Even in the 1991, ’92 and ’93 seasons when Bridgewater-Raritan won Skyland Conference divisional titles, the Panthers couldn’t quite make it to 5-0. With a win Friday night against unbeaten Elizabeth in a Mid-State 38 Delaware Division game, the Panthers will become the first 5-0 team in program history and also put themselves in position to get an elusive division title.
“You win, you have your destiny in your hands,” Bridgewater-Raritan coach Scott Bray said.
Consider the Panthers’ game with Elizabeth (4-0) as one of their biggest regular-season games since B-R East and West merged in 1991. Game time is 7 p.m. at Williams Field.
B-R was 3-1-1, 4-0-1 and 4-1 in those years with a loss to Cherokee and tie to Hillsborough in ’91, a tie with Hunterdon Central in ’92 and another loss to Cherokee (’93) spoiling a perfect drive for five. In 2010, the Panthers got out 4-0, but lost to Immaculata in week five.
The task to get to 5-0 is significant, but don’t expect B-R to do anything different in its quest to do it.
Bray has told his team the objective is to take an early lead and sustain. The Panthers have followed it to the very last word – even in a wild 31-28 milestone victory over Phillipsburg three weeks ago. B-R hasn’t trailed unlike Elizabeth, which rallied from a 12-7 deficit to beat Franklin 14-12 a couple of weeks ago. Outside of a season-opening 40-23 win over Watchung Hills – the Minutemen haven’t appeared to be the steam roller one expects. They topped Hunterdon Central (21-13) and Union (10-7). That leads opposing coaches to believe Elizabeth is simply doing what it takes, but is capable of much more under longtime coach John Quinn.
“They are just like any John Quinn team,” Bray said. “They want to get their athletes in space and get them in position to make big plays.”
Senior quarterback Ja’Quill Burch has been out since throwing for 195 yards and three touchdowns against Watchung Hills, but its expected he will be back. Whether its for the Panthers or not won’t be a factor if B-R is unable to stop junior Jahmin Muse and senior Kyron Paige. Senior Milton Hunter has subbed for Burch.
The patented Elizabeth jet sweep has broken many an opponent and it’s going to be up to the athletic B-R front to make sure the Minutemen don’t have a break out game at its expense. Jonny Kaye, Ethan Rodgers, Matt Alesandro, Cole Harper, Justin Bryant and teammates were the key to B-R’s win over Union.
The Farmers’ Al-Tariq Jones ran for 185 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries last Saturday night in the game decided on Walter Rosales’ 26-yard field goal as time expired, so it appears both had their hands filled with the Farmers.
“I don’t think they (Elizabeth) are unmovable object, but scoring early is going to be key,” Bray said.
Panthers quarterback Eric Nickel hasn’t really broke his passing game open, but he does lead the team in rushing. B-R has been a committee of backs behind him. Last week, junior Tommy Bartocci kept the Panthers in control in the win at Hillsborough. He ran for 60 yards – all in the second half. Sophomore David Usewich had 66 yards and a touchdown and Kay ran for 30 yards and a score. Nickel led with 80 yards and scored on runs of 10 and 15 yards on a night that wasn’t conducive to passing. Junior Nick Attanasio made a great second-effort lunge to make a first down after making a catch in a drive that ended with Nickel’s second touchdown to start the second half.
“We’re lucky to have five pretty good backs and Nickel is one of them,” Bray said.
Staff Writer Harry Frezza: firstname.lastname@example.org