EAST RUTHERFORD – Rutherford had just taken its first snap from center in the NJSIAA North 2 Group II championship at MetLife Stadium Thursday night, did two reverses, two laterals — and finally a wide receiver threw a perfect strike to a wide receiver whose closest defender was on the other side of Route 3 for a 70-yard touchdown.
For all intents and purposes, Madison was in trouble. It was 6-0 before the Dodgers could even break a sweat.
“They caught us on a trick play,” Madison head coach Chris Kubik. “It was one play. It’s a four-quarter game.”
Midway through the second quarter, the Dodgers were still struggling. They had two drives stall with the ball turned over on downs. Things didn’t look good.
But then suddenly, the tide turned in a hurry. The Dodgers snuffed Rutherford talented tailback Kevin Kosakowski on fourth-and-one at the Rutherford 43. It was clearly the turning point of the game, because from that point on, the Dodgers dominated.
Dom Luppino scored on a 7-yard run with 39 seconds left to go before halftime, Joe Mobley returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half and P.J. Mulcahy scored two touchdowns on Wildcat direct snaps, as Madison rolled to a 27-6 victory, giving the Dodgers their fourth state title in the last six years and knocking Rutherford (10-1) from the ranks of the undefeated.
Madison won the same sectional title three straight years from 2010 through 2012, but these players all wanted to give Kubik a new state title to enjoy.
“It means a lot,” said Kubik. “We were once 1-2, but I think we educated a lot of people to never leave us for dead.”
After the ill-advised run on fourth down in the second quarter, the Dodgers went to work, marching 43 yards on 11 plays, aided by a third-down pass that was first tipped by Mobley, then was caught by Mike Dalena for 19 yards, keeping the drive alive.
Five plays later, Luppino went in for the touchdown that gave the Dodgers the 7-6 lead for good right before the half.
“I think it was big,” said Luppino, who rushed for 45 yards on 13 carries and the score. “We knew that one play wasn’t going to beat us, that if the defense did its job in the second half, we could win, 7-6.”
The momentum carried over into the second half, when on the very first snap after intermission, Mobley stepped into a Nick Birchby pass and went the distance for the score that gave the Dodgers a 14-6 advantage.
“Oh, my God, that was huge,” Luppino said. “JoJo just made a great play. They scored on us on the first play of the game, but we scored the bigger one right there. We’re resilient. We never give up.”
The Dodgers (10-2) then put some distance between them and the Bulldogs with their next possession, aided by the second of three sacks on the day by junior defensive tackle Max Downing.
The Dodgers held Rutherford to minus-55 yards after the break.
“We take pride in our defense,” said Downing, who had three sacks of Birchby for minus 34 yards. “We kept pushing and I was just able to come through.. … We were just relentless to the ball. I got the breaks after the coaches did a good job making a change.”
After Downing’s second sack, the Dodgers unveiled a Wildcat package, with Mulcahy making like Tim Tebow, taking direct snaps and running forward with the ball. Mulcahy ended the game with 19 carries for 93 yards, but 67 of those yards came in the second half after the Dodgers went direct snap action.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Mulcahy, who pushed the lead to 21-6 with a 2-yard run with 4:49 left in the third. “The coaches saw something at halftime the way they were lined up, so I was able to see the gaps and hit them.”
With the Bulldogs now already in retreat mode, the Dodgers kept the pedal to the medal and scored the game’s final touchdown, also by Mulcahy out of the Wildcat once again from the 1-yard line with 10:04 left in the game.
“We all knew what we could do,” Mulcahy said of a team that was once 1-2, but closed the year with nine straight wins. “We trusted in each other and we ended up winning it all.”
After the game, Kubik held the state trophy over his head and told his team, “We’re bringing this back to where it belongs.” Center Shane Horn took the trophy and posed for a picture with his father, offensive coordinator Marty, and brother Martin, who won a state title in 2010. The picture of Marty and Martin from 2010 adorned the family den. It now has to be replaced with this new family photo.
R-Laris Mulic 70 pass from Tom Reid (kick failed)
M-Dom Luppino 7 run (Isaac Zapata kick)
M-Joe Mobley 35 interception return (Isaac Zapata kick)
M-P.J. Mulcahy 2 run (Isaac Zapata kick)
M-P.J. Mulcahy 1 run (kick failed)
Team records: Madison 10-2, Rutherford 10-1