Just when the Dunellen High School football team thought it was on the way to a dramatic comeback victory over Spotswood for the second consecutive year, the Chargers struck for two touchdowns in the final two minutes for a thrilling 29-19 win on Friday night that kept alive their division title hopes.
“Last year they broke our heart,” Spotswood coach Andy Cammarano told his players in a postgame huddle beneath the scoreboard. “We thought we had it won and then they snapped (our heart) in half.”
Spotswood, which improved to 7-0 by defeating the three-time defending Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division champions for the first time since 2009, can win the division title with a victory over South River next weekend.
Dunellen (3-4), which erased a nine-point deficit to defeat the Chargers 29-28 on a field goal in the closing minute last season, scored two touchdowns in the final six minutes Friday night to erase a 10-point deficit and take a 19-16 advantage with 2:08 remaining.
Junior running back Chase Fee, who rushed for 176 yards on 17 carries, answered Dunellen’s final score, returning the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to give the Chargers a 23-19 lead with 1:48 remaining.
“Last year we lost in the final minutes,” Fee said. “We wouldn’t let that happen again. We wanted to make sure for these seniors – they went through heartbreak and everything. We wanted to make a big play, and that’s what happened.”
Forty-one seconds later, Steve Sommer returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown to produce the final margin. Spotswood has forced 17 turnovers – including three against Dunellen – and committed just one all season.
“At the end of the game, all I could think about was getting the ball back because we didn’t want another heartbreak,” Sommer said. “I saw that ball in the air (on the victory-clinching interception) and all I could think of was, ‘That’s mine. We’ve got to put the game away.’ “
Fee, who was lined up on the right side of the field to take kickoffs earlier in the night, switched places with Jeff Szatkowski before his dramatic return. Dunellen, which kicked away from Fee earlier in the game, may not have recognized the switch. Fee fielded the ball on a bounce along the left sideline and raced toward the center of the field before bouncing his return along the right sideline after breaking a couple of tackles at midfield. He sprinted through traffic the final 20 yards into the end zone as the Spotswood sideline went berserk.
Sommer’s 24-yard touchdown reception from quarterback C.J. O’Connor with nine minutes left in the game enabled Spotswood to build its 19-6 lead. The passing combination twice failed to connect on shots at the end zone earlier in the game. O’Connor (3 of 9 for 40 yards) attempted more passes Friday night than he had all season.
“I was mad about the first half and I thought I had something to prove,” Sommer said. “I just wanted to make my opportunities count.”
Rob Young (102 yards on 15 carries) capped a 73-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run, closing the gap to 16-13 with 5:11 remaining. The drive was aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a late hit out of bounds on David Johnson, who was trying to convert a fourth-and-7 from midfield with a run off a fake punt.
On Dunellen’s ensuing possession, Johnson completed a 12-yard pass and scrambled for 33 yards, setting up Tim Francisco’s 6-yard scoring plunge that gave the Destroyers a 19-16 advantage with 2:08 remaining.
After marching 80 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening series – Young capped the drive with a 27-yard run off left tackle – the Destroyers were limited to a mere nine yards for the remainder of the first half.
The Chargers answered with Conner McCloskey’s 30 yard field goal and Fee’s 52-yard touchdown run to take a 10-6 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Spotswood had opportunities on its next two possessions to extend its lead but Dunellen responded with clutch defensive stops both times.
After recovering a fumbled punt at the Dunellen 24 yard line, Spotswood moved the ball just three yards before turning it over on downs.
The Chargers drove to the Dunellen 7 on their next series, setting up a 24-yard field goal attempt by McCloskey, which Nassan Anderson blocked at the line of scrimmage.
Dunellen was outgained 190 to 84 in first-half yards from scrimmage.
D – Young 12 run (kick failed)
S – McCloskey 30 FG
S – Fee 52 run (McCloskey kick)
S – Sommer 24 pass from O’Connor (kick blocked)
D – Young 12 run (Garcia kick)
D – Francisco 6 run (kick failed)
S – Fee 85 kick return (McCloskey kick)
S – Sommer 40 int. return (kick failed)
Passing: S – O’Connor 3-9-0-40; D – Johnson 2-7-2-36. Rushing: S – Fee 17-176, Dalrymple 17-86; D – Young 15-102, Anderson 5-10, Johnson 7-65, Francisco 7-11. Receiving: S – Sommer 2-40; D – Applegate 2-36.