BRIDGEWATER – This year’s Bridgewater-Raritan High School football team is heading where no other has in school history: a state final.
After watching a 20-point lead slip away, the top-seeded Panthers needed overtime — to the very last play — to survive fifth-seeded Ridge, 30-29, in an NJSIAA North 2 Group V semifinal on Friday night at Basilone Field.
Ridge senior quarterback Duncan Roberts’ pass intended for junior running back Dan Skea fell incomplete on a two-point conversion attempt in overtime that, if completed, would have sent the Red Devils (6-5) back to the final they won in 2013.
Instead, the Panthers (11-0) will play for their first crown, facing the winner of sixth-seeded Union and second-seeded Westfield — a game that kicks off at 1 pm. today at Westfield’s Kehler Stadium — in the final in two weeks.
“It’s been a vision I’ve had since I took the job nine years ago,” Bridgewater-Raritan coach Scott Bray said about finally getting the program to a state final. “We knew we had to get an attitude change, and it’s been great kids, great parents and everything through.
“My goal was to build a program. It wasn’t about coming in and making one team, and I think after nine years we see that coming through, and I proud of everybody that put the effort in.”
The Panthers took a 30-23 lead in overtime after senior running back Jon Kaye rushed in from three yards out and junior Justin Davidovicz nailed the extra point. Senior quarterback Eric Nickel connected with senior wideout Matt Milliotis on a 23-yard pass setting up the go-ahead score.
“Matt ran a great route, he stuck it,” Nickel said. “Although we missed (the route) earlier in the game, I told him if we come back to it we’d hit it and we did.”
After trailing 23-7 at halftime, Ridge drew even behind a pair of impressive second-half drives, each capped by successful two-point conversion tries.
It went 13 plays for 65 yards spanning more than six minutes of the third quarter when senior running back Kermit Hoffman hauled in a five-yard pass in the flat from Roberts for a score. Roberts connected with junior tight end Matt Rusiniak to trim the Panthers’ lead to 23-15.
Later, the Red Devils drove 82 yards in seven plays. Skea rushed in from six yards out, and Rusinak hauled in the conversion again, this time from eight yards out leveling the score 23-23 midway through the fourth quarter.
The Panthers scored on their first three possessions — helped by generous field position — to build a three-score lead by the end of the first quarter. Kaye set the tempo early, carrying seven times for 30 yards with a 2-yard touchdown rush on the first drive.
Nickel threw for a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. Following a play-action fake, he connected with junior wideout Ricky Tate in stride for a 56-yard scoring strike to increase the lead to 13-0. Nickel later found sophomore tight end Brandon Myers in the end zone from the 12-yards out after keeping the play alive by avoiding several pass rushers, making it 20-0.
Ridge got on the board on the first play of the second quarter when Skea scooted in the end zone from four yards out. The scoring drive went seven plays for 65 yards in 2:30.
The NJSIAA football championships are played Dec. 3-5 at four sites: Metlife Stadium, Rutgers University, Kean University and Rowan University. The NJSIAA will release the official schedule Sunday.
RIDGE (6-5) 0-7-8-8-6 — 29
BRIDGEWATER-RARITAN (11-0) 20-3-0-0-7 — 30
BR – Kaye 2 run (Davidovicz kick)
BR – Tate 56 pass from Nickel (kick failed)
BR – Myers 12 pass from Nickel (Davidovicz kick)
R – Skea 4 run (Graves kick)
BR – Davidovicz FG 47
R – Hoffman 5 pass from Roberts (Rusiniak pass from Roberts)
R – Skea 6 run (Rusinak pass from Roberts)
BR – Kaye 3 run (Davidovicz kick)
R – Hoffman 3 run (pass failed)
Rushing — R: Rengulbai 16-76, Hoffman 11-58, Skea 8-30, Roberts 5-13; BR: Kaye 15-68, Nickel 14-25, Bellaran 6-27.
Passing — R: Roberts 12-16-0-182; BR: Nickel 9-19-0-178
Receiving — R: Hoffman 6-82, Rusiniak 3-14, Rengulbai 2-33, Skea 2-22, Lusardi 2-12, Staples 1-17; BR: Tate 5-106, Milliotis 2-34, Kaye 1-26, Myers 1-15.
Staff Writer Joe Martino: 908-243-6608; email@example.com
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