SCOTCH PLAINS The Plainfield High School Football team’s celebration promised to be a good one, if only the Cardinals could hold on and not fall prey to what’s haunted them for years and years.
All doubt was dismissed on Darrien Murphy’s interception with 55 seconds left in regulation to seal a 27-21 comeback victory over Scotch Plains-Fanwood in a Mid-State 38 Watchung Division game on Saturday.
The aftermath was something to see. Yes, there were tears — even from players. The Cardinals rejoiced as the band rocked and moms, dads, former and future players, coaches and former coaches embraced the players who’d delivered — and stuck to it — finally.
The fact that it was a league victory was a Cardinals milestone. The league win was the first for Plainfield since a stunning 22-21 win over heavily favored Westfield in 2011 on Thanksgiving Day.
The Cardinals thus snapped a 26-game league losing streak and improved to 1-0 for the first time since 2005. Plainfield had mustered only two consolation game wins since the 2011 holiday.
“We got the monkey off our back,” second-year coach Jason Glezman said. “It’s a good feeling; we’ll enjoy it and then get ready for Linden.”
One play, one opponent at a time.
“We have been preaching through camp that this whole year we have to take each play one at a time through the highs and lows, one play, move on and play the next one, and it helped,” added Glezman. “The mindset is maintain, keep your composure.”
That mindset came in handy on perhaps the biggest sequence late in the third quarter. Facing a second and nine from its 21 and trailing 21-19, the Raiders’ George Leichtling, who had an interception return for a TD in the second quarter to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead, picked off Cardinals quarterback Jayson Bryant and took off on a long return. But D.J. Kennedy stripped the ball with Bryant recovering at the Plainfield 28.
Three plays after the strip and recovery, Bryant connected with streaking and wide-open tight end Cesar Cordoba for a 65-yard touchdown. Kennedy ran in the two-point conversion, and Plainfield led 27-21 with four seconds left in the third quarter.
“I didn’t run my route; coach told me all week what to do, I made an adjustment, the quarterback saw me and threw it,” Cordoba said.
“Bryant threw the ball where nobody else could catch it,” Glezman said.
The play was a perfect fit to the entertaining game.
“It was that kind of game, it was just that kind of game,” said Glezman, whose team went 1-9 last season. “A lot of things happened in the first half for both teams, stuff that neither coach really wants to see, but we stuck with it, and that was a great play by D.J. stripping that ball and giving us the opportunity to go back and get that score.”
Kennedy may have been the star of the game, but he definitely got a lot of help behind him. But it was Kennedy who, on his way off the field in the first half with Plainfield down 21-12, had said the Cardinals would find a way to stop Raiders quarterback Marquis Taylor and win. Kennedy scored three touchdowns and had the two-point conversion run. Afterward he was hugged by his father, Darryl, a star Cardinals quarterback of the late 1990s.
But it was hard to ignore the strip.
“I just had to make a play, I just had to get the ball back and help our team win,” Kennedy said.
PLAINFIELD (1-0) 6-6-15-0-27
SCOTCH PLAINS-FANWOOD 14-7-0-0-21
SPF: Taylor 93 run (Toll kick)
SPF: Leitchtling 22 interception return (Toll kick)
P: Kennedy 45 run (kick failed)
P: Kennedy 6 run (pass failed)
SPF: Taylor 1 run (Toll kick)
P: Kennedy 8 run (Wahab kick)
P: Cordoba 65 pass from Bryant (Wahab kick)