Unlike last season, when the Edison High School football team played most of the elite programs on its schedule tough for at least a half before collapsing, the Eagles did not falter after intermission in posting the third major upset of the young season.
The Eagles defeated perennial state power Piscataway for the first time since 1994, riding the strong right arm of quarterback James Waldron and the athleticism of running back Aqeel Daniels and wideout Kyle Boyer-Tucker to a stunning 34-22 victory.
Waldron completed 10 of 19 passes for 185 yards. He had one touchdown rushing and another throwing as Edison established itself as a North 2 Group V championship contender.
Daniels, who amassed 90 yards from scrimmage, had a touchdown rushing, receiving and passing. The latter was a 52-yard halfback option pass to wideout Nick Wales, whose mother, Sue, battling Leukemia, came out of the hospital to see her son’s huge scoring catch.
“When I found out that my mother was sick that was probably the hardest thing I had to go through in my life,” Wales said. “Seeing her in the stands and being able to score that touchdown meant the world to me. I do this for her. She’s my motivation. I love her with all my heart.”
Three of the top four teams in the Home News Tribune’s Top 10 rankings — all incumbent sectional champions or finalists — fell over the weekend.
Top-ranked Sayreville (to eighth-ranked Old Bridge), second-ranked Piscataway (to 10th-ranked Edison) and fourth-ranked Carteret (to unranked St. Joseph) all stumbled.
Edison’s win, however, may have been the most impressive of the major upsets for the Eagles, who ended a 12-year NJSIAA playoff drought last season, completely controlled the line of scrimmage and unveiled an arsenal of skill position players.
“Given their history and our recent history, it’s a huge win for the program,” Edison coach Matt Fulham said. “To us, it’s not a surprise, though. This group of kids, especially the seniors, in December I knew they were different. They had a better attitude, they had a better work ethic and being in the playoffs (last season) really motivated them to be better.”
The balance of power appears to be shifting in the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division for the Chiefs, who returned just 128 yards from scrimmage due to graduation.
The last time Piscataway was similarly decimated was in 2003 when then rookie head coach Dan Higgins, who graduated 22 starters from a team that traditionally reloads instead of rebuilding, still finished 9-3 and won a sectional title.
Rebounding from Sunday night’s season-opening loss will clearly be more difficult for Piscataway, which plays its first five games on the road including Friday’s showdown with Old Bridge, which is coming off a 35-19 upset of three-time defending sectional champion Sayreville.
A year ago, Edison either led or trailed by just a few points at halftime or in the third quarter against eventual sectional finalists Piscataway, Elizabeth, South Brunswick and Sayreville. Despite trailing by an average of eight points against those four powers, Edison went on to lose by a combined score of 138-45.
The 2013 campaign promises to be different for a team that began preparing in the weight room for this season a day after enduring a 7-6 loss to crosstown rival J.P. Stevens.
All but two of the game’s touchdowns — one for each team — were scored in the opening half.
Piscataway was outgained 235 to 106 in first-half yards from scrimmage. The Eagles did most of their damage through the air with Waldron completing 7 of 14 passes for 137 yards.
Following a high snap out of punt formation on Piscataway’s first possession, which gave Edison possession deep inside the Chiefs’ territory, Daniels scored on a 3-yard plunge for a 7-0 lead.
Piscataway lost a fumble near midfield on its ensuing series. The Eagles wasted no time converting the turnover into a score as Daniels connected with Nick Wales on a halfback option for a 52-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead.
Oladiran Isijola returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown, enabling the Chiefs to cut the deficit in half with 1:48 left in a high-scoring first quarter.
Edison responded immediately, marching 69 yards to take a 21-7 lead on Daniels’ 7-yard run. Waldron connected with Boyer-Tucker for a 43-yard gain to set up the score with 10:06 left in the second quarter.
Piscataway, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a 20-yard reception, drove 63 yards for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 21-14 with 2:40 left in the opening half. Elijah Barnwell capped the march with an 8-yard plunge.
Edison, working the two-minute drill to perfection, drove 72 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. Daniels hauled in a 6-yard scoring strike from Waldron immediately after Waldron converted a fourth-and-10 from the Piscataway 27 with a 21-yard completion to Wales.
“Matt Fulham does a great job,” Higgins said. “This is a good team and they earned the victory.”