Madison earns third straight title in defensive battle

Madison earns third straight title in defensive battle

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Madison earns third straight title in defensive battle

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Madison rolled through the high school football season exploding every single scoreboard in its path, putting up numbers you only hear at a bingo parlor, averaging just a hair shy of 51 points in each of the Dodgers’ 11 wins prior to Saturday.

However, as every football purist knows, it’s defense that wins championships — and it was the Dodgers’ defensive unit that came up big in the 13-0 victory over Mountain Lakes to capture their third straight NJSIAA North 2 Group II championship at Kean University.

The Dodgers’ defense utilized the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, then got downright stingy at the right times, shutting out a Herd offense that averaged 36 points per contest through 11 wins of their own.

“You have no idea how it’s going to turn out,” said Madison head coach Chris Kubik, who guided his team to their 37th straight victory dating back to Thanksgiving of 2009. “There’s no way you can draw things up in a state championship game. You just hope you have one more point than the opponent. But to get a shutout in the state championship says a lot about this defense. It’s awesome. It’s a big effort.”

Senior linebacker and captain Matt McDonald, who had 12 tackles all over the field, said that the Dodgers were constantly changing their defensive looks to rattle the Herd.

“Sometimes we had six people up front, other times we had five,” McDonald said. “For us to get a shutout is a great way to go out.”

Senior defensive end Nick Haboj, who had eight tackles and two sacks, echoed those sentiments.

“It was a case of 11 guys all stepping up and playing hard,” Haboj said. “We were really prepared for this game. We came in early to practice, like 6 a.m., because we knew it could come down to defense. The defense had to stand up and play hard. We had to play that way to get the win.”

You could tell early on that this was not going to be an offensive shootout, one that one would predict with two offenses that averaged 50.9 and 35.8 points per game respectively this season.

The Herd came out inspired to shut down the Dodgers’ famed three-headed rushing attack of halfback Justin Goodwin, fullback Shone Register and quarterback Carson Lassiter.

Throughout most of the first half, that was the case, as neither team could sniff the end zone. The Dodgers turned the ball over on downs twice inside Mountain Lakes territory in the first quarter alone. It had all the makings of being a defensive showdown.

Through his first eight carries, the electrifying Goodwin was bottled up to the tune of just 27 yards.

“Sometimes, you just have to be patient,” Goodwin said. “At the end of the day, I knew the offensive line would open up some sort of a hole for me. After I turned the corner, I knew I had to get into the end zone.”

Midway through the first quarter, that’s exactly what happened. Goodwin took a handoff from Carson Lassiter and came around the right side. He faked an end-around give to Brett Spelker and then kept the ball around the right end for a 44-yard touchdown, giving the Dodgers all the points they would need at 7-0 with 5:56 left before halftime.

“It was just a matter of time,” Kubik said. “We needed a big play and we got one.”

Mountain Lakes then fumbled on the first play after Goodwin’s score, with defensive tackle Jaywon Brown pouncing on the loose ball at the Mountain Lakes 20-yard line.

On the second play after the fumble, it was Goodwin again, but this time, after taking a handoff, he stopped dead in his tracks and found Joey Geyer wide open.

“I saw him there,” Goodwin said. “I just had to make sure I put the ball right there.”

Goodwin hit Geyer with a perfect option pass for the 20-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 13-0 with 4:33 remaining before the break.

And that was it. The rest was done by the Madison defense, with guys like McDonald and Haboj leading the way. The Dodgers couldn’t stop the Herd from dominating the number of plays they would run or clock management, because Mountain Lakes moved the ball readily over its next five possessions, but the Herd turned the ball over on downs each of those five times.

The Herd marched 76 yards on 15 plays with their last possession before halftime, only to relinquish the ball on downs at the Madison 23-yard line with 1:02 left.

In their first possession of the second half, it was more of the same, moving the ball 68 yards on 13 plays, but the drive stalled at the Dodger 11-yard line.

And with their second possession of the second half, the Herd march 59 yards on nine plays, but gave up the ball at the Madison 16-yard line. It was three lengthy possessions for the Herd, collecting almost 200 yards of offense, but not a single thing to show for it. Bruising fullback Uzoma Egbuchulam carried the ball 28 times for 98 yards, but his long run of the day went for 12 yards in the third quarter.

“We had to get the ball in the end zone,” Mountain Lakes head coach Darrell Fusco said. “Our defense did a great job holding their offense to just 13 points. We had them where we wanted them and I think we got to them a little, but we just didn’t score. Defensively, we were warriors out there. I just thought we needed to get a play when we had a chance to score and we didn’t do it.”

In fact, the Herd ran 37 offensive plays to just 16 for the Dodgers after halftime, but it meant nothing without a score.

“I’m proud of our kids,” Fusco said. “We held a team that was scoring like 70 points a game (actually 50.9) to just 13. But give Madison credit. There has to be a reason why they keep winning all these games in a row.”

The state’s longest win streak now stands at 37 — and it will be up to the next class of Dodgers to keep it going next fall.

This group gathered at midfield at Kean, much like they did a year ago, when they won their second straight title. Only this time, there was a familiar chant made famous (and patented, no less) by Pat Riley during the Lakers’ “Showtime” era.

As they got their pictures taken with yet another championship trophy, the Dodgers held up three fingers and chanted, “Three-peat, three-peat.”

“It all comes down to making sure that anything is possible,” said Goodwin, who ended his brilliant Madison career with 138 yards on 16 carries, before he heads to Rutgers next fall. “This is the result of a lot of hard work.”

“It’s really a dream,” Kubik said. “We were hoping we could do it again, but it was a matter of getting this far and getting the job done. But it’s pretty awesome.”

Much like the Dodgers’ defense was when it counted on Saturday.

Madison 0-13-0-0–13

Mountain Lakes 0-0-0-0–0

M-Justin Goodwin 44 run (Devin Koep kick)

M-Joey Geyer 20 pass from Justin Goodwin (kick blocked)

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