The composure in senior halfback Aaron Ford’s voice belied the frenetic finish to the Old Bridge High School football team’s first NJSIAA playoff victory in nearly a decade.
Ford, whose 25-yard touchdown run in the second overtime lifted the Knights to a thrilling 40-34 Central Group V quarterfinal win over Montgomery at Lombardi Stadium on Friday night, spoke almost matter-of-factly of his heroics.
“I guess coach really does trust the ball in my hands,” said Ford, who took a pitch from quarterback Vin Gargano and raced virtually unscathed down the left sideline for the winning score. “When it comes to these big situations, I just do the best I can.”
The third-seeded Knights, who squandered a 20-point fourth-quarter lead, advanced to the sectional semifinals on Dec. 1 against second-seeded South Brunswick, a 35-21 quarterfinal winner over seventh-seeded Hillsborough.
Senior quarterback Vin Gargano was brilliant for Old Bridge. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 140 yards, while also rushing 17 times for 106 yards and two more scores including a game-tying plunge in the first overtime.
The victory was the sixth straight for Old Bridge (7-2), which hasn’t lost since dropping a 27-20 decision to the Vikings, and its first in the postseason since 2003.
“Everyone thought we had them at halftime because it was 27-7,” Ford said. “We tried expressing that we shouldn’t let down and give them a shot, which pretty much we kind of did. But our team can fight and come back through anything.”
It was Montgomery, playing without star running back Ryan Boyle, who amassed 809 yards and 11 touchdowns through the first five games before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which showed its resiliency in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars, led by quarterback Chris Chugunov, who completed 14 of 24 passes for 168 yards, scored three touchdowns in the final 10:35 to force the extra session.
“I’m numb right now,” said Montgomery coach Zoran Milich, whose team was outgained 443 to 260 in total offense. “We had it. I’m proud of the way the kids fought back. I challenged them at halftime. It wasn’t a whole lot of Xs and Os. It was just a matter of making plays. It was going to go one way or another. They were going to run us off the field and score 50 or we were going to bring it back slowly.”
Running back Jake Colangelo’s third touchdown of the night, a 1-yard plunge in the first overtime, gave Montgomery a 34-27 lead. Gargano responded with a 6-yard touchdown scamper to forge a 34-34 tie.
Some dramatic trickery set up Gargano’s score. Two plays prior, on fourth-and-12 from the 27, Dwayne Trawick raced 15 yards around left end on a double reverse for a clutch first down.
“We just ran the reverse off the triple, a play we worked on in practice all week,” Old Bridge coach Anthony Lanzafama explained. “(It was a) fake triple right, end around left and (Trawick) got it. Not by much, but he got it.”
Colangelo’s 3-yard scoring plunge with three minutes remaining in regulation forged a 27-27 tie. Brian Flood’s ensuing extra point attempt, however, was blocked at the line of scrimmage.
Ed Mish’s 39-yard field goal attempt with 30 seconds left in regulation was blocked at the line of scrimmage. Mish’s extra point attempt following Old Bridge’s fourth touchdown was also blocked.
After Ananth Chenimineni’s 2-yard touchdown run closed the deficit to 27-21 with 4:03 remaining, Ryan Sohmer recovered an onsides kick at the Old Bridge 41, setting up Colangelo for his game-tying touchdown plunge.
Colangelo’s 4-yard touchdown run with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter made the score 27-14.
Old Bridge, which scored on its first four possessions, could have put the game out of reach early in the third quarter, but Gargano was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on its opening series of the second half.
Defensive back Josh Reinson intercepted Gargano at midfield on Old Bridge’s ensuing series, setting up the first of Montgomery’s three fourth-quarter touchdowns.
The Knights outgained Montgomery 219 to 68 in yards from scrimmage while building a 27-7 halftime lead.
Gargano opened the scoring with a 25-yard run and built Old Bridge’s lead to 14-0 with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ford on a simple wheel route with 3:59 remaining in the second quarter.
Sixty four of the Cougars’ first-half yards came on their lone scoring drive, which sophomore running back Jabari Clemons capped with a 23-yard run on a jet sweep, closing the gap to 14-7 with three seconds left in the first quarter.
Chugunov completed all five of his pass attempts on the march for 36 yards including a clutch 11-yard completion on third-and-5 from the Old Bridge 33 to Sam Oltmans.
Old Bridge scored on its next two possessions, rebuilding its lead to 27-7. Gargano completed a 21-yard scoring strike to Brandon Giles midway through the second quarter, while bruising fullback Chris Middleton scored on a 10-yard plunge with three minutes left in the half.