Day One at Rutgers: Part Two
Irvington 19 Clifton 14
After threatening early and losing possession on a fumble, Irvington recovered quickly when Adon Shuler returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown, running and dodging his way through traffic. Northern Highlands came right back on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Enzo Arjona to a wide open Zach Madison down the middle and behind the secondary, giving Highlands a 7-6 lead. The ensuing kickoff was returned 67 yards to the 10 by Famah Toure, but penalties hurt Irvington and the Blue Knights and ended up missing a field goal attempt.
Irvington went back in front on a 27-yard run by Raheem Wright, who broke a tackle on the 20 and outran several defenders along the right sideline for the score. Highlands went back in front late in the second quarter when Arjona found Madison behind the defense for a 48-yard completion to the 4 and Nick Branca scored on the following play to give the Highlanders a 14-12 lead.
The third quarter was an exchange of punts and both teams threatened early in the fourth with nothing to show. With two minutes left, Saquan Gordon found Trent Jones over the middle, who ran through a couple of Highlands defenders and ran the last 30 yards to a 61-yard touchdown. Arjona was sacked on third and fourth down on consecutive sacks by Zamar Grove and Toure.
What stood out most about Irvington was a pass rush that finished the day with 12 sacks. The front four of Tafari Thompson, Justin Evans, Nasir Shabazz, and Grove brought up memories of the LA Rams’ Fearsome Foursome and the Minnesota Vikings’ Purple People Eaters. The offense and special teams made plays with their touchdowns going 45, 27, and 61 yards. In addition to the pass rush, the defense held 1,400-yard rusher Branca to 58 yards and 3 per carry.
Highlands suffered their first loss of the season and always seemed to find a way to win before tonight. Arjona had a good game when he had time to throw. The defense did a good job against the run, holding Irvington to 71 yards rushing. But it wasn’t enough to beat a team of talented players.
Cedar Creek 35 Woodrow Wilson 34
Woodrow Wilson jumped out to a 22-0 lead before falling a half-year short of the goal line, giving Cedar Creek the South Jersey Group 3 title, 35-34.
Wilson recovered a Cedar Creek fumble on the game’s third play on the 18 and scored on a 10-yard pass from Devin Kargman to Mike Estremera, The next play from scrimmage for Cedar Creek was an interception by Will Love, who returned it 20 yards to the 18 and led to a 1-yard touchdown sneak by Kargman. On the next play from scrimmage, Cedar Creek fumbled with a strip and recovery by Damir McCrary on the 38. One play later, Kargman found Love for the touchdown and Wilson was up, 22-0.
By the early second quarter, Cedar Creek cut the deficit to 22-14 on JC Landicini touchdown passes to Ja’Quan Howard and Elijah Smalls. They had two more chances in the second quarter and came up empty with the last drive ending on an Estremera interception in the end zone as time expired.
At that point, I had been at Rutgers all day, I had a cold, and I was spent. The 90-minute first half made it easy for me and I made the 50-minute drive home. When I was home, there were five minutes left in the game and Wilson led 34-28.
Creek went ahead, 35-34, and the stage was set for a wild ending. With ten seconds left, Woodrow Wilson’s Naz’sir Oglesby was stopped short of the goal line and brought the title to Cedar Creek. The film showed Oglesby possibly keeping his legs above ground, but the replay review did not overturn the ruling on the field.