Rutherford’s football resume was something to behold heading into its NJSIAA North 2 Group II championship game against Madison last week.
But when the game was over, the Dodgers ripped the resume right out of Rutherford’s hands and tore it into a million pieces — all over the MetLife Stadium field.
Madison won the state championship, 27-6, for its fourth state title in six years under coach Chris Kubik.
The Bulldogs didn’t know what hit them. They probably still don’t.
Rutherford was 10-0 and averaged 36.6 points per game. The team scored through the air (quarterback Nick Birchby threw for 1,724 yards and 19 touchdowns heading into Thursday) and on the ground (running back Kevin Kosakowski led a running game that rushed for 2,109 yards).
The Dodgers gave up a stunning gadget play for a touchdown on Rutherford’s first offensive play of the game, but that was it.
Madison’s defense was all over the place, but its pass rush was simply spectacular. The Dodgers had seven sacks, but it seemed like more than a dozen. They had six tackles for a loss.
You’d have sworn the Dodgers were having a block party in the Rutherford backfield. And when you consider that Rutherford’s offense was hardly ever on the field, those stats speak even more loudly.
Birchby spent much of the game on his back. Or running for dear life. Or wondering where on earth the next Dodger would be coming from.
On almost every play, he was under fire, thanks to Madison’s brilliant use of blitzes. Max Downing (three sacks), Griffin Meister (1 sack), Petar Haboj (1 sack), Dante DiIonno, (1 sack), Chris Rebel (½-sack), and Zach Shupe (½-sack) spent time introducing themselves to Birchby.
More staggering numbers: Rutherford had minus-21 yards rushing in the game and minus-55 yards of total offense after the first half.
Rutherford reached the finals thanks to its offense, but the Dodgers defense simply swallowed it up.
Oh, and perhaps the biggest play of the game was Joe Mobley’s 36-yard interception return on the first play of the second half, which gave the Dodgers a 14-6 lead. Madison had already had a 7-6 lead at the half, but the pick-six was a momentum builder.
Madison’s defense was more than happy to build off of that.
Teams aren’t supposed to dominate like this in a state championship team. High-powered offenses aren’t supposed to go down in flames like this. Undefeated teams aren’t supposed to be overwhelmed in state finals like this.
But most teams don’t play defense like the Dodgers.
Madison put everything together for the MetLife Stadium crowd. The Dodgers completely stuffed the run, chased Birchby into oblivion and blanketed the Rutherford receivers. At times, you had to wonder if Kubik somehow snuck 12-13 players onto the field when Rutherford had the ball.
From the midpoint of the season onward, Madison’s “D” played about as well as a group can play on the high school level. You won’t find a single Division I or I-AA player, but the Dodgers have more terrific players on defense than most teams. They stick with their scheme, play together and maul everyone in their path.
It’s been happening like that for quite a while, especially late in the year.
Hanover Park came into its regular-season finale with an offense every bit as fearsome as Rutherford’s, but the Hornets were steamrolled every bit as much. In that game, Madison’s defensive stats were simply staggering: four interceptions, six sacks, 10 tackles behind the line.
In the first round of the playoffs, it shut out Mountain Lakes (14-0) and allowed one touchdown against Lenape Valley (14-7).
And when Rutherford’s offense played conventional football against the Dodgers’ “D,” they found out what running into a brick wall was like: They moved backwards, not forward.
When it was over, defense won the day for Madison.
And a state championship.
Morris County Top 10
1. Delbarton (8-3)
2. Madison (10-2)
3. Chatham (9-3)
4. Roxbury (8-2)
5. West Morris (7-3)
6. Morris Knolls (7-3)
7. Boonton (9-2)
8. Hanover Park (9-2)
9. Pequannock (9-2)
10. Butler (6-4)