EAST RUTHERFORD — Madison High School’s Shane Horn threw his arms into the air.
That seemed to be the signal. A massive maroon-and-white celebration at MetLife Stadium followed.
If it weren’t for some NJSIAA administrators clearing the field for the next game, the Dodgers might still be on the field hugging one another and posing for pictures at this very moment.
The Dodgers had their 27-6 victory over Rutherford in hand for a while. Now they were finally able to share their fourth NJSIAA North 2 Group II title in six years with one another.
“The title is back where it belongs!” head coach Chris Kubik said to a roar of approval from his players and assistants.
Joe Mobley hugged Josh Kurkewicz. Dom Luppino dropped to one knee for a moment of thanksgiving. Coaches exchanged handshakes and hugs that lasted longer and tighter than normal. Players took selfies with one another and posed for pictures. Dodgers posed while holding onto the NJSIAA trophy.
Nick Coviello called his grandfather.
“We got the ring, Poppy,” Coviello said.
They did it in typical physical, workmanlike Dodgers style. After a dominating, season-opening victory over Mountain Lakes, Madison lost twice. But since then, the Dodgers found their bearings and have won nine straight. They adjusted and worked things out. They are never pretty, but always effective.
And now they are sectional champions.
Rutherford scored on a stunning double reverse on its first play of the game to take the lead. But when push came to shove, Madison simply pushed and shoved better than Rutherford. The Dodgers were more physical up front and simply outmuscled the previously undefeated Bergen County school for the rest of the game.
They took the lead for good when Luppino scored a 7-yard run and Isaac Zapata added the extra point with 39 seconds left in the first half to make it 7-6.
In the second half, the Dodgers acted like they were on the runway ready for liftoff at nearby Newark Airport: They simply took off.
On the very first play of the second half, Mobley intercepted a Nick Birchby pass and returned it 35 yards for a stunning, game-changing touchdown. Mobley went down the field untouched and used a nice block at the end of the run by Luppino before going into the end zone.
“Great job by the D-Line,” Mobley said. “They put pressure on the quarterback. We’re expected to make a play. I just went to the football and it was an ordinary play.”
Ah, but it was no ordinary play. That play seemed to unleash any mental shackles the Dodgers might have had. They knew they could match up physically with Rutherford, but it was Mobley’s mad dash up the sideline that seemed to give them emotional lift they needed.
After that, there was simply no stopping Madison.
“That was huge,” Justin Dalena said. “JoJo has made big plays all year and he stepped up again. Once we saw that, our confidence soared. There was no way we were gonna lose this game.”
After that, they were flying all over the place on defense. On Rutherford’s next possession, the Dodgers forced a three-and-out as Dalena brought down a Rutherford receiver for a 4-yard loss after a pass completion.
Two plays later, Luppino and Max Downing (three sacks) brought down Birchby for a sack and a 12-yard loss.
The total domination was under way. The Dodgers went 45 yards and scored again and then the defense continued abusing Rutherford as Downing had a sack and Petar Haboj had another one for a 14-yard loss.
“After they scored, we just decided to tighten up and do our thing,” Luppino said.
They did tighten up and did their thing, and there was nothing Rutherford could do about it.
The two early-season losses seem so far away right now.
“The kids came to work every single day,” assistant coach Vito Luppino said. “They tried to get a little better every day.”