Eugene Rawles knows how imperative it was for his Westfield High School football team to get off to a fast start in Saturday’s game against Scotch Plains-Fanwood.
“You always want to score first and get the lead to get the team pumped up,” said Rawles, a 5-9 running back. “We knew it was important because it was such a big game.”
Rawles did his part and then some, scoring five touchdowns, including three within the first 12:26 of the game to power Westfield to a 41-28 decision over Scotch Plains-Fanwood and vault his team into the state playoffs before close to 1,000 at Gary Kehler Stadium in Westfield.
Westfield (5-3) has now won a season-high three straight games and will next play in the NJSIAA North 2 Group V playoffs that begins on Friday.
Despite the loss, Scotch Plains-Fanwood (2-7) also qualified for the playoffs and will be the eighth seed in the North 2 Group 4 bracket.
Rawles got Westfield off to a quick lead when he caught a screen pass from quarterback Chris Hogge on the sixth play from scrimmage and ran 75 yards for a touchdown.
Later in the opening quarter, Westfield recovered a fumble at midfield and 12 plays later, Rawles plunged in from the three-yard line to give the Blue Devils a 13-0 edge with 58 seconds left in the period.
After forcing Scotch Plains to go three-and-out on its next possession, Westfield was back in business at its own 40 yard line.
It took Rawles just one play, and a great move to go off right tackle and down the right side for a 60-yard touchdown and a 20-0 Westfield advantage just 26 seconds into the second quarter.
“They came out very strong and obviously moved the ball very well,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood coach Jon Stack. “Coch (Jim) DeSarno always does a good job in preparing his teams and they were able to jump out quick.”
Scotch Plains, which defeated Westfield, 10-2, in last year’s meeting, finally got on the scoreboard when Kobe White ran for a 19 yard touchdown with 5:47 left before the break. White would score the final two touchdowns of the game and finished with 130 yards on 22 carries.
Rawles, who had two catches for 114 yards and 17 rushes for 113 yards, capped a crisp five-play, 86-yard drive with a two-yard dive into the end zone to give Westfield an insurmountable 27-7 lead.
Hogge was a perfect 4-for-4 for 84 yards in passing during the 57-second drive. Hogge, a 6-4, 180-pound senior, finished 8-for-20 for 200 yards on the day.
Rawles would add his fifth and final score of the day when he ran it in from one-yard out to cap an eight-play, 56-yard drive with 2:42 remaining in the third. That pushed Westfield’s lead to 34-7.
“I felt really good out there today,” said Rawles, who has now rushed for 996 yards and 16 touchdowns this fall. “It was great to be able to win to get into the playoffs and also beat our rival, who beat us last year.”
Westfield’s defense was keyed by senior defensive ends Chris Sweeney and Thomas Anderson and senior defensive tackle Joe Scaglione.
“We knew that it was a ‘win and in’ game and to be honest our last two games before this were that way too. We couldn’t afford to lose any of them or we’d be out,” said Anderson. ” We’ve been playing with a very high intensity these last three games and hopefully that will carry over into the playoffs.”
After winning its first two games this season, Westfield lost its next three. The Blue Devils then reeled off victories over Franklin and Bridgewater-Raritan – scoring 40 points in each – in its last two games to give itself the opportunity to qualify for the states against its closest rival.
And Scotch Plains, which is now 5-6 against Westfield in its last 11 meetings, hopes to regroup as it takes a four-game losing streak into the playoffs.
“We’re a young team with just nine seniors,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood second-year coach Jon Stack. “But I told the team, ‘look, there’s a reason the one seed has to go out and play the eighth seed. It’s not automatic,’ They have to go out and be ready. Anything can happen.”
W – Rawles 75 pass from Hogge (kick failed)
W – Rawles 2 run (Hogge kick)
W – Rawles 60 run (Hogge kick)
SPF – White 19 run (Ciccarino kick)
W – Rawles 2 run (Hogge kick)
W – Rawles 1 run (Hogge kick)
SPF – Taylor 72 run (Ciccarino kick)
W – Curry 1 run (Hogge kick)
SPF – White 24 run (Kelly kick)
SPF – White 35 run (Kelly kick)
RUSHING: W – Rawles 17-113, Curry 11-61, Douglas 8-22. SPF – White 22-130, Taylor 3-88, Thomas 4-25.
PASSING: W – Hogge 8-20-200-1; SPF – Thomas 0-3-0
RECEIVING: W – Rawles 2-114-1, Elliott 5-21, Curry 1-15.