Cedar Grove scored with 42 seconds left on a 67-yard touchdown pass to beat Wood-Ridge, 17-10. The Panthers could only get 10 points on the board in the first half, but it was as dominating a 10-0 lead could be. Wood-Ridge came back to tie the game, setting up Cedar Grove’s winning score. It was a very good game and it was small-town football at its finest.
First Quarter: Cedar Grove began their second possession on their 39 and consumed five minutes on fourteen plays to get on the board with a 25-yard field goal from Chris Babcock. The longest play on that drive was an 11-yard pass from Stephen Paradiso to Edmund Dakar on their way to picking up five first downs.
Second Quarter: Cedar Grove was moving again on their next drive. A couple of passes to Nick Iannacone brought the Panthers just past the 50. Two plays later, Paradiso found Jackson Morrice for 36 yards and Cedar Grove had a first-and-goal on the 8. Three plays later, a fourth down pass from the 1 was incomplete with Wood-Ridge gaining possession. Their ensuing punt gave Cedar Grove the ball on the Wood-Ridge 36. A 20-yard pass to Dakar gave the Panthers a first-and-goal on the 3. Two plays later, AJ Soriano scored from two yards out to make it 10-0. Paradiso found Iannacone for 28 yards on their next drive to get to the 27, but they turned the ball over on downs with two minutes left.
Third Quarter: After a Cedar Grove punt, Wood-Ridge moved the ball for the first time. A pass interference call on Cedar Grove moved the ball to the 38-yard line of the Panthers. Braden Negro then found Antonio Loyola for 12 yards and Christian Hutchison for 7. But the Blue Devils were unable to move it much further and Kledji Elezaj kicked a 34-yard field goal. Cedar Grove’s following drive found success using the jet sweep with Dakar gaining 13 and 18 yards. He scored what appeared to be a 14-yard touchdown, but it was called back on a penalty and the Panthers turned it over on downs on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Fourth Quarter: Wood-Ridge took over on their 6-yard line and got a first down off two runs by Negro and Loyola, respectively. The two hooked up on a screen pass which Loyola took 82 yards, being tackled by Dakar on the 2-yard line for a first-and-goal. The Blue Devils tied it on a 1-yard pass from Negro to Nick Chromey and the score was tied with just under eight minutes left. Wood-Ridge forced a three-and-out and began their next drive on the Cedar Grove 42-yard line. Two first downs brought the ball to the 18. The next two plays lost yardage and a third-down pass was intercepted by Babcock in the end zone with 1:37 left. Paradiso immediately ran up the middle for 13 yards, a pass to Babcock gained no yards, before Bacock hit a wide open Dakar over the middle, as he raced the rest of the way to a 67-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left. Wood-Ridge had little time and Dakar intercepted to end their last chance.
Comments: Cedar Grove was dominant for much of the first half with their fast-paced offense, but could only get 10 points on the board. Paradiso was 11-of-14 on their first four drives and 15-27-242-1 for the evening. Their defense completely halted Wood-Ridge’s running game the entire first half and for much of the evening. But they could not put their opponent away until late in the game. The first half score could have easily been 21-0, 24-0, or even 28-0. Even in the second half, the touchdown that was called back would have changed the game. While the Panthers took some blows, they came through at the end.
At one point when Wood-Ridge was mounting their comeback, a colleague said to me, “if Wood-Ridge wins this game, Cedar Grove only has themselves to blame.” I thought of their first half and the old New York Islander broadcasting tandem of Ed Westfall and Jiggs McDonald. Westfall would have said “opportunities, Jiggs, Cedar Grove is not taking advantage of the opportunities.” Even in the second half, the touchdown that was called back would have changed the game.
In short, Cedar Grove was and is a better team.
Wood-Ridge has nothing to be ashamed of. It was a very good year for the Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils could have been hammered, but they were fortunate the first half score was only 10-0. One player who stood out was nose guard Liam Kelly, constantly clogging the middle and making plays in that first half. Wood-Ridge came alive in the second half, but a couple of late mistakes hurt them.
This is a program that was a perennial also-ran that only made the playoffs four times, never advancing. This year they did and the town was thrilled. A burglar could have done very well last night in Wood-Ridge, as the town came out to support them, lining the fence. It will be a year the town will remember with hopefully more to come.