With its starting tailback lost to a season-ending knee injury, the Metuchen High School football team received career-best performances from fullback Andre Corvil and quarterback James Nicolaiason while holding on for Saturday’s dramatic 28-26 victory over Spotswood.
Moved to tailback in place of injured starter Zahir Powell (ACL tear) — the Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division’s fifth leading rusher — Corvil carried 35 times for 176 yards and four touchdowns.
Nicolaiason, who previously completed just 15 passes all year, was equally brilliant, connecting 9 of 12 times — including three clutch third-down conversions — for 130 yards.
For the second straight year, Metuchen (3-3) stopped Spotswood (3-3) on a two-point conversion attempt in the closing seconds to preserve a victory and keep alive its NJSIAA playoff hopes.
The Bulldogs, who won four straight after opening last season 1-3 to reach the postseason, find themselves in a similar position this fall after a 0-3 start. Metuchen gained 17 power points with Saturday’s victory — its third straight — and will likely clinch an NJSIAA playoff berth by winning one of its next two games.
“We play Asbury Park next week,” said Metuchen coach Sal Mistretta. “It’s not as much of a must win if we had lost (to Spotswood). We have them and then (winless) Mater Dei, so the opportunity is there for us.”
After Jack Messeroll’s 4-yard touchdown scamper capped a flawlessly executed two-minute drill — during which the Chargers marched 70 yards in nine plays to make the score 28-26 — he was stopped by defensive lineman Dorian Miller on the ensuing two-point conversion run with 1:05 remaining. Metuchen’s Jaime Simms recovered the ensuing onsides kick to seal the victory.
The Bulldogs, victimized themselves by turnovers all season long (including six in a 17-12 loss to South River), converted two fumble recoveries into touchdowns, the latter a 6-yard scoring run by Corvil that gave Metuchen a 28-20 lead with 3:03 remaining. Evan Collier set up the score, pouncing on a loose ball at midfield.
“We felt we had to create some turnovers today because we knew their offense was high-octane (averaging 36.7 points),” Corvil said. “We knew we had to make a couple of plays on defense and get the ball in my hands and James’ hands to win the game.”
Spotswood closed a 21-14 deficit to one point with 10:58 remaining on Corey Brown’s league-leading sixth touchdown reception and second of the game, a 70-yard bomb from quarterback C.J. O’Connor who took advantage of starting safety Danny Briggs being sidelined with a first-half concussion.
Metuchen, which had a 26-yard field goal attempt blocked on the play before Brown’s scoring catch, returned the favor, blocking Spotswood’s ensuing PAT to preserve the one-point lead.
Brown made the score 14-14 with 5:34 left in the second quarter, catching a perfectly thrown 19-yard fade in the back corner of the end zone. His reception capped a 56-yard drive that answered Corvil’s 4-yard touchdown run, which Ryan Verlaque set up with a recovery of a fumble by O’Connor, who lost the ball on Miller’s bone-jarring sack.
Spotswood scored on the game’s opening series with Messeroll capping a 62-yard march with a 7-yard run. Metuchen immediately answered, as Corvil capped a 79-yard drive with a 4-yard run.
Corvil’s 1-yard touchdown run with six seconds left in the first half gave Metuchen a 21-14 lead.
The Bulldogs were outgained 389 to 360 in yards from scrimmage. Messeroll and Dalrymple rushed for 102 and 100 yards, respectively. Brown received 135 of O’Connor’s 138 passing yards.
Spotswood may now need outside help to qualify for the Central Group II playoffs.