams
472 different stadiums
1,394 total games
PHOTOS OF THE WEEK
For photos from this game, and others this weekend, click HERE.
For photos from previous weeks and seasons, visit http://www.flickr.com/sykotyk/sets/