After missing a month following an emergency appendectomy, Hunterdon Central High School running back Jason Cabinda has certainly made up for lost time. In the Red Devils’ opening round win over Old Bridge last week, the Penn State-bound Cabinda racked up 168 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Friday night against fifth-seeded South Brunswick in the Central Group V semifinals, Cabinda rushed for 212 yards and three scores, leading the sixth-seeded Red Devils to a 42-7 victory and a berth in the Central Group V championship game.
Hunterdon Central will take on top-seeded Manalapan, a 34-7 winner over Sayreville, for the title.
Cabinda and quarterback Mike Knight, who also missed a month after suffering a foot injury, both returned against Old Bridge in the first round, and against South Brunswick, the dynamic duo was clicking on all cylinders. Knight was 10 of 17 for 129 yards and two touchdowns, hitting seven different receivers in the process. Cabinda added four catches for 63 yards, giving him 275 yards from scrimmage on the night.
“I’m back and Mike is back and we’re playing really well. The defense continues to do a good job and that’s really important,” Cabinda said. “The mindset of this football team, regardless of the circumstances hasn’t changed. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year and to keep our heads up is great. I’m really proud. It has a lot to do with the leadership and we’re ready to win this whole thing. It’s time to bring it back.”
Hunterdon Central (7-4) jumped out on top 14-0 before South Brunswick could even blink, as Cabinda capped the opening drive of the game with a 39-yard run and Knight’s pass to Daniel Scassera for 15 yards made it a two-score game early in the first quarter. From there, Cabinda punished the Vikings defensive front-seven, bowling over multiple defenders on nearly every run.
“As usual, it starts with the offensive line,” Cabinda said. “They dominated the front seven and I was able to find holes. The holes were a bit tight today, but Mike spread them out with the passing game and then we came back in between the tackles, so we hit them with a whole lot and it showed in the second half. I got a load of carries and once we got it going, it was hard to stop.”
South Brunswick (6-4) never got its offense rolling, as bruising fullback Dahrae Ford couldn’t get his legs churning per usual. He finished with just 11 carries for 43 yards on the night. The Vikings’ only offensive burst came from tailback Dontae Strickland, who went 53 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to cut the lead to 28-7, but South Brunswick never got closer. Strickland finished with 97 all-purpose yards on nine touches.
After missing such valuable time this season, Cabinda said that he never lost faith in his squad’s ability to make a deep run into the postseason. When asked if he thought a month ago, sitting on the sideline injured, if his Red Devil teammates could get this far, his answer was clear.
“I would have believed. Being a captain, it’s all about believing the entire way,” he said. “The younger guys look up to you and it’s all about how you look. We keep our heads up and we have to look like we’re going to win and we believe in the Hunterdon Central tradition.”
HC – Cabinda 39 run (Barr kick)
HC – Scassera 15 pass from Knight (Barr kick)
HC – Cabinda 1 run (Barr kick)
HC – Wynkoop 18 pass from Knight (Barr kick)
SB – Strickland 53 run (Fehte kick)
HC – Cabinda 14 run (Barr kick)
HC – McGee 1 run (Ungar kick)
RUSHING: HC – Cabinda 23-212, Powell 2-6, McGee 5, Knight 2-minus 9; SB – Strickland 9-83, Ford 11-43, Johnson 11-29, Botett 5-24.
PASSING: HC – Knight 10-17-129; SB – Johnson 6-12-1-40.
RECEIVING: HC – Cabinda 4-63, Scassera 2-26, Wynkoop 1-18, Dunleavy 1-17, Miller 1-16, Kendzulak 1-12; SB – Dunleavy 3-21, Strickland 2-14, Jackson 1-5.