Though the Piscataway High School football team never trailed in the game, Monroe, with an arsenal of momentum swings and trick plays, never seemed farther than an arm’s length away from taking over the game.
Despite the persistent and pesky Falcons (0-2), the Chiefs (2-0), the No. 1 team in the Home News Tribune Top 10, rose to a 21-14 win.
“We made plays when we had to,” Coach Dan Higgins said after the game. “They caught us on some stuff with the trick plays but it’s good to play games like this that are close and tight. They show us how we need to get better. When adversity hits is when you see what type of team you really have and I’m just proud of how we fought tonight.”
With 1:46 left in the third quarter, sophomore Nahjir Woods returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown to give Piscataway an ostensibly comfortable 21-7 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Monroe return man Connor Miller took the ball 94 yards down the field to the Piscataway 1-yard line.
The Chiefs stopped Falcons running back Carlton Coleman on three straight rushes before Monroe went for it on a fourth down with a nonconformist formation leaving quarterback Matt van de Sande lined up behind two linemen near the sideline. van de Sande ran the ball in for a 2-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter, cutting the Piscataway lead to a single possession.
The Falcons though would not do anything else for the rest of the game as van de Sande threw an interception in Piscataway territory on each of Monroe’s next two possessions. Senior linebacker Aidan Rosa recorded the game-sealing interception with 2:03 to play. Junior defensive backs Joshua Boyd and Nazir James both also had an interception for Piscataway.
The three interceptions were fatal for the Falcons, who were only out-gained by the Chiefs in yards, 193-187. van de Sande finished 6-of-16 for 91 yards passing.
Workhorse junior running back Elijah Barnwell led the Piscataway offense with 153 rushing yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Barnwell scored on runs of three and six yards in the first half to give the Chiefs an early 14-0 lead.
“We wanted to punch them in the mouth and get our run game going early,” he said. “Our big boys did what they were supposed to do and I just hit the holes and kept executing our game plan.”
Coleman ran for 99 yards on 19 carries. Senior wide receiver Miles Shipp caught five passes for 79 yards.
“We have to execute better, especially against a great team like Piscataway. I’m happy with the way we played against them because this is the closest game our program has ever had with them,” Monroe coach Daniel Lee said. “The trick plays made us competitive but we just want to execute better so we can be competitive like this for the next eight games.”
With 1:17 left in the first half, Monroe, trailing 14-0 and facing a fourth and 20 from the Piscataway 45-yardline, decided to go for it and call a bold hitch-and-go. The pass from Shipp fell incomplete but a pass interference call against Piscataway gave Monroe another chance at the fourth down conversion. Now fourth and five at the Piscataway 30-yardline, van de Sande threw a 30 yard touchdown pass to Shipp on the following play to end the first half.
In the second half, Piscataway responded however, holding the Falcons to only 49 yards of offense and Coleman to only three yards of rushing on eight carries.
“We don’t worry about what the other team does,” Rosa said. “We trust our talent, each other, and that our coaches will put us in the right position so we don’t fear anyone and we know we’ll be fine.”
PISCATAWAY (2-0) 7-7-0-7-21
MONROE (0-2) 0-7-0-7-14
P – Barnwell 3 run (Stalenyj kick)
P – Barnwell 6 run (Stalenyj kick)
M – van de Sande-Shipp 30 pass (Wood kick)
P- Woods 75 punt return (Staleynyj kick)
M- van de Sande 2 run (Wood kick)
Rushing – P: Barnwell 23-156, Haus 3-8, Peterson 1-7, Ashley 1-5; M: Coleman 19-99, Shipp 5-7, van de Sande 9-minus 11.
Passing – P: Haus 5-11-0-33; M: van de Sande 6-16-1-91, Shipp 0-1-00.
Receiving- P: Peterson 2-11, Rosa 1-14, Boyd 1-5, James 1-3; M: Shipp 5-79, Coleman 1-12