Rutherford 27 Park Ridge 20
Rutherford’s Pat Cerulli ran eight yards to score with 49 seconds left in the game, his third touchdown, to beat Park Ridge, 27-20, in the NJIC championship game. The score was set up on an amazing diving catch by Doug Russell on the previous play.
First Quarter: The first three drives of the game ended with punts and Park Ridge started a drive on their 4-yard line. The Owls picked up two first downs before Matt Manning ran 65 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring. Rutherford responded on the following drive when Cerulli scored from two yards out. The touchdown was set up on the previous two plays that featured Cole Goumas catching a 25-yard screen pass, followed by an 11-yard run.
Second Quarter: Midway through the quarter, Cerulli was the focal point of a Rutherford drive. Two Cerulli runs of 9 and 23 yards gave the Bulldogs two first downs, reaching the Park Ridge 37. Van Weber later found him for 27 yards to the 1-yard line and Cerulli scored out of the wildcat on the next play. The extra point failed and it was 13-7.
Third Quarter: Park Ridge had the ball for nearly ten minutes in the quarter with the quarter’s opening drive consuming seven of them. Manning was the main guy and he scored from one yard out, making it 13-13 after the extra point was blocked. A Rutherford punt was short, giving the Owls the ball on Rutherford’s 22. But a fourth-and-nine pass was broken up by Russell.
Fourth Quarter: The fourth quarter started with an 81-yard touchdown pass to Alex DiMaulo, a pass to the flat, followed by DiMaulo outracing the Park Ridge defense along the left sideline. The Bulldogs didn’t have the lead for long, as Manning scored on a 55-yard run three minutes later to tie the game at 20. An exchange of punts gave Rutherford the ball on the Park Ridge 47 with three minutes remaining. Cerulli ran 14 yards to the 20 for a first down, setting up the big plays of the game. Weber threw towards the right sideline and it appeared to be an incomplete pass until Russell dove parallel to the ground with outstretched arms to haul it in on the 8-yard line. With first-and-goal, Cerulli took the snap and scored his third touchdown of the game. Park Ridge had a last chance and a Manning run gave the Owls a first down on their 42. But DiMaulo intercepted to end any comeback.
Rutherford had enough to win behind Cerrulli, Russell, and the passing of Weber. Weber has been flying under the radar this year and he is a top passer with tonight’s wind making it difficult for quarterbacks. Russell’s diving reception was one of the best anyone will see, combining the play itself and the clutch situation.
Manning had a big game for Park Ridge and may have been the story had Park Ridge won. He rushed for 195 yards (per nj.com) and was active on the defensive side of the ball. An interesting side note is Manning’s father was a starting quarterback for Rutherford in the 1980’s, one of several in that family.