Al-Tarik Rushing couldn’t wait to get his hands on the football.
The Middlesex senior tailback didn’t carry the ball once in the first half Saturday because of a decision made by Middlesex coach Brett Stibitz.
But in the second half, Rushing made the most of his opportunity, carrying the ball 18 times for 156 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown scamper to lead the Middlesex High School football team to a 32-8 come-from behind victory over Highland Park in Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division action at Memorial Stadium.
“I was really eager (to carry the football),” Rushing said. “In the second half, I just cleared my mind and ran the ball when they called my number.”
Stibitz said, “We thought he (Rushing) was going to be fresh. Our game plan was to run him in the second half.”
Middlesex (1-2, 1-1 GMC Blue) found itself trailing 8-6 at halftime, but it forced three second-half turnovers (five overall) to stymie the Owls’ offensive attack.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot numerous times,” said Highland Park coach Rich McGlynn. “You can’t get anything going when you turn the ball over, but hats off to Middlesex. They stayed within their game plan and ran the football and wore us down, and we didn’t have enough in us to continue.
“When you turn the ball over that many times, it’s hard to come back, but we’re going get back and keep pushing the rock,” McGlynn added. “I know only one way to go and that’s forward. The beauty about sports is that’s there’s always another game. Next week, we have Spotswood and that’s what our mindset is going to be.”
Highland Park (0-3, 0-2) took the initial lead in the first quarter, and the Owls looked like a finely tuned machine in the process. They went eight plays for 68 yards in just under three minutes, and the drive was capped off by a 14-yard scoring strike from Quatay Nesmith to Nadre Hepburn.
Middlesex responded in the second quarter with an 11-play, 55-yard drive that ended with fullback Connor Reilly’s 4-yard touchdown plunge.
From then on, the Owls’ offense was silenced. For the remainder of the game, they went interception, punt, fumble, turnover on downs, fumble, turnover on downs, end of game.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays’ offense started to gain momentum in the second half, and it was mostly rushing with a little bit of passing sprinkled in.
Tailback Kyle Brady (20-137) hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Bollin midway through the third quarter to give Middlesex the lead for good at 12-6.
Bollin, who had a tough performance last week against Homdel, played well. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 20 yards and both were touchdown passes to Brady. He also had a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
“He’s learning how to managed the game,” Stibitz said of Bollin. “This was only his third varsity start. He’s a great, sound, fundamental quarterback that will win games for us. He won’t put up the stats, but he dictates the linemen and the play calling. He does a lot.”
Middlesex fullback Joe Esposito capped off the scoring with a 25-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.