NORTH PLAINFIELD – There’s nothing quite like a Thanksgiving football win against a neighboring rival to help erase the memories of a difficult and disappointing regular season. An 0-8 regular-season mark was the furthest thing from the minds of the North Plainfield High School squad Thursday. And after a convincing performance against rival South Plainfield, the Canucks might never think of its first eight games again.
Junior quarterback Nick Cherasaro threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns, senior tailback Ceisean Tucker finished with 113 yards and a score, and the North Plainfield defense held South Plainfield and standout back Jason Lee to just 50 total yards on the ground, as the Canucks topped the Tigers 28-14 at Krausch Field.
“We’re feeling higher than high,” said Cherasaro, whose team snapped its winless streak two weeks ago with a victory over Carteret in the state consolation round. “The rest of the season doesn’t matter right now. This is what we’ve been playing for.”
“In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, that’s pretty good,” North Plainfield coach Bobby Lake said. “This gives our kids something to really remember. We battled and we were in some tough games this year, we had some heartbreak and dealt with some tough stuff. But for our kids to finish this way, I think it says a lot about our seniors. There were some people who jumped ship along the way when things got tough, but for our seniors to do what they did and stick with it and battle out, it says a lot for our kids and does a lot for our young guys. It’s good for our program.”
The victory might never have been, considering how the opening half ended. The Canucks led 14-0 with under a minute left in the second quarter after Cherasaro hit Arthur Gilmore with a three-year touchdown pass in the final minutes of the first quarter and then threw a one-yard scoring strike to Tucker with 2:45 left before halftime.
North Plainfield had a chance to end South Plainfield’s ensuing drive at its own 43-yard line, but a couple of missed tackles lengthened the drive on a 3rd-and-8. The Tigers got on the board with 43 seconds remaining on a one-yard sneak by quarterback Patrick Waldrop, before disaster struck for North Plainfield on the ensuing kickoff.
South Plainfield had been kicking off short all game, and North Plainfield set up to defend an onside or squib kick. But the Tigers went deep and the Canucks brain locked, clearing from the ball near the goal line, where it was recovered by South Plainfield at the 1. After a fumble the Tigers retained, Waldrop then ran it in from two yards out to set up the tying 2-point conversion.
But that didn’t stop North Plainfield from coming out in the second half and continuing to do the things that helped them succeed in the first two periods.
“I’m really proud of our kids. I’m really impressed with the effort we gave right from the start,” Lake said. “South Plainfield’s a good football team, they’re well prepared. We had one bad minute in the first half that could have really, really devastated us. But we had one devastating minute of football in a 48-minute game. But our kids bounced back. The kids that struggled in the first half are the kids that made the plays in the second half.
“If we didn’t shake it off, I think, it would have ended badly,” Cherasaro said. “So what we did to get that out of our mind really helped us. He (Lake) told us we played 23 good minutes and one bad minute. Forget the rest and just play 24 good minutes at the end.”
Ka-Ron Dock perfectly illustrated his coach’s point about second-half redemption. It was the junior who was responsible for the mix up on the kickoff before halftime, but he also made the biggest play of the second half. After Tucker ripped off a 45-yard scoring run in the third period to give North Plainfield the lead, Dock put it away for the Canucks, getting wide open for a Cherasaro pass he caught for a 29-yard touchdown with 8:25 remaining. Junior kicker Chris Cooney then knocked through his fourth extra point of the game to provide the final margin.
“I can’t say enough about Ka-ron Dock,” Lake said. “Ka-ron was about to be the reason we lost the game with that play at the goal line. He made a mistake, but plenty of kids make mistakes. All we talked about at halftime is that you’re our guys, we believe in you, come back and make a play.”
Simeon Pincus can be reached at SPincus@GannettNJ.com and on Twitter @SimeonPincus