MILLBURN – A lot of people were speculating whether Madison would play many of its starters in its annual Thanksgiving Day game against Millburn Thursday, considering that the Dodgers have bigger fish to fry next Thursday in the NJSIAA North 2 Group II championship game against Rutherford at MetLife Stadium.
Well, guess again.
That’s just not the way Madison head coach Chris Kubik operates.
“You have to play the game to win,” Kubik said after his team defeated Millburn, 34-14, at Miller Stadium in the 83rd renewal of their Turkey Day rivalry. “If you don’t, then what happens? You play every game to win. You just have to play that way.”
The message was obviously loud and clear to the Dodgers.
“You always have to line up and play the game,” said senior quarterback Nick Coviello, who who completed 5-of-7 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, as well as carrying the ball four times for 48 yards. “This game has been going on for 80 years or so. You play the way you always play.”
Senior fullback Dom Luppino, who rushed for 68 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns, agreed.
“A lot of people were asking me if we were going to sit the starters so they wouldn’t get hurt before the state championship,” Luppino said. “Sure, the stakes in this game weren’t as high as the states, but we had to treat this one like it was another playoff game. Coach Kubik made sure he stressed that to us that we could not look ahead.”
Kubik’s words hit home to the Dodgers (9-2), who took the opening kickoff and marched 83 yards on seven rushing attempts—the final four coming on a burst up the middle from Zach Shupe—and the Dodgers were in business.
“We never start fast against these guys,” Kubik said.
“It set us up big so the rest of our offense could work,” Coviello said.
After Millburn (5-5) tied the game at 7-7 on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Peter Serruto to Nick Minter, the Dodgers answered with a 51-yard, eight-play drive, with Coviello connecting with P.J. Mulcahy for 11 yards, then hitting last Thanksgiving’s hero Joe Mobley for 13 more, before Luppino punched it in from the 8-yard line, giving the Dodgers the lead for good at 14-7 with 4:14 left before halftime.
The Millers then helped the Dodgers in a huge way, attempting a double-reverse gadget play on fourth-and-11 from midfield instead of punting to the Dodgers with less than a minute to go, a play that would have pinned Madison deep in its own zone and probably a kneel down before halftime.
But the Millers tried the double reverse lateral to the quarterback and it fooled no one, especially Shupe, who sacked Serruto for a loss and put the Dodgers on the Millburn side of the field with 49 seconds left.
Two plays later, Coviello hit Mobley with a pretty 39-yard screen pass across the middle and the Dodgers had a 21-7 halftime lead.
The Millers had a golden opportunity to start the second half, taking the kickoff and marching 59 yards down to the Madison 6-yard line, but the Dodgers defense stiffened and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down, with Mobley doing the defensive honors, breaking up the Serrato pass attempt to Minter.
“We’re all in defensively,” said Luppino, who plays linebacker on defense. “We’ve been very good defensively of late.”
The Millers did managed to cut the lead to 21-14 with 11:51 remaining in the game on a 15-yard run up the middle from Zack Weinstein, but the Dodgers answered with the drive that sealed the win.
Madison went 55 yards on eight plays, the final 3 yards coming on Luppino’s second touchdown of the game. The Dodgers capped the scoring on Mulcahy’s 7-yard run with 52.6 seconds remaining.
The Dodgers had incredible balance in their rushing numbers. Shupe led the way with 90 yards on nine carries. Luppino had his 68 yards and Mulcahy had 67 yards on 10 carries and a score.
“I’ll take it,” Kubik said of the rushing numbers. “It’s a good win, but every win is a good win. That’s good football. We were also able to get some young guys in there. The second team punched in that last touchdown.”
Madison holds a 49-29-5 advantage in the series and had won six of the last seven meetings between the long-standing rivals.
Now, it’s on to MetLife Stadium and Rutherford.
“I can’t wait,” Coviello said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
MAD-Zach Shupe 4 run (Isaac Zapata kick)
MILL-Nick Minter 14 pass from Peter Serruto (Jack Kirshenbaum kick)
MAD-Dom Luppino 8 run (Isaac Zapata kick)
MAD-Joe Mobley 39 pass from Nick Coviello (Isaac Zapata kick)
MILL-Zack Weinstein 14 run (Jack Kirshenbaum kick)
MAD-Dom Luppino 3 run (Isaac Zapata kick)
MAD-P.J. Mulcahy 7 run (kick blocked)
Team records: Madison 9-2, Millburn 5-5.