SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ — The stage was set for a special night in the first-ever home football game under the lights at Perry Tyson Field.
But, in a game replete with huge plays, Cedar Grove rallied from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to pull out a 42-38 victory over Scotch Plains-Fanwood Friday night.
In the loss, senior back Shawn Martin scored four touchdowns on a pair of long kickoff returns and two long runs from scrimmage. Martin finished with close to 340 all-purpose yards, including 145 rushing yards on 19 carries and kickoff returns of 95 and 92 yards. Senior receiver Christian Piesch caught two TD passes from Hayden Widder for the Raiders.
But Cedar Grove countered Martin's breathtaking night with some wondrous individual efforts of its own. Senior quarterback Dario Bryant passed for 424 yards and five touchdowns, completing 28 of 43 passes. Senior wide receiver Anthony Bilotta caught 13 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Senior George Slattery caught Bryant's other two TD passes.
"They are a tough team. That's why they went to the (Group 1) state finals last year," Scotch Plains-Fanwood second-year head coach Austin Holman said of Cedar Grove. "They fought man. We did some good things, but we didn't finish tonight. All credit goes to those kids."
Scotch Plains-Fanwood (0-2), after trailing, 10-0, in the first quarter, appeared to have gained control of the game after Martin's 42-yard TD run up the middle -- with a couple of jukes and dodges thrown in -- with 9:40 left in the third quarter gave the Raiders a 32-16 lead.
"Shawn was just outstanding and amazing," Holman said of Martin. "And Christian had two great catches, too."
But Cedar Grove (3-1) drove 85 yards in five plays on its next possession to come within 10 points on an 11-yard TD run by Patch McCarthy, and cut the SPF lead to 32-28 on a 24-yard TD pass from Bryant to Bilotta with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
Martin answered that TD with a 92-yard kickoff return down the right side as the Raiders regained a 10-point lead, 38-28. But the Panthers were able to go blow for blow with SPF, and, on the next play from scrimmage, Bryant threw a 63-yard bomb to Bilotta on a post pattern for a TD that brought Cedar Grove back to within three, 38-35.
Cedar Grove took the lead, 42-38, with 9:36 left in the fourth quarter when Bryant's 4-yard TD pass to Bilotta and Chris Babcock's extra point closed out an 11-play, 57-yard drive.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood looked poised to take the lead back with under five minutes to go in the game. After Matt Power's interception gave the Raiders possession on their 42, SPF drove down to the Cedar Grove 10-yard line. On third-and-three from the Panthers' 11-yard line, Widder rolled to his right and threw an alley-oop pass intended for Piesch in the end zone. The rangy Raider receiver had already outfought smaller defensive backs for receptions a couple of times in the game, but this time, Cedar Grove safety Antonio Cuffari came down with the interception, brought it out of the end zone and returned it all the way to midfield with 4:28 left in the game.
The Raiders had one more chance after Samuel Oross recovered a Cedar Grove fumble at the Raiders' 14-yard line with 1:21 left and one timeout remaining for SPF. On third-and-11 from deep in SPF territory, Widder's low pass appeared to hit the ground before being trapped by a Panthers' defensive back, but the officials ruled it a catch and an interception, snuffing out the last Scotch Plains-Fanwood chance of a wild evening.
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