EAST BRUNSWICK – In between a playoff sandwich, the Old Bridge football team had to face its rival East Brunswick in the annual Thanksgiving game. Knights’ running back Jake Esposito knew that the Bears just weren’t going to lay down for them despite the records.
“That’s a good team,” Esposito said. “I know the coaching staff. I know a few of their players. And I know they weren’t going to come easy, or come slow or anything. They wanted to win just as much as we wanted to win. And it was a big game, a big win.”
East Brunswick played tough, but in the end, Old Bridge got a methodical 20-7 win Thursday in the “Battle of Route 18” at Jay Doyle Field. Esposito did his part with two touchdowns—a 1-yard run and a 22-yard catch from quarterback Artur Sitkowski. The sophomore also threw a 20-yard score to Anthony Imbimbo.
The Knights (8-3) led 14-0 at halftime after scoring twice in the second quarter. The teams traded scores on back-to-back possession in the third quarter. The Bears (3-7) received a 2-yard touchdown pass from James Schuld to Marcus Flax. Almaliek Fitzpatrick set up the touchdown on a long kickoff return.
The Knights lead the series 19-3, which started in 1994 after Cedar Ridge and Madison Central merged into Old Bridge High School. East Brunswick’s last gained bragging rights in 2010.
Old Bridge still has to play in the NJSIAA Central Group 5 Championship game against South Brunswick on Dec. 5 at Rutgers’ High Point Solutions Stadium. The Knights advanced with a 26-12 win over New Brunswick in the semifinal on Nov. 20.That presented a fine line for the Old Bridge coaches—you have to take the Thanksgiving game seriously, but you don’t want to risk injury for the title game.
“It was a short week, so we really had no time to think about it,” said Old Bridge head coach Anthony Lanzafama, who played for the Knights in the 1994 game. “We just got right to work. The kids get excited about this game. Playing East Brunswick is special. Playing on Thanksgiving is special. So our kids were ready to go.”
On a day which felt more like Memorial Day than Thanksgiving, East Brunswick recovered two fumbles in the first half and stopped Old Bridge’s attack for most of the half. The Knights struck 10:28 into the second quarter following Esposito’s 1-yard sweep to the left. Jonathan Sammarco’s extra point gave Old Bridge a 7-0 lead.
Late in the first half, Old Bridge’s Paul Ferrali intercepted an East Brunswick pass, giving Old Bridge the ball at the Bears’ 20-yard line. On the next play, Sitkowski found Imbimbo in the left corner of the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 18 seconds before intermission.
In the first quarter, Old Bridge came up with a goal-line stand on a first-and-goal from the four. The result was a 23-yard missed field goal from East Brunswick with 4:12 remaining in the quarter. The Old Bridge defensive ends and linemen, including Chris Hamilton, Tru Stell and T.J. Townsend, kept the Bears in check for most of the day.
“They tried to run the ball,” said Stell, a 6-foot, 245-pound senior. “They couldn’t run the ball on us. And then we just got pressure on the quarterback. They couldn’t really throw the ball. … We weren’t thinking any less of them. We knew what kind of players they had. And we just tried to stop them.”
The game seemed to have the holiday spirit with both coaches giving a brief, complimentary speech to the other team at the trophy presentation.
“Old Bridge was very friendly,” East Brunswick’s Fitzpatrick said. “Their kids were shaking our hands, like after each play saying ‘Good job.’ It was a friendly game. No cursing. No nothing. It was a good game. Good sportsmanship on both sides of the ball.”
The Old Bridge Police Department’s PBA #127 presented the Knights’ Offensive MVP of the game to running back Nick Sodano, and the Defensive MVP to Ferrali. Spadafino Chiropractic presented the East Brunswick Offensive MVP to Schuld and the Defensive MVP to Fitzpatrick.
Now, Old Bridge hopes to win one more trophy.
OLD BRIDGE (8-3) 0-14-6-0—20
EAST BRUNSWICK (3-7) 0-0-7-0—7
OB—Esposito 1 run (Sammarco Kick)
OB—Imbimbo 20 pass from Sitkowski (Sammarco Kick)
OB—Esposito 22 pass from Sitkowski (kick failed)
EB—Flax 2 pass from Schuld (Boyko kick)
Rushing — EB: Wiggins 11-15, Fitzpatrick 2-2, Schuld 8-0, Kennedy 3-minus 13.
Passing— EB: Schuld 6-12-0-72, Kennedy 6-14-2-53.
Receiving— EB: McSweeney 2-43, Bartus 1-18, Wiggins 1-17, Fitzpatrick 3-12.