LINDEN — As far as season-ending victories go, the Linden High School football team’s performance on Wednesday night probably doesn’t measure up to last season’s finale.
Then again, few victories could match last year’s late triumph over arch-rival Elizabeth in the NJSIAA North 2 Group V championship game at MetLife Stadium.
Nonetheless, Linden was quite pleased with Wednesday night’s 35-14 victory over Union which enabled the Tigers to even its record at 5-5.
“We set a goal for ourselves when we lost to Elizabeth and got knocked out of the playoffs to finish 5-5,” Linden coach Al Chiola explained. “We wanted to set the tone for the underclassmen coming up next year and have the seniors go out on a positive note.”
Linden dominated from the opening kick, driving 60 yards in five plays with Samad Starling staking the Tigers to an early lead they would never relinquish with a 24-yard jaunt less than three minutes into the contest. Guirvenson Guillaume, the game’s leading rusher with 104 yards on 14 carries, extended the cushion to 21-0 at the break with touchdown runs of 9 and 15 yards following interceptions and long returns by Starling and Reggie Winston, respectively.
“Our kids came to play today,” Chiola said. “Before the game it was a little different, you could just tell that our kids were really focused and wanted to set the tone early and ride that momentum to the end of the game.”
Union, playing its fifth consecutive road game including a mega-playoff upset win over Piscataway followed by last week’s one-sided loss to Westfield, could never match Linden’s level of intensity.
As explosive as the Linden offense looked, its defense was even better. Union failed to complete a pass or record a first down in the first half, although quarterback Hansley Cenescar would have earned a first down on an 18-yard run in the final minute of the half that he fumbled, with Davon Williamson recovering for Linden. That was the Farmers’ fourth turnover of the half as its first-half offense consisted of 14 running plays that netted 15 yards.
“Dominant,” Chiola said regarding Linden’s defensive effort in the first half. “The defense set the tone for us, they came out, they played tough. Our guys were just flying around the football field having fun.”
Union’s offense picked up in the second half, with Isaiah Perry running for two touchdowns, but so did Linden’s passing game, which gained just six yards over the first two quarters. Junior quarterback Joey Krempa hooked up with Markel McDuffie for a 21-yard scoring pass that made the score 28-0 with 8:44 left in the third quarter, then hooked up with Kyree Rogers for a 65-yard touchdown pass later in the period.
“This was very important for us,” Chiola emphasized. “We try to pride ourselves on finishing strong and working hard and we want to represent the city of Linden and they came out and did a phenomenal job today.”
UNION (5-6) 0-0-7-7-14
LINDEN (5-5) 14-7-14-0-35
L – Starling 24 run (Fyfe kick)
L – Guillaume 9 run (Fyfe kick)
L – Guillaume 15 run (Fyfe kick)
L – McDuffie 21 pass from Krempa (Fyfe kick)
U – Perry 2 run (Sobrosa kick)
L – Rogers 65 pass from Krempa (Fyfe kick)
U – Perry 14 run (Sobrosa kick)
Rushing – U: Perry 13-62, Cenescar 11-56, Holden 5-7, Morris 1-2, Whitfield 1-0, Ortiz 3-minus 12; L: Guillaume 14-104, Starling 3-27, Johnson 4-20, Williamson 1-8, Hodge 2-minus 1, Krempa 4-minus 11.
Passing – U: Cenescar 3-11-0-30, Ortiz 0-4-2-0; L: Krempa 5-12-0-94, Guillaume 1-2-0-minus 2.
Receiving – U: Broner 2-20, Boyd 1-10; L: Rogers 1-65, McDuffie 1-21, Starling 3-3, Winston 1-3.