MIDDLETOWN – Prior to Friday’s proceedings, the last time Middletown North had hosted a state playoff was 1986.
The most recent event brought with it an electrifying atmosphere that no Lions player had ever experienced, and as junior defensive back Dwight Wilkerson explains it, the scene was one he’ll never forget.
“It was amazing,” said Wilkerson, who garnered Asbury Park Press Defensive Game Ball of the Week honors for his role in the Lions’ 31-6 North 2 Group IV quarterfinal victory over Sayreville. “From North Nation, to (Middletown North principal) Dr. Cartier and everyone else who supports this team, having them behind us that night really helped us come together as one.”
“The fans have had our back the entire season,” added Wilkerson. “From opening night to the game against Manalapan (an 18-8 Week 4 win over the Braves in torrential rain), through tough losses and Friday’s win, having Middletown North behind us made for a perfect atmosphere and a perfect night to be a Lion.”
A perfect night to be a Lion produced near-perfect play from North in the second half, as Wilkerson — whose favorite subject in school is chemistry — and the Lions had their defensive scheme down to a science, as they held Sayreville to zero first downs and just 14 passing yards in the third and fourth quarters.
In 2014, Middletown North clinched its first winning season in 15 years. One year later, the Lions earned its first playoff game at home in nearly 30. Taking a step forward each year has was the initiative put in place when coach Steve Bush arrived three seasons ago, and one his club has worked to maintain.“It took a team effort to do what we did, and that’s what we’re all about, togetherness,” Wilkerson said. “We’re always there for each other, whether someone needs to be picked up after a turnover or if we need to celebrate after forcing a turnover. I’m just one part of the whole, and it’s the best atmosphere to play in.”
“When I was in eighth grade, my teammates and I talked about coming here, doing what we do best and changing the culture for the better,” Wilkerson said. “I went to my (youth) state championship game, (Lions quarterback) Donald Glenn went to his state championship game, so we knew when we came here we were bringing something special to the table.”
“We knew we were going to win here. We knew we would make a difference here. And with coach Bush coming in, it helped us out so much more. He taught us everything from the Xs and Os to going out on the field and carrying ourselves like winners.”
After winning last Friday, Middletown North secured itself at least one more state tournament game, as the Lions will travel for a semifinals matchup. However, the destination is only a short trip across the train tracks, as Middletown South will host the meeting this Friday at 7 p.m.
“You can’t pay attention to the hype,” Wilkerson said. “Yes, this is a crosstown rivalry, but you have to separate the hype from the game. I’ve been telling my teammates, we just have to think of it as one regular game and make sure that we’re the most well-prepared team on the field. If we’re prepared and we play as a team, we can definitely win.”